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The Forgotten Dangers of Barbiturates

Person experiencing the dangers of barbiturates

In recent years, amid the opioid crisis, the dangers of barbiturates, a class of drugs once commonly prescribed for anxiety, sleep disorders, and seizure control, have somewhat faded from public and media attention. Many people mistakenly believe that barbiturates are obsolete drugs that are no longer prescribed. And while they have been largely replaced by benzodiazepines (benzos), they are still dispensed more often than you might think.

At Ashwood Recovery in Boise, Idaho, we are deeply committed to shedding light on the often-overlooked dangers of prescribed barbiturates and their potential for addiction and harm. Our goal is to provide supportive, empathetic substance abuse treatment programs to those struggling with the effects of barbiturate abuse and their families, fostering a path toward healing and recovery. Contact our knowledgeable team online or call 888.341.3607 today to explore the multifaceted effects of barbiturates, from their impact on physical health to their psychological grip, and ask about our prescription drug addiction treatment in Boise, Idaho.

Barbiturates vs. Benzodiazepines

The number of barbiturate prescriptions has decreased significantly since the 1970s. Today, benzodiazepines are the first-line pharmacological treatment for anxiety disorders and sleep disturbances.

Because they similarly affect the central nervous system (CNS), some think barbiturates and benzos are identical. However, they belong to different drug classes. High doses of barbiturates can cause respiratory depression, possibly leading to death, unlike benzos. Alone, benzos rarely cause death or severe complications.

Understanding Barbiturates

Barbiturates are once-popular prescription sedatives that benzodiazepines have primarily replaced. Like benzos, opioids, and alcohol, a common barbiturate effect is that it depresses the central nervous system.

Barbiturate medications include:

  • Methohexital (Brevital)
  • Sodium thiopental (Pentothal)
  • Thiamylal (Surital)
  • Amobarbital (Amytal)
  • Apropbarbital (Allonal, Oramon, Somnifaine)
  • Butobarbital (Butisol)
  • Pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • Secobarbital (Seconal)
  • Allobarbital (Cibalgine)
  • Alphenal (Efrodal, Prophenal, Sanudorm)
  • Mephobarbital (Mebaral)
  • Methylophenobarbital (Prominal)
  • Phenobarbital (Luminal)

These drugs are generally grouped by how quickly they start working and how long their effects last.

What to Know About Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturate tolerance can develop rapidly, even from the first dose, requiring increasingly larger doses for effectiveness. This is problematic due to the narrow therapeutic “window” of barbiturates, where the dosage is effective yet not harmful. Physical dependence on barbiturates can occur in just one month.

Barbiturate Withdrawal

Withdrawal from barbiturates is incredibly risky, more so than from other addictive substances. Symptoms can appear 8 to 16 hours after the last dose and may include:

  • Severe anxiety and panic
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Severe hallucinations
  • Psychosis similar to delirium tremens (DTs)
  • High fever
  • Neurological damage
  • Circulatory failure
  • Life-threatening seizures

Due to these dangers, one should never quit barbiturates abruptly or alone. Detox should always occur under medical supervision.

Barbiturate Overdose

Death from acute barbiturate overdose often happens due to breathing stoppage, as these drugs suppress respiration like other central nervous system depressants. Additionally, some barbiturates linger in the system for a long time, leading to toxic accumulation even with regular, directed use.

While an opioid overdose can be reversed by the prompt administration of the emergency medication Narcan, and a benzodiazepine overdose is treated with flumazenil, there is no reversal drug for an acute barbiturate overdose.

Barbiturate Addiction Treatment

An addiction to barbiturates is best treated with a comprehensive recovery approach:

  • Medically-supervised detox
  • Tapering dosages
  • Medication assistance—anti-anxiety drugs, for example
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Motivational enhancement therapy
  • 12-step facilitation

Depending on the personal history and needs of the individual, barbiturate rehab can be conducted on a residential or outpatient basis. Because psychological dependence on barbiturates can last for years, long-term support services are crucial to successful and long-lasting recovery.

Get Started on Barbiturate Addiction Treatment in Idaho with Ashwood Recovery

If you or a loved one are struggling with barbiturate addiction, contact Ashwood Recovery online or call 888.341.3607 today to learn more about the dangers of barbiturate abuse, the adverse effects of barbiturates on physical and psychological health, and how we can help.