Barbiturate Withdrawal

Stopping the use of barbiturates suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms to occur. Barbiturate withdrawal can be severe in some cases. Psychological side effects of barbiturate abuse can include hallucinations, changes in mental function, anxiety and depression.

What are Barbiturares?

Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic medications that cause you to feel sleepy or relaxed. They’ve treated many conditions for over a century, including migraines, seizures, insomnia, and more. However, they’re less common today because of the risk of abuse and certain side effects. Barbiturates affect your brain by increasing a brain chemical called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which slows down the activity of your brain cells.

At relatively low doses, barbiturates may make a person seem drunk or intoxicated (is alcohol a barbiturate?). Barbiturates are addictive. Individuals who take them become physically dependent on them. Stopping them (barbiturate withdrawal) can be life-threatening. Tolerance to the mood-altering effects of barbiturates develops rapidly with repeated use. But, tolerance to the lethal effects develops more slowly, and the risk of severe poisoning increases with continued use.

Barbiturates were first introduced for medical use in the 1900s, and today, few substances are in medical use. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH) [1], A barbiturate overdose happens when someone takes more than the average or recommended amount of this medicine. This can be by accident or on purpose. A barbiturates overdose is life-threatening. Nowadays, barbiturates are typically only used to treat severe and extreme cases of insomnia. These drugs also help control epilepsy seizures.

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Barbiturate withdrawal can be very severe or even deadly. it’s best to go through a medical detox when you are dependent on barbiturates.

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Are Barbiturates Addictive?

Barbiturates are prescription sedatives taken in pill form or injected directly into the muscles or veins. Barbiturates are highly potent, and taking even slightly more than the recommended dose can result in a wide range of health-related severe consequences – including coma and overdose-related death [2].

Barbiturate addiction was a major and widespread problem for about a decade. However, with the introduction of benzodiazepines – a medication that is safer to use and results in very similar effects – rates of barbiturate abuse and addiction soon began to decline. Still, this medication is so habit-forming that even one-time use can result in substance use disorder.

Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturates are common drugs of abuse; as a result, many medical professionals prefer to prescribe benzodiazepines. While benzos are still drugs of abuse, they have slightly fewer abuse risks than barbiturates.

Individuals who abuse barbiturates tend to choose short-acting or intermediate pills, such as Amytal and Seconal. Such specific drugs typically produce effects within 15-40 minutes, and it can take up to six hours for effects to diminish. Long-acting barbiturates can bring effects that last up to two days, but abuse rates for these types of barbiturates are lower [3].

The most common method of abuse is oral ingestion in pill form, but some who abuse the drugs have been known to inject the substance in liquid form to speed up delivery to the system. Barbiturates abuse is usually motivated by a desire to reduce anxiety, mitigate the effects of other drugs, and lessen a person’s inhibitions.

Effects of Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturates slow down the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) similarly to alcohol and depending on how fast they produce effects and the duration of those effects, they may be classed as ultra-short-, short-, intermediate-, or long-acting. In the case of long-acting barbital and phenobarbital, their effects may last for up to 1 day. Usually, these long-acting barbiturates are used with other medications to prevent convulsions in epilepsy.

barbiturate withdrawal
Misuse of barbiturates usually arises from attempts to self-medicate.

The effects of intermediate-acting barbiturates, like butabarbital sodium, last between six and twelve hours and these are used to treat people suffering from insomnia. Pentobarbital is an example of a short-acting barbiturate used to help someone suffering from insomnia fall asleep. The ultra-short-acting barbiturate of thiamylal is administered as an injection to cause unconsciousness in patients about to undergo surgery. Gaseous anesthetics maintain the patient’s unconsciousness throughout the surgical procedure.

Small doses of barbiturates can make individuals feel uninhibited, relaxed, mildly euphoric, free of anxiety, and sleepy. Larger doses can cause anxiety, hostility, body ataxia, paranoia, slurred speech, and suicidal thoughts. The risk of falling over or having an accident increases as the dose of barbiturates increases.

With prolonged use, tolerance can quickly develop. To this end, tolerance happens when larger doses than the original are needed to produce the same effects. This can increase the risk of overdose, signs of which include rapid and weak pulse, shallow breathing, dilated pupils, clammy skin, coma, and even death as a result of the severe depression of both the respiratory and the central nervous system.

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Barbiturates Withdrawal Symptoms

Stopping the use of barbiturates suddenly can cause withdrawal symptoms to occur. Barbiturate withdrawal can be severe in some cases. The psychological side effects of barbiturate abuse include hallucinations, mental function changes, anxiety, and depression.

Since physical dependence and tolerance can develop with the continued use of barbiturates, withdrawal from regular use can lead to various problems, including:

  • Nausea
  • Insomnia
  • Convulsions
  • Irritability
  • Faintness
  • Anxiety

In cases where an individual withdraws from regular use of very high doses of these drugs, symptoms can be more severe and might include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium
  • Seizures

Abrupt withdrawal from the regular use of high barbiturates can be life-threatening. People who have become addicted to these drugs may need to seek the care of trained rehabilitation professionals to help them withdraw safely and effectively from these drugs.

