Signs of a Barbiturate Addiction

The U.S. is full of addicts. No matter what type of drugs are used, be it alcohol, heroin, or meth – addiction is addiction. Barbiturate addiction is not as wide of a problem as it was once was in the United States – but there are still hundreds and possibly thousands who silently suffer through their barbiturate addiction every day.

Let’s find out more about barbiturate addiction including what barbiturates are, physical and psychological signs of an addiction, questions to ask, and how you can treat a barbiturate addiction. If you think you or a loved one has a problem with barbiturates – you need to read on.

What is a Barbiturate?

In pharmacology, barbiturates are a class of sedative and sleep-inducing drugs derived from barbituric acid – hence the name. German chemist Adolf von Baeyer first synthesized barbituric acid in 1864. The new substance would sit on shelves until 1903 when Emil Fischer and Joseph von Mering discovered that its derivative barbital was an effective sleep agent for dogs. Shortly after the discovery, the first barbiturate Veronal was available on the market.

Barbiturates became extremely popular in the psychology and psychiatry community in the 1950s and 60s due to their ease of use. Simply inject a patient with some barbiturates and they’ll calm down. Unfortunately, the 50s and 60s were also the same time researchers were discovering the dangers of the drug and its propensity for addiction.

Though they remained popular in the following decades, barbiturates prescriptions have declined drastically in the favor of the still addictive, but safer benzodiazepines. Barbiturates are still prescribed today, but mostly for seizure disorders or to help treat alcoholism.

How do Barbiturates Work?

Barbiturates are central nervous system (CNS) depressants. In the drug world, a depressant won’t always make you slow down and a stimulant won’t always make you hyper – depressant refers to how the drug alters your body’s chemistry. In barbiturates case, it will depress your breathing, heart rate, and more. Barbiturate overdose can cause shallow breathing, heart attack, coma, and death.

Barbiturates also increase the amount of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain which causes euphoria. This euphoria is the first step in dependency. Even after a few days of barbiturate use, the body will become used to its effects which means you need more to achieve a high. Before long you’ll need a handful of pills just to fill normal.

Physical Symptoms of Barbiturate Addiction

Because barbiturates act on many of the same mechanisms as alcohol does in the body – the produced effects are like a drunk person.

  • Loss of coordination, stumbling, falling
  • Slurring words
  • Loss of inhibitions
  • Poor judgement
  • Hypersomnia (Continuous Sleeping)
  • Blacking Out
  • Overdose

Psychological Symptoms of Barbiturate Addiction

The ebb and flow of GABA created by barbiturate abuse also wrecks the brain and presents itself in psychological symptoms including:

  • Manic or depressive states
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Agitation


Questions to Ask Yourself

If you’re worried that you’re addicted to barbiturates, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have you ever taken barbiturates without a prescription?
  • Have you ever bought barbiturates off the street?
  • Have you ever overdosed?
  • Have you ever taken more than a prescribed amount of barbiturates?
  • Have you attempted to limit your use?
  • Have you told yourself you’d quit but only sought more?
  • Has a loved one complained about your habit?
  • Have you ever missed a social engagement or work due to barbiturate use?
  • Have you experienced barbiturate withdrawal symptoms?

There’s a strong chance you are currently addicted to barbiturates or on the path to a debilitating addiction if you answered yes to just one of those questions. If you answered yes to two or more, it’s time to seek professional help.

Barbiturate Withdrawal

Barbiturate’s method of action makes it easy to become addicted to the drug while also creating withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking it. Unlike withdrawal from some drugs, barbiturate withdrawal is a very serious matter and could result in death if not addressed properly.

If you’re chemically dependent on barbiturates your brain will panic when you take its favorite drug away. A panicked brain responds by sending erratic strikes of neurotransmitters and electrical impulses throughout your body resulting in seizures, heart attack, coma, and even death. The longer the user has been dependent on barbiturates and the more they take, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms will be. Barbiturate withdrawal is like alcohol withdrawal and can include:

Heart palpitations








How Professionals Treat Barbiturate Addiction  

If you or a loved one is experiencing a barbiturate addiction, you must turn to a professional treatment center. Many are afraid of detox and treatment, mostly because they don’t know what to expect. Let’s learn a little more about how barbiturate addiction is treated in medical detox and treatment facilities.

Detox and Tapering

Modern detox facilities won’t toss you in a cold, empty room and expect you to just ‘sweat it out.’ Withdrawal is one of the top reasons people continually return to barbiturates, so the modern treatment facility approaches your detox with modern tapering methods.

Addiction experts and medical experts will craft a unique detox plan to slowly and effectively remove barbiturates from your system with as little discomfort as possible. Doctors may use mild barbiturates, benzodiazepines, or other medications to slowly wean you off the drug to avoid many of the major pitfalls associated with barbiturate detox.


Chemical dependency is only one part of addiction. To treat addiction, you must treat the whole person. Counseling has been popular in detox facilities for decades and continuously helps those overcome their addictions. What type of counseling you receive depends on the treatment center, but most all facilities offer one-on-one and group counseling at a minimum.

A Path Ahead

Detox and treatment facilities will also arm you with a toolbox to continue the path to recovery including local resources, 12-step meetings, online resources, as well as tools you learned during counseling. Treatment facilities love their patients, but they don’t’ want to see them come back.

Ending Barbiturate Addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from barbiturate addiction, every day could be the last. Reach out to a treatment or detox facility to help you or someone get on the path to recovery. It’s a long road but just by picking up the phone – you’ve made the first step.

The Addiction Blog