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Barbiturate Addiction And The Best Rehab Centers For Treatment

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

February 1, 2019

Barbiturates are depressant drugs that affect the central nervous system causing a sedative or hypnotic effect on the user. These drugs are highly addictive and can pose many adverse health effects if abused for long periods of time.

Barbiturates, categorically opposite to amphetamines (stimulants), act on the CNS (central nervous system) as a sedative-hypnotic drug, essentially ‘depressing’ its function within body and brain. Like amphetamines, barbiturates were synthesized near the turn of the 20th century, the first derivative being, Barbital, (brand names, Veronal or Medinal), developed by chemists at Bayer Pharmaceuticals, in Germany, in 1903, soon followed by Phenobarbital, (Luminal), in 1912.

Since then, with over 2500 derivatives (compounds) created, barbiturates are typically classified according to the ‘speed of onset,’ and ‘duration of action,’ starting with the ‘ultra-short acting’ group used in anesthesia, followed by the ‘short/intermediate acting’ group, used in anesthesia, and to calm and sedate, (now, benzodiazepines are usually applied), and lastly, the ‘long-acting’ barbiturates, where Phenobarbital is placed, with a half-life of 92 hours (almost 4 days), sometimes prescribed for convulsions.

Like amphetamines, barbiturates, went unchecked for nearly fifty years being readily prescribed for tension, anxiety, insomnia, and extreme behavioral reactions. In the 1950s, the medical community ultimately acknowledged that serious mental and physical health risks could be associated with this depressant – life-threatening reactions when combined with other drugs; rapid tolerance and addiction; potential for lethal overdose.

How Barbiturates Are Abused

For the recreational user of the 1960s and beyond, however, the newly discovered dangers of barbiturates stood against the notoriety, popularity, and availability of illicit drugs, creating a era filled with drug trips of all kinds – roller coaster rides of ‘uppers’ and ‘downers,’ often, with users never getting off – alive. Barbiturates of the short and intermediate-acting type are most preferred among abusers, such as amobarbital (Amytal), pentobarbital (Nembutal, and secobarbital (Seconal)), as well as, a combination of amobarbital and secobarbital called Tuinal.

Available, illicitly and by prescription as sedatives and sleeping pills, these depressants take effect within about 30 minutes after ingestion, lasting nearly six hours, and provide a euphoric high, a feeling of contentment, coupled with symptoms similar to ethanol (alcohol) intoxication such as: impaired judgment, dizziness, staggering gait, fever, slurred speech, shallow breathing, and difficulty thinking.

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Effects Of Barbiturates On Your Mind And Body

The action of barbiturates on the CNS, directly affects nerve endings in the smooth muscles, lowering heart rate, respiration, and blood pressure; also affected are nerves in the skeletal muscles which become depressed causing difficulty in balance and movement. In the brain, barbiturates interact with neural channels and transmitters, inhibiting required responses, and quickly, with repeated use, tolerance occurs requiring more and more of the drug, to achieve desired results.

Because barbiturates cross the ‘brain-barrier’ easily and readily dissolve into body fat, they will reenter the bloodstream at different rates depending on various factors (such as body metabolism, other drugs already in system) or type of barbiturate used. Also, the liver helps metabolize this drug into soluble components, as it does for alcohol; overuse can cause hepatitis. These results make use of this drug extremely dangerous, as its active levels in a user’s body are very difficult to determine, and overdose is extremely likely, especially when combined with alcohol, other drugs, or opiates.

Before Jimi Hendrix died from barbiturate overdose, on September 18, 1970, and after, there have been thousands of individuals who have met the same fate. With non-threatening on the ‘street’ nicknames like barbs, bluebirds, dolls, downers, sleepers, reds and blues, barbiturates are anything but.

Tolerance and addiction are unavoidable with use of this drug/medication, (and with benzodiazepines, developed to replace it); its side effects are life-threatening, and overdose is a likely outcome. Withdrawal symptoms are markedly dangerous, as well, due to the residual quality of barbiturates and the physiological harm caused by use; a rehabilitation treatment program is essential.

Short Term Side Effects of Barbiturate Use (Intoxication) Include:

  • Altered consciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of Coordination
  • Sluggishness and staggering
  • Shallow breathing
  • Difficulty in thinking, remembering, poor concentration
  • Confusion, Irritability
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue, fever
  • Drowsiness, coma
  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Impaired and faulty judgment

Long Term and Excessive use of Barbiturates (such as Phenobarbital) may result in:

  • Addiction
  • Unusual excitement
  • Confusion, Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Respiratory Depression
  • Heart and Liver Damage
  • Miscarriage during pregnancy, damage to fetus
  • Coma
  • Death

Treatment For Barbiturate Addiction

For a new or occasional user, the risk of overdose is possible, due to combined drug use or that frequent extra dose, resulting in coma or death. Inpatient treatment at a rehab center is the best way to detox successfully, guided by professionals who monitor and medicate according to an addict’s specific needs. Experienced users, intentionally abusing barbiturates and other drugs, to alter a conscious state, are most at risk of death during withdrawal, because breathing and circulation can abruptly stop.

A rehabilitation center is equipped to handle and monitor such an occurrence(s), in order to stabilize the patient as withdrawal treatment proceeds. A rehabilitation program allows for treatment of the whole person and considers age, medical history, daily routines, choices in diet and exercise, habits, personality, and overall well-being, providing important inpatient care to help cure the drug addiction, and aftercare, needed to monitor an addict’s successful return to healthier, more fulfilled life, and drug-free lifestyle.

Our Staff Can Help Find Treatment That Is Right For You

Our caring counselors will help you find the right rehabilitation center to fit your needs. If you or a loved one is suffering from an addition to Barbiturates or other hypnotic/sedative medication, please contact us now.

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