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Another common side effect of these barbiturates is that they reduce the effectiveness of female birth control contraceptive methods. 

Barbiturate Withdrawal Protocol

The specific barbiturate withdrawal timeline and duration of symptoms can vary depending on a few factors. For instance, the person’s age, how long they’ve used barbiturates, and how much they have been using can all play a significant role. In general, some of the most intense symptoms are experienced during the first 72 hours after quitting the use of barbiturates. Initial barbiturate withdrawal symptoms can include nausea, changes in heart rate, insomnia, vomiting, and mood changes.

In severe cases, individuals may experience psychosis. During the second week, many of the physical symptoms of withdrawal will subside. At this point, symptoms may be more psychological and emotional. For some individuals, symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal can last for weeks or months. When withdrawal symptoms are ongoing, it’s called Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms or PAWS.

Barbiturates are highly addictive and dangerous, especially during the withdrawal stage. People who wish to quit abusing barbiturates and their families are encouraged to seek help from trained medical professionals. Without proper supervision during the barbiturate withdrawal timeline, patients are at high risk of harming themselves or others and not being able to quit barbiturates successfully.

Barbiturate Withdrawal Timeline and Symptom Duration

Days 1-3

This is when the first symptoms of withdrawal begin to appear and are the most severe. During the first 24-48 hours, former users experience severe vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, and excessive sweating. The signs are most intense during the first 72 hours after cessation, and it is during this time people are most at risk for serious medical complications. 

Days 4-10

Throughout the first week, people usually have difficulty sleeping and suffer from insomnia, but withdrawal symptoms will typically begin to lessen around the 7-day mark. As the body continues to try to adjust without Barbiturates, recovering users will experience shaking, lingering muscle aches, nausea, abdominal cramping, and sweating.

Days 11-17

Towards the end of the second week, most physical symptoms have subsided, but psychological symptoms such as anxiety can persist, and panic attacks can begin to appear. Additionally, extreme fatigue and depression are common during this period.

Days 18+

The worst withdrawal symptoms are typically over at this point. Any remaining symptoms will continue to fade over time. However, for some, the psychological symptoms such as depression and anxiety may continue for several weeks or months before they subside.

Some Of The Factors That Contribute To Barbiturate Withdrawal Include:

  • Age
  • The last dose of the barbiturate drug
  • How long you’ve been taking barbiturates
  • Frequency of use
  • The half-life of the barbiturate used
  • Metabolism
  • How the barbiturate was consumed
  • If one or more drugs were used with the barbiturate
  • Substance use history/ addiction family history
  • Tolerance
  • Support system
  • Diet

In many cases, the length of withdrawal will be short and take one to two weeks. Heavy users of the drugs, however, might experience prolonged symptoms that last up to a month. Mild users will get through the process much more quickly.

Some Of The Factors That Contribute To Barbiturate Withdrawal Include:

  • Age
  • The last dose of the barbiturate drug
  • How long you’ve been taking barbiturates
  • Frequency of use
  • The half-life of the barbiturate used
  • Metabolism
  • How the barbiturate was consumed
  • If one or more drugs were used with the barbiturate
  • Substance use history/ addiction family history
  • Tolerance
  • Support system
  • Diet

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Dangers of Barbiturate Withdrawal

Often known as Downers or Barbs, barbiturates are classified as hypnotics, sedatives, anesthetics, and anticonvulsants. Barbiturates can result in physical and psychological adverse side effects for a user who misuses the medication. Specific side effects include loss of consciousness, liver disease, blood disorders, overdose, and death. Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, Marilyn Monroe, and Judy Garland are just a few of the celebrity deaths that have been linked to the overuse of barbiturates.

Barbiturates can also cause any pre-existing behavioral problems to increase or worsen. Taking these drugs while drinking alcohol is extremely dangerous, as it can cause serious medical issues and potentially lead to an accidental overdose and the user’s death. These are just a few reasons why it is essential for individuals addicted to using barbiturates to seek medical detox treatment.

Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms can be very dangerous, as the onset of the symptoms is quick – often within just a couple of hours of the last dose. Withdrawal symptoms include impatience, agitation, convulsions, fever, sweating, seizures, hallucinations, cardiovascular collapse, and even death. Due to the severity and seriousness of these symptoms, it is encouraged for individuals to undergo a supervised medical barbiturate detox.

Barbiturate Withdrawal Treatment

There is a strong link between anxiety meds like barbiturates and mental health conditions like depression. Individuals who struggle with mood disorders like depression and anxiety are more susceptible to developing an addiction to drugs or alcohol, often to self-medicate symptoms of their underlying mental health condition. These co-occurring disorders can make each other worse without proper barbiturate withdrawal treatment.

