Often referred to as the “forgotten drug,” barbiturates fall into a special category of medications. Barbiturates are classified as “sedative-hypnotic” drugs that were previously used as sedatives and anti-anxiety medications. This medication is classified as a controlled substance because of its potential for abuse leading to addiction. In some cases, barbiturates are used to manage specific seizure disorders such as epilepsy.
The primary issue with prescribing barbiturates is that the dose must be precise to treat the ailment safely. Even in short-term cases, if taken in excess, these can reach dramatic levels, creating the potential for deadly side effects.
There are several different types of barbiturates, such as Luminal, Brevital, and Seconal.
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These are often referred to on the streets as downers, reds, red birds, red devils, blues, barbs, and yellowjackets. A common but unsafe practice with barbiturates is using them with stimulants. Due to the sedative properties, users consume downers to help sleep after a binge. The combination of these drugs can produce unwanted side effects, resulting in thoughts of suicide and hallucinations. Barbiturate addiction is not something to overlook, and the consequences of long-term abuse can be severe.
What Are Barbiturates?
According to MedicineNet.com, barbiturates are a class of drugs that depress the central nervous system. They work in part by reducing the activity of nerves, causing muscle relaxation. In doing so, they also reduce heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. All barbiturates affect what is called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical in the brain that is responsible for communication between nerves.
This is similar to how benzos such as Xanax work by depressing the central nervous system. Barbiturates originally were marketed by Bayer as a sleep aid under the name(s) Veronal and Medinal. The chemicals were synthesized in the 1860s. During that time, these were revolutionary advances in medicine.
They were primarily used to treat anxiety, and severe migraines for many years following. As time went on, doctors began to see addictions to this medication occurring at a rapid pace. This put into the question its true medicinal value.
Signs, Symptoms & Causes of Barbiturate Abuse
While not a single sign is evident of abusing barbiturates, there is a broad category to help establish a better understanding of the signs and symptoms. These are all determined by an individual’s genetics, the length of time a person has been using these drugs, and the amount consumed. The most common symptoms are:
- Slowed pulse
- Slow breathing
- Impaired judgment
- Slurred speech
- Poor concentration
- Mood swings
Since barbiturates are similar to alcohol and benzodiazepines in how they relax the brain, signs that users are intoxicated can be similar to alcohol.
One way to detect if a loved one or someone you know is using is nodding out during conversations. Other signs include slurred speech, constant grogginess, and difficulties in thinking. Psychological symptoms also could include hallucinations and delusions. These are telltale signs if you’re under the impression someone you know is abusing barbiturates.
In conjunction with the use of drugs, there is a possibility for co-occurring disorders to take place. A vast majority of individuals who become dependent on these drugs have a mental illness. The most common include depressive disorders, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, other substance abuse, alcoholism, and a conduct disorder.
The actual cause of addiction remains a mystery. Professionals have suggested that people who develop barbiturate addiction commonly abuse other drugs. A few factors leading to addiction include:
- Psychological: Studies have shown individuals used barbiturates to aid in their suicide attempts. People who abuse meth are more likely to use these types of drugs to help negate the adverse side effects of meth comedowns.
- Brain chemistry: Barbiturate abuse stems from users with different structures and functions of their brains, specifically, at the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA binding sites. Those who were born with this dysfunction more often self-medicate to feel normal.
- Environmental: Those who begin abusing drugs at an earlier age in life are more likely to develop an addiction later on in life.
- Genetic makeup: It has been documented that those who struggle with drug abuse have a first-degree relative who also struggles. This will be a good way of determining if a loved one has been using.
Effects of Barbiturate Abuse
Those who abuse barbiturates will exhibit signs that are similar to someone intoxicated by alcohol. The effects may include the following.
- Becoming sensitive to sound
- Becoming more sensitive to pain
- Changes in blood pressure
- Difficulting breathing
- Increased risk to develop pneumonia and bronchitis
- Irregular periods (in women)
- Unable to perform sexual acts
- Respiratory depression
Barbiturate Withdrawal Symptoms
The main problem with withdrawal from barbiturates is that the body begins to decrease the production of natural chemicals. This can make stopping more dangerous in comparison with other drugs.
For a safe detox, it is highly recommended to seek professional medical attention to guide you through the process safely.
Some of the symptoms you can expect from withdrawal include:
- Lack of appetite
- Increased blood pressure
A lot of variables will determine the types of symptoms that will be produced through withdrawal. What will determine them is the dose, frequency of use, duration of use, and if the individual has mental health issues. People who use these along with other drugs, such as opioids or alcohol, run an increased risk for more pronounced withdrawal symptoms.
Barbiturate Addiction Treatment
The first step to a healthier life is to seek treatment for addiction. It is a daunting task for anyone seeking help, but the decision to start the recovery process is one of the most gratifying and most critical.
What you can expect from a barbiturate detox is to be monitored by professionals. Detox for drugs such as these requires around-the-clock attention. Doctors can provide medicine that makes the process more comfortable for the patient. After detox is complete, residential addiction treatment is typically the next stage. Recovery from this drug requires more than just a physical recovery, but an emotional one as well. Through the residential treatment type program, you will go through intense therapy to address the reasons you began to use and continued to use.
You will begin to explore methods and adapt to triggers by building healthy coping skills. Aftercare is just as important in the treatment process to maintain sobriety. Surrounding yourself with positive influences and professionals will allow you to continue on your path to recovery. As time progresses, you will learn to love your life sober and create confidence to carry with you.
- Barbiturates caused 396 deaths last year, some due to the drug alone, and some in connection with other drugs, suicide, accidents, or mental illness.
- Barbiturates led to 1,493 visits to emergency departments last year.
- More women than men receive prescriptions for barbiturates as they are statistically more likely to seek help for insomnia.
- It is estimated that there are 3,000-plus deaths every year from barbiturate overdose in the U.S. Among these, 42% are classified as suicides, and the rest are accidental due to overdose as a result of mixing barbiturates with other drugs or alcohol.
López-Muñoz, F., Ucha-Udabe, R., & Alamo, C. (2005, December). The history of barbiturates a century after their clinical introduction. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2424120/
Ogbru, O. (n.d.). What Are Barbiturates? Examples, Effects & Examples. Retrieved from from https://www.medicinenet.com/barbiturates-oral/article.htm
NAMI. (n.d.). Retrieved from from https://www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-conditions/related-conditions/dual-diagnosis
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). What is the scope of prescription drug misuse? Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/what-scope-prescription-drug-misuse
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification