Barbiturate Abuse, Addiction And Treatment Options

Barbiturate Abuse, Addiction And Treatment Options

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a type of central nervous system depressant that can be prescribed for a variety of conditions. Commonly used in 1960s and 70s for the treatment of seizures, insomnia, and even headaches, barbiturates are still sometimes used today to treat specific conditions. However, like many other nervous system depressants, barbiturates can carry with them a high risk for abuse and addiction.

This risk of abuse and addiction has caused barbiturates to be prescribed less commonly in recent years. They have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines, despite the fact that benzodiazepines also carry a high risk for dependence and addiction. Barbiturates are, however, still a widely accessible drug that many individuals are able to get from their doctors’ office or off the street.

Signs and Symptoms of Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturates are very potent substances that have significant physical and psychological effects on the body and brain. Barbiturates are so potent, in fact, that they are frequently used today in medical and surgical sedation and anesthesia. Barbiturates have also been used in the past for capital punishment executions and even assisted suicides.

Because of the potency of barbiturates, prolonged use of the drug can often be accompanied by addiction or dependency. While dosage can greatly alter the effects of the drugs on the human body, its interaction with other drugs or substances, such as alcohol, can cause an effect far greater than that of a large dose.

The use of barbiturates in a recreational setting has been on the rise in the United States. Among adolescent, teen, and young adult populations, barbiturates are a popular drug of abuse. If a person is at risk of barbiturate abuse, or if abuse is suspected, the following signs of barbiturate abuse may be a silent call for help:

  • poor coordination
  • memory loss
  • lowered inhibitions
  • confusion
  • changes in bowel habits, such as excessive diarrhea
  • dizziness or drowsiness
  • vertigo
  • nausea and vomiting
  • Commonly Abused Barbiturates

Like many central nervous system depressants, there are a variety of barbiturates that have been/still are available on the pharmaceutical market. Each brand or type was developed for a certain effect, such as long-lasting or fast-acting. The following chart indicates common brands of barbiturates and their intended effects when taken as a treatment for a specific condition:

Brand NameGeneric NameIntended Effects
ButisolbutabarbitalLong-lasting, extended relief
Brevital (Brevital sodium)methohexitalImmediate and temporary relief
Nembutal (Nembutal sodium)pentobarbitalTaken as a regiment, intended for relief from chronic conditions
MysolineprimidoneTaken as a regiment, intended for acute conditions
LuminalphenobarbitalGradual release for long-lasting relief
Seconyl (Seconyl sodium)secobarbitalExtended release for all-day relief
Capacet (Fioricet)butalbitalTaken as a regiment, intended for chronic conditions

As barbiturates are infrequently prescribed by doctors today, it may be more common to hear them called by their street names. Street names generally make it easier to sell, buy, and distribute prescription drugs as these names are not always recognized by law enforcement and can sometimes be more recognizable by a potential customer.

Some commonly used street names for barbiturates include:

  • Yellow Jackets
  • Barbs
  • Sleepers
  • Red Dolls
  • Stumblers
  • Downers

How Are Barbiturates Abused?

Barbiturates have been abused in a wide variety of ways over the years. A common way for individuals to have immediate and potent effects from the drug is to inject it. This can be done by dissolving crushed pills into a solution or by injecting a liquid form of the medication. Crushing the pills can also provide a powder which individuals may snort for fast-acting and potent effects.

Simply taking the pill orally can still give individuals a very strong and long-lasting high. Even when taken as directed orally, barbiturates can still carry a high risk for dependency and addiction. Especially when taken for a prolonged period of time or as a part of a long-term treatment for a chronic condition, it is not uncommon for individuals who have been taking barbiturates to feel dependent on the drug.

It is also not uncommon for barbiturates to be taken alongside other drugs, such as stimulants, like cocaine or amphetamines. Taking barbiturates with other drugs can lead to devastating effects.

Everyone’s body and brain react differently to barbiturates, making it a difficult drug to predict in the first place. Combining this drug with others can increase the effect of any of the drugs exponentially, making a potential overdose increasingly difficult to treat or prevent.

Signs and Symptoms of Barbiturate Overdose

Prolonged abuse of barbiturates can quickly lead to a dependence or addiction to the drug. This is generally caused by the body building up a tolerance to the chemicals in the drug. This means the body has become accustomed to a certain level of barbiturates in its system and requires more and more of the drug to achieve the same high that was felt the very first time.

Building a tolerance to a drug is dangerous because it can make tracking the amount a person has taken very difficult. Despite the drug’s psychological effects becoming muted with each use, the devastating effects it has on a person’s respiratory and nervous systems can actually increase exponentially with every dose. This phenomenon can make it very easy to overdose on barbiturates.

Things to look for with a barbiturate overdose:

  • extreme sluggishness
  • difficulty walking or making eye contact
  • very poor motor skills
  • slurred speech
  • slowed or shallow breathing
  • cold or blanched hands and feet
  • coma
  • death

Barbiturate Withdrawal Vs Medical Detoxification

Symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal can feel extremely intense, and they can also be very dangerous. Withdrawal is the body reacting to the abrupt removal of a specific type of chemical or substance. In the case of barbiturate withdrawals, the symptoms can range from uncomfortable to deadly.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • insomnia and restlessness
  • anxiety
  • depression
  • suicidal thoughts
  • stomach cramps
  • nausea and vomiting
  • seizures
  • heart failure
  • death

A professional medical detoxification can help reduce the discomfort and pain of barbiturate withdrawals and is a much safer way to detox from potent drugs like barbiturates. While these treatments can vary from facility to facility, a person seeking a detox program should look for medical detox options that can provider 24-hour clinical supervision and access to medication therapies if needed, also called medically-supervised detox programs.

It is common for medical detox programs to be utilized as a part of more traditional inpatient rehab programs.

Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction

As with many treatments for addiction, barbiturate addiction treatment can come in many forms. However, it is important to consider the factors that brought a person to barbiturate addiction when searching for a treatment that will truly work for them.

Multi-disciplinary approaches are generally recommended for treatment of many types of addiction today. A multi-disciplinary approach to addiction treatment means that along with treating the physical symptoms and damage that addiction can cause, a person will also be treated for the underlying psychological cause or symptoms of addiction.

Multi-disciplinary approaches are considered to be among the most successful treatment options for addiction due to their focus on treating the patient long-term. Depending on the severity and length of the addiction, additional clinical treatment may be needed. One example of this is the use of professional medical detoxification for severe cases of barbiturate addiction.

Addiction treatment, especially for barbiturate addiction, should be a good balance among physical, mental, and social factors.

For more on barbiturate addiction and treatment options, give us a call today at The Bluffs.


Sources

MedScape — Barbiturate Toxicity
National Alliance of Advocates for Buprenorphine Treatment — What is withdrawal?
National Center for Biotechnology Information — The history of barbiturates a century after their clinical introduction

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