To determine the most effective ways to treat barbiturate withdrawal and addiction, getting an accurate assessment of all the symptoms is crucial. When a mental health professional has evaluated the symptoms, it may be determined that another form of mental condition is present and needs a particular treatment. Very often, some combination of psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes are effective for coping with functional.

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Barbiturate Detox Protocol

Medical detox is weaning someone off of the drug. It allows members of centers like We Level Up to recover safely and comfortably. While an uncomfortable withdrawal from barbiturates is unavoidable, it doesn’t have to be unbearable.

Medical detox is often considered the first stage of treatment. It will help you navigate the complicated barbiturate withdrawal but doesn’t address patterns of thought and behavior contributing to drug use. Various treatment approaches and settings can help provide the ongoing support necessary to maintain long-term sobriety after you complete detox.

Cravings are very common during detox and can be challenging to overcome. This often leads to relapse. Constant medical care provided during inpatient treatment helps prevent relapse. Clinicians can give necessary medication and medical expertise to lessen the cravings and effects of barbiturate withdrawal.

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Inpatient Drug Rehab for Withdrawal Symptoms of Barbiturates

There isn’t one treatment approach or style that will suit everyone. Treatment should speak to the needs of the individual. Inpatient drug and alcohol rehab and addiction treatment aren’t just about drug and alcohol use. the goal is to help the patient stop using barbiturates. Drug and alcohol rehab should also focus on the whole person’s needs.

Addiction is a complex but treatable disease that affects brain function and behavior. When someone or their family is considering different treatment facilities, they should account for the complexity of addiction and the needs of the individual. The objective of attending an inpatient drug and alcohol rehab center for addiction treatment is to stop using the drug and re-learn how to live a productive life without it.

Most people benefit from inpatient rehab after a full medical detox from drugs and alcohol. Inpatient drug rehab can last anywhere from 28 days to several months. Patients stay overnight in the rehab facility and participate in intensive treatment programs and therapy. Once someone completes rehab, their addiction treatment team will create an aftercare program, including continuing therapy and participation in a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.


Many rehab programs will also have early morning classes or programs. Group sessions occur during inpatient rehab, as do individual therapy sessions. Family therapy may be part of inpatient rehab when it’s feasible. Alternative forms of therapy may be introduced during inpatient rehab, like a holistic therapy program, yoga for addiction recovery, or addiction treatment massage therapy.

Several different modalities of psychotherapy have been used in the treatment of mental health disorders along with addiction, including:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – is an effective treatment that involves changing both the patterns of negative thoughts and the behavioral routines which are affecting the daily life of the depressed person for various forms of depression.
  • Dialectical Behavioral Therapy – is a comprehensive mental health and substance abuse treatment program whose ultimate goal is to aid patients in their efforts to build a life worth living. The main goal of DBT is to help a person develop what is referred to as a “clear mind.” 
  • Solution-focused therapy is an approach interested in solutions that can be quickly implemented with a simple first step leading to further positive consequences.

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Dual Diagnosis Treatment

Drug abuse and mental health disorders often co-occur. In many cases, traumatic experiences can result in a mental health disorder and substance abuse. Dual diagnosis rehabilitation treats both of these issues together. The best approach for the treatment of dual diagnosis is an integrated system. This strategy treats both the substance abuse problem and the mental disorder simultaneously. Regardless of which diagnosis (mental health or substance abuse problem) came first, long-term recovery will depend mainly on the treatment for both diseases done by the same team or provider.

Medication Assisted Treatments (MAT)

Medication-Assisted Treatments (MAT) for substance use and mental health disorders are commonly used in conjunction with one another. This includes the use of medications and other medical procedures. During your rehab, the staff from your treatment facility will help you identify what caused your addiction and teach you skills that will help you change your behavior patterns and challenge the negative thoughts that led to your addiction. Sometimes, the pressures and problems in your life lead you to rely on substances to help you forget about them momentarily.

Please, do not try to detox on your own. The detox process can be painful and difficult without medical assistance. However, getting through the detox process is crucial for continued treatment. We Level Up provide proper care with round-the-clock medical staff to assist your recovery through our opioid addiction treatment program medically. So, reclaim your life, and call us to speak with one of our treatment specialists. Our counselors know what you are going through and will answer any of your questions.

Drug and Alcohol Rehab Near Me

Drug and alcohol addiction is a condition that can cause major health problems, such as an overdose. We Level Up rehab treatment & detox center can provide you, or someone you love, the tools to recover from this with professional and safe treatment. Feel free to call us to speak with one of our counselors. We can inform you about this condition and give you clarity about issues like barbiturate withdrawal symptoms. Our specialists know what you are going through. Please know that each call is private and confidential.

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What Are Barbiturates? Barbiturate Overdose Risks, Use, Effects, Withdrawal & Addiction Treatment Video


[1] [4] NIH –
[2] DEA –
[3] NIDA –
[4] NCBI –
[5] What Are Barbiturates And Its Effects? Addiction, Symptoms, Overdose, Withdrawal, & Treatment (