What Are Barbiturates?
Barbiturates are drugs derived from barbituric acid that depress the central nervous system through increasing the activity of Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid (GABA) in the brain. This buildup of neurotransmitters leads to neural activity suppression and a sedative effect.
Due to their ability to depress the respiratory system and lower blood pressure, Barbiturates were commonly prescribed to treat medical conditions such as anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. However, they have been replaced throughout the years with safer alternatives, as they can be dangerous when taken in large doses or when used with other drugs or alcohol.
Can You Become Addicted To Barbiturates?
Barbiturates have an elevated potential for abuse and dependence. Psychological dependence is prevalent with these drugs due to the feelings of relaxation and euphoria that they provide.
Additionally, physical dependence can develop with extended or regular use, making it challenging to stop using without experiencing withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, tremors, and hallucinations.
Due to their high risk of dependence, Barbiturates are classified as Schedule II controlled substances in the US. This means they are strictly regulated and only available through a prescription from a medical professional.
Unfortunately, some individuals still abuse Barbiturates by taking them in larger doses than prescribed, using them recreationally, or in combination with other chemical substances. This can lead to dangerous health repercussions, including drug overdose and death.
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Risks Of Barbiturates
The risks associated with Barbiturate use have significantly restricted their medical utilization.
Some of these side-effects include:
- Respiratory depression
- Cognitive impairment, such as memory loss
- Motor impairment, such as loss of coordination
- Psychiatric effects, such as hallucinations
- Psychological effects, such as depression and suicidal thoughts
- Withdrawal symptoms, such as changes in mood and behavior
In addition to the high potential for addiction and dependence, Barbiturates can negatively interact with numerous medications, including antidepressants, anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, and birth control pills. These interactions can modify the efficacy and safety of both the Barbiturate and the co-administered drug.
Use During Pregnancy
Barbiturate use during pregnancy may cause a threat to the developing fetus, as the drugs can pass through the placental barrier. They have been linked to congenital disorders, withdrawal symptoms, and other harmful effects in newborns, such as bleeding problems and brain tumors.
Stopping suddenly or quickly lessening the dosage of Barbiturates after an extended period of use can result in many negative withdrawal symptoms.
These symptoms can include:
Due to these risks, withdrawal should be managed under medical supervision.
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Medical Use Of Barbiturates
Although prescription of Barbiturates has greatly declined, they are still utilized as a last resort in treating certain conditions. Since they have been around for many years, there has been sufficient research on their risks and best uses.
They can be classified as short-acting and long-acting, making them useful for various medical conditions. The most prominent remaining medical use is as a sedative. With appropriate dosage, they can be prescribed as sleep aids to help fight insomnia (in both adults and children) and as an anesthetic given before surgery.
Other current but rare uses include use as anti-seizure medication and as a medication to help induce comas when brain trauma has occurred.
Barbiturate Abuse Treatment
Medical monitoring and treatment is recommended for people who are looking to cease prescribed Barbiturate use, as it may take several days for the person’s body to fully eliminate the drug.
More involved treatment is recommended for habitual Barbiturate use, which often creates physical dependency that can cause painful and dangerous withdrawal symptoms when a person tries to quit. Those addicted to Barbiturates may find that they need prolonged therapy and support to avoid life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
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If you are exploring treatment options for an addiction to Barbiturates, contact a treatment provider today for more information.
Ashish Bhatt, MD, MRO
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Learn about Dr. Ashish Bhatt
Dr. Bhatt has been Addiction Center's Medical Content Director for more than three years, providing his expertise to ensure quality and accuracy.
Doctor of Addiction Medicine
Expert in adult and child psychiatry
Over 20 years of professional experience