Barbiturate Addiction and Overdose Treatment

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Table of Contents

What are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a class of medications which are central nervous system depressants. They work by limiting the ability of gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter, which enables nerves to communicate with one another. Administering the drug thus makes it harder for neurons to fire, creating a tranquilizing effect in the patient. 

Doctors rarely prescribe barbiturates anymore. Getting the dose exactly right can be difficult to predict, and if the dose is too strong, it can result in coma, or death. This has led to a track record of overdoses, causing doctors to favor benzodiazepines in situations that require a tranquilizing agent.

barbiturate addiction

However, barbiturates still have practical uses. By reducing nervous system activity, barbiturates function as a muscle relaxant or an anticonvulsant. This makes them helpful for treating seizures, insomnia, or headaches. They are also used to sedate patients during operations, to put down animals, or for capital punishment.

Common barbiturates (and their brand names) are:

Amobarbital (Amytal), Butabarbital (Butisol), Pentobarbital (Nembutal), Secobarbital (Seconal), Phenobarbital (Luminal), Mephobarbital (Mebaral)

Signs and Symptoms of Barbiturate Abuse

As Barbiturates limit the ability of gamma-aminobutyric acid to function in the body, the body must act to compensate for its presence. In doing so, the user builds up a tolerance to the drug, which results in dependence. The user may feel tempted to take higher doses to get the same desired effect; however, this is very dangerous, as a small increase in the dose can lead to overdose and death. Barbiturate abuse has many symptoms, in many classes.

Mood-related symptoms

include mood swings, reduced anxiety and depression, agitation, irritability, or unusual excitement. Physical symptoms include hypotension (low blood pressure), dizziness, a reduction of REM sleep, sleepiness, bradycardia (slow pulse), slow breathing/respiratory depression, poor vision, inability to urinate, and dilated pupils. A high enough dose can cause respiratory arrest (breathing cessation).

Behavioral symptoms

include slurred speech, decreased motor function/sluggishness, an inability to concentrate, and a lack of coordination. Psychological symptoms of addiction are tolerance/dependence, decreased brain function, confusion, and impaired judgment. A strong enough reaction can also include hallucinations and delusions.

Most common Factors That Contribute to Substance Abuse

As with any addictive prescription medication, the user will present any number of behaviors indicating addiction:

  • Lying to hide one’s addiction
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Shopping around for physicians
  • Forging prescriptions
  • Lying to physicians
  • An inability to quit (despite negative consequences of using)
  • Obsessing over acquiring the drug or of trying to quit 

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Barbiturate Overdose Symptoms

The following is a list of severe symptoms of barbiturate overdose:

  • Shallow breathing
  • Extreme lack of coordination
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty thinking
  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Respiratory failure
  • Coma/Unresponsive

As stated earlier, the difference between a normal dose and a fatal dose is small with this class of drug. Users should always take them as prescribed. If anyone begins to experience symptoms trending in the direction of the ones in this section, they should seek immediate help, and get their physician to adjust their dosage.

Barbiturate Addiction Treatment

Many who use barbiturates will find they are wrestling with an unwanted addiction even if they follow the prescription precisely. In such an event, it becomes necessary to seek help in overcoming the addiction. This process begins with a comprehensive evaluation from a licenced medical provider who has experience with and intimate knowledge of pharmaceutical addictions. The right professional will be able to assess the exact extent of the problem, and help the user create a detailed plan for breaking the addiction and staying sober moving forward.

Here are some key methods for battling barbiturate addiction:

In-Patient Treatment For Barbiturate Addiction

Certain treatment centers specialize in helping patients get through the first phase of addiction withdrawal, which involves overcoming physical dependency to the drug. By remaining inside a controlled facility, the staff can monitor the user for adverse withdrawal symptoms and intervene when necessary. The extended stay also enables the staff to control any number of variables that might otherwise contribute to a relapse. The most significant such variable of course, is access to the drug of choice.

Note: Because withdrawal from barbiturates is especially dangerous, in-patient supervision is highly recommended.

Intensive Outpatient Treatment For Barbiturate Addiction

Intensive outpatient treatment for Barbiturate addiction is often the preferred option for many busy professionals and individuals who have mandatory daily tasks. Intensive outpatient treatment (IOP) allows users to get quality addiction treatment for 3-4 hours per day, 2-3 days per week. Our IOP focusses on helping you get your life back on track while you are able to maintain work, school, taking care of your family, or other obligations. You can learn more about our IOP located in Orange County, CA here.

Tapered Doses

Barbiturate withdrawal is quite painful. It results in severe symptoms, such as vomiting, diarrhea, aggression, hallucinations, and seizures. Some of these symptoms are life threatening. Many physicians choose to gradually reduce doses over time, giving the body an opportunity to adjust to the absence of the drug, while decreasing the severity of these symptoms. 


After overcoming physical dependency, the patient is at a more treacherous crossroads. The user’s new reality involves learning to believe that he or she can live without the drug. Many different experiences can trigger a recovering user to relapse. An experienced mental healthcare provider will understand exactly how to coach a recovering addict through these challenging situations, and prepare the addict to anticipate them. 

Group Therapy

Group Therapy is an excellent way to help addicts find encouragement and support in overcoming their addiction. Another addict is the perfect person to validate what the recovering addict is feeling, while understanding the setbacks he or she may have experienced during their journey. Not only this, but as the recovering addict gets stronger, he or she will also discover how they can contribute to the group, which is another essential part of overcoming addiction – forming a new, healthy identity.

Call Us Today For Safe Barbiturate Addiction Help

If you are currently on a barbiturate and are concerned about how difficult it might be to get off of the drug, or if you are abusing one, give our office a call to set up an appointment. American Addiction Institute has helped countless people with drug rehab in Orange County, CA area overcome an addiction to tranquilizers, and he has the right training and experience to help you. Barbiturates are very dangerous, and it is not wise to gamble with your life by attempting to overcome this setback on your own. No matter how severe your case is, we will understand how to help. We know this is not easy. But with the right people in your corner, we will help you overcome this challenge and return to your normal life.

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