Barbiturate Addiction


What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates generally fall under the sedative-hypnotic class of drugs. Barbiturates are most commonly prescribed to assist with symptoms associated with anxiety, seizures, insomnia, and migraines. Barbiturates work by suppressing the central nervous system essentially, they slow brain functions. Parts of the body which control voluntary actions get affected. Using barbiturates in an increased dosage affects the person’s unconscious and automatic functions like heart rate and breathing. Hence barbiturate abuse and addiction is dangerous
Substance Use - Barbiturate Addiction

Barbiturate Addiction

Barbiturates were popularized in the 1960s and 1970s. They quickly became a drug for recreational use. Barbiturates are highly addictive sedative drugs. Barbiturate addiction remains a significant problem even though it may be declining in popularity in recent times. The addicted person’s body gets accustomed to the drug and thus requires more to obtain same effect as was achieved initially. This process can develop very quickly. In fact, the tolerance that renders the effectiveness of the drug chemically inactive can occur in as little as two weeks. This highlights how rapidly addictive the drug is.

Common Barbiturates


Phenobarbital is used to manage epilepsy and seizures. It can also be used in treatment of anxiety. For persons who are addicted to other barbiturates, it can be used as part of the detox and withdrawal recovery process

Amobarbital (Amytal)

It is generally used as a pre-anesthesia relaxant and painkiller before surgery. It is also used in aiding sleep.

Pentobarbital (Nembutal)

It is used to help individuals struggling with insomnia or as a sedative before surgery. It is also used to manage epilepsy and seizures. Nembutal is the brand-name version of pentobarbital. Due to its high risk, it is currently best known as an end-of-life drug. It is generally not available in the United States or Europe, except in places where euthanasia has become legal.

Secobarbital (Seconal)

Secobarbital is another drug that is best known as a drug used for euthanasia. It is also most commonly used for pre-surgical sedation; however, it can also be used for the other common benefits of barbiturates described above, including controlling seizures and aiding with sleep.

Common Street Names of Barbiturates

  • Barbs
  • Blue Heaven
  • Blue Velvet
  • Blue Devils
  • Red Devils
  • Red Birds
  • Yellow Jacket
  • Christmas Trees
  • Pinks
  • Phennies
  • Double Trouble
  • Blues
  • Blockbusters
  • Sleepers
  • Purple Hearts
  • Gorilla Pills
  • Goof Balls

What Do Barbiturates Look Like?

Barbiturates are available in a variety of multicolored tablets and pills as well as in liquid formation.

Common Patterns Of Barbiturates Abuse

  • IV – Also known as intravenous use is one of the most dangerous ways the substance is administered. This provides the user with a quick onset of the drug’s effects. A larger needle gauge is used when injecting barbiturates as these drugs are thick when in liquid form. This route of administration increases one’s vulnerability to develop a range of health problems such as HIV, Hepatitis C, skin infections, and abscesses. Each time one uses this route of administration there is a risk that an overdose can occur.
  • Oral – Most barbiturates are available in tablet form, so typical abuse is through oral ingestion. The effects can begin within 15 minutes or can take as long as 6 hours before symptoms are felt.

The Effects of Barbiturate Use

Some of the following short-term effects can occur while misusing or abusing Barbiturates:
  • Mild euphoria
  • Lack of inhibition
  • Decrease in anxiety
  • Drowsiness
  • Unsteady gait
  • Mood dysregulation
Higher doses and long-term effects of Barbiturates include some of the following symptoms:
  • Impairment of memory
  • Poor memory recall
  • Lack of coordination
  • Impaired judgment
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Slurred speech
  • Disorientation
  • Emotional instability
  • Clammy skin
  • Respiratory distress
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideations
The challenge of using a barbiturate for sleep is that it does not allow REM sleep. Rapid-eye movement sleep is important to achieving the restorative power of the sleep cycle. Psychological complications will occur due to chronic loss of REM sleep. This can be an issue for individuals using barbiturates recreationally. While a person may achieve sleep, it may end up being unrestful.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Barbiturate withdrawal can be highly distressing and presents with some of the following symptoms:
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased anxiety
  • Increased risk for panic attacks
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia
  • Depression
  • Suicidal ideations
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Psychosis
  • Hyperthermia

Overdose Effects

One of the main risks associated with using barbiturates is the margin of overdose. Even a small increase in the barbiturate dosage can lead to overdose. 
Symptoms of an overdose can include some of the following:
  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Decreased or increased heartbeat
  • Coma
  • Possible death