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What Are the Side Effects of Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a type of central nervous system (CNS) depressant that aids those struggling with anxiety, seizures, and/or insomnia. This type of medication must be prescribed to individuals by a doctor as they are often abused. The side effects of barbiturates are usually mild, with the most serious side effect being dependence. Dependence occurs when you regularly take barbiturates over time without stopping. When this happens, a person will start experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, sweating, shivering, shaking, and tremors when they stop taking them. Dependence often leads to addiction, which can cause emotional, physical, and mental problems in an individual. Those who are wondering, “What are barbiturates exactly, and do they have the potential to be dangerous?” should continue reading for a more in-depth analysis of these CNS depressants.

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are derivatives of barbituric acid. This chemical is found in many plants including cherries, peaches, plums, apricots, pears, and apples. It also occurs naturally in the seeds of some tropical fruits such as coconuts, cashews, and papaya. Barbiturates come from the Latin word “barbatus” which means sharp-toothed. They are used as an anticonvulsant (to treat epilepsy), anxiolytic (anxiety reliever), and hypnotic (sleep inducer). Barbiturates may also be used to induce anesthesia during surgery. The most commonly prescribed barbiturates include phenobarbital, secobarbital, pentobarbital, butalbital, amobarbital, and mephobarbital.

How Do Barbiturates Work?

The primary mechanism of action for barbiturates is to slow down brain activity. When taken orally, barbiturates enter the bloodstream and cross the blood-brain barrier. Once inside the brain, they attach to receptors called GABA receptors. These receptors help regulate the flow of information between nerve cells. By binding to these receptors, barbiturates alter the way neurons communicate with each other. The result is that the brain becomes less active.

The effects of barbiturates vary depending upon their dosage level. At low doses, barbiturates produce calming effects. At higher dosages, they become more sedating. Some barbiturates are more potent than others. For example, phenobarbital has stronger sedative properties than secobarbital. Phenobarbital is often used to treat severe cases of depression. Secobarbital is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders. Both are considered first-line treatments for sleep problems.

Are Barbiturates Addictive?

Yes, barbiturates are highly addictive. The National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that one out of every 100 Americans will develop a dependence on them within two years of taking them regularly. This number rises to one out of 20 if you take them long-term.

Barbiturates are powerful medications with potentially serious side effects. Because of this, it is important to use them responsibly. Barbiturates can cause a person to overdose. Overdose typically occurs when a person mixes them with other forms of drugs, such as opioids. This mixture can cause heart and lung problems, leading to coma and/or death.

Signs and Symptoms of Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturates can cause a variety of physical symptoms when abused. The most common signs and symptoms of barbiturate abuse include:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Memory impairment
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Seizures
  • Slurred speech
  • Stupor
  • Tremors
  • Upset stomach
  • Weakness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Confusion/difficulty concentrating

Types of Treatment for Addiction to Barbiturates

There are many different types of treatment for barbiturate addiction. The most common type involves detoxification followed by psychotherapy. Other treatments include group therapy, individual counseling, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), family counseling, 12 step programs, and residential rehab centers.


Detoxification is an essential part of any treatment program for barbiturate addiction because it helps reduce the risk of relapse. Detoxification typically lasts anywhere from three days to several weeks. During this time, patients must undergo medically supervised withdrawal. Medications are administered to ease the discomfort associated with withdrawal. Patients may also receive intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration. Brentwood Springs Detox in Nashville, TN offers prescription drug detox programs to aid those struggling with barbiturate addiction.


Once detoxification is complete, patients begin psychotherapy. Psychotherapy aims to address underlying issues that contributed to the development of the addiction. It includes both talk therapy and behavior modification techniques. Talk therapy focuses on helping patients understand how they developed their addiction and why it continues to exist. Behavior modification teaches new coping skills so that patients can avoid situations that lead to substance abuse. 

Barbiturate Addiction Treatment

If you believe you or someone you know is addicted to barbiturates, here are some tips to get started on the road to recovery:

  • Get professional help. You should never attempt to self-medicate for any reason. Instead, contact your doctor and ask them for advice. Your doctor will likely refer you to a rehab center where you can receive comprehensive care.
  • Talk to friends and family members who have recovered from barbiturate addiction. Share your concerns and experiences with them so they can offer support and guidance.
  • Don’t take risks. Avoid using alcohol while under the influence of barbiturates. Also, don’t drive when you feel drowsy. If you do, call your doctor right away.
  • Seek out support groups. There are several organizations dedicated to helping those suffering from barbiturate addiction overcome their challenges. Contact one of these groups to find out how you can benefit from their services.
  • Take charge of your life. Learn about the dangers of barbiturate abuse and make changes in your lifestyle to prevent yourself from falling into this trap again.
  • Be honest with yourself. Accept that you have a problem and commit to getting better.

Prescription Drug Detox in Nashville, TN

Barbiturate withdrawals can be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. It is essential that you only detox from this type of medication under strict supervision. We at Brentwood Springs Detox provide exceptional care to get you through the difficulties associated with the detox process. To get started at our Nashville, TN detox center, give us a call or visit our admissions page today.

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