Barbiturate Detox

About Barbiturate Detox

Barbiturates are powerful suppressive drugs. When taken as prescribed, drug dependence is not uncommon and patients often find themselves struggling when tapering off. The detoxification process from barbiturates needs to be closely monitored as severe withdrawal symptoms can cause serious health risks. This requires that a stepping down process is used to prevent seizures and delirium tremens. Because of barbiturate potency, dosing must be carefully calibrated. Overdosing from these drugs can happen with only a slight increase in dose. Furthermore, barbiturate overdose is difficult to treat as it does not respond to medications for detox like other drug groups do.

Barbiturates are central nervous system depressants that work by sedating nerve activity. These drugs work to slow cardiac and muscle systems and are prescribed for those struggling with insomnia, anxiety disorders, migraines and epilepsy. Barbiturates can also be used for general sedation such as anesthesia. Like all medications, these drugs have side effects for users. Some of these include the following:


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Memory issues
  • Concentration problems
  • Loss of coordination

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Barbiturate Detox Signs and Symptoms


As a result of the effects of barbiturate use on the brain and body basic chemical changes can occur. These changes can be psychological or physiological in nature and can cause violent symptoms when discontinued. Anyone attempting to discontinue barbiturate use should consider inpatient treatment or close medical supervision. Some of the common barbiturate detox symptoms that will begin to appear after 48 hours of discontinuation are the following:

  • Extreme anxiety
  • Severe insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Loss of balance
  • Seizures
  • Agitation
  • Disconnection with reality

Severe Detox Symptoms


Should individuals begin to experience these two warning signs of severe barbiturate detoxification, immediate medical intervention should be sought. It is vital to understand that once these drug detox symptoms appear the risk of death goes up exponentially. These are the signs and symptoms of severe barbiturate detox:

  • Sudden, extreme rise in body temperature
  • Decrease in oxygenation caused by respiratory depression

Medication For Barbiturate Detox


Phenobarbital. In the past, there were two medications that were used to counteract the detox symptoms of barbiturates and help patients taper down their barbiturate use. These two medications are pentobarbital and phenobarbital. As we have learned more about the body’s response to these medications, pentobarbital has become a seldom-used treatment drug. Phenobarbital is effective in providing longer-acting aid with the step-down process as it has an 86-hour window as opposed to pentobarbital’s 15-50-hour window.


This longer-acting therapeutic window helps those who are slowly tapering down their barbiturate use. This medication can be prescribed for individuals who have been taking high doses of the drug for an extended period of time or for those who have experienced barbiturate addiction after short-term use. Because of the way that barbiturates alter brain chemistry, the body adjusts quickly and prompts extreme withdrawal symptoms when dosing drops. This response requires that most struggling with barbiturate abuse use this drug to help control some of the more dangerous side effects.

Commonly Prescribed Barbiturates


The following is a list of the more commonly distributed barbiturates. This group of drugs is classified into four groups. These groups include the following:

  1. Ultra-Short Acting
  2. Short-Acting
  3. Intermediate Acting
  4. Long Acting


Ultra-short acting barbiturates are drugs that are used before a patient undergoes surgical procedures as they will induce paralysis, pain control, amnesia, and unconsciousness. Some of the more common ultra-short acting barbiturates are the following:


  • Thiopental sodium (Pentothal)
  • Thiamylal (Surital)
  • Methohexital (Brevital)


Short-acting and intermediate-acting barbiturates are a group of drugs that work as sedatives for both humans and animals. In humans, these are often sleeping pills or sedatives, although they have become controversial in recent years. These drugs are now used by patients seeking physician-assisted suicides. Some of the more common examples are the following:


  • Amobarbital (Amytal)
  • Butobarbital (Butisol)
  • Phenobarbital (Nembutal)
  • Secobarbital (Seconal)
  • Aprobarbital (Alurate)


Long-acting barbiturates are prescribed for those dealing with anxiety issues and for insomnia. These can also be used in conjunction with other medications to help control seizure disorders such as epilepsy and migraine headaches. Sodium pentothal is used by some military and law enforcement agencies as a sort of truth serum which allows for greater flow of information. It is also used for those suffering from conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to help patients verbalize trauma during therapy sessions. The following are commonly used long-acting barbiturates:


  • Phenobarbital (Luminal)
  • Methylphenobarbital (Prominal)
  • Mephobarbital (Mebaral)

Street Names for Barbiturates

  • Barbs
  • Phennies
  • Nembies
  • Abbots
  • Pinks
  • Rainbows
  • Sleepers
  • Yellow Jackets
  • Goof Balls
  • Blues
  • Christmas Trees

Effects of Barbiturate Abuse


Barbiturate abuse can cause changes in physical, mental, occupational and social functions and signs of barbiturate overuse can look much like intoxication. Some of the more common symptoms of barbiturate abuse are the following:

Physical Effects of Barbiturate Abuse


  • Elevated sensitivity to noise
  • Increased pain sensitivity
  • Respiration depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Kidney damage and failure
  • Irregular cycles (women)
  • Blood pressure spikes and dips
  • Overdose
  • Death

Mental Effects of Barbiturate Abuse


  • Panic and restlessness
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Volatile emotions
  • Memory deficits
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Sleeplessness
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal ideation

Interpersonal Effects


  • Strained family relationships
  • Loss of friendships
  • Lack of desire for hobbies
  • Issues with employers
  • Neglect of self (bathing, eating)

Barbiturate Quick Facts


  • The first barbiturate was made in 1903 by a German researcher named Adolph von Baeyer.
  • The lingering effects of long-acting barbiturates can last up to 48 hours.
  • Under the Controlled Substances Act, barbiturates are Schedule II, III, and IV suppressive drugs
  • More than one-third of all barbiturate associated deaths are suicide.
  • Women have been prescribed barbiturates for the treatment of anxiety and insomnia more than men.
  • More than 2500 different types of barbiturates are produced within the United States, but only a small percentage are commonly prescribed.
  • Most barbiturates sold on the streets are legally manufactured.
  • Possession of barbiturates without a valid prescription can carry a 5-year sentence.
  • Withdrawal symptoms are more severe than those associated with heroin detox.

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