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Barbiturate Abuse and Recovery: Key Facts

Barbiturate abuse and addiction doesn’t get the same level of attention as the opioid epidemic. However, it is still a problem for tens of thousands of people. Like any addiction, it can ruin lives, drain resources, hurt friends and family, and more. In fact, these dangerous drugs have caused some of the most famous celebrity deaths in history.

This post covers everything you need to know about barbiturate addiction and abuse. It explains the medical uses and science of the drug. It also covers side effects and dangers. After that, we’ll provide helpful information about getting clean. Use the information in this post to help yourself or someone you love break free from addiction today.

Understanding What Barbiturates Are

Barbiturates are medications that can be prescribed by a doctor to help with anxiety. They are sedatives. They also help to manage seizure disorders. There are times when they are used prior to operations as a sedative.

At one time, barbiturates were used regularly to treat conditions such as chronic headaches and insomnia. But this practice has mostly ceased because of how addictive they can be. The drug can be injected. However, most people take it in pill form.

The most commonly prescribed barbiturates are:
  • Luminal (phenobarbital)
  • Seconal (secobarbital)
  • Fiorinal (butalbital)
  • Brevital (methohexital)
  • Butisol (butabarbital)

Development started on these drugs in the mid to late 1800’s. The Bayer company in Germany was the first to discover them. The first one was produced in 1864. They were almost the only sedative used from the 1920’s-1950’s. They’ve been used for executions and to put animals to sleep. This is a telling sign of how dangerous these drugs can be.

There are two primary ways a barbiturate addiction forms. The most common way is as a result of a prescription. Some people develop an addiction after getting the drug illegally. However, benzodiazepines are replacing phenobarbital and similar drugs. As a result, it’s more common to find addictions that start with a doctor’s prescription.  

An addiction usually happens in steps. Not all at once. You increase your dosage because you’ve developed a tolerance to the medications. When this occurs, you’re teaching your body that it needs barbiturates to survive.

Like many people, once you realize you’re addicted, you attempt to stop taking them. But it’s too late. Barbiturate rehabilitation is needed at this stage in order to get off these medications without a lot of withdrawal symptoms and side effects.

Despite being replaced by benzos, doctors still prescribe barbiturates for many conditions. The most common reason a doctor recommends the medication is for seizures. The powerful sedative effect the drug offers makes it effective at reducing or stopping seizures.

They are also prescribed for insomnia. However, this only happens in extreme cases. Other drugs offer help sleeping. They don’t have the same dangerous side effects, so they’re safer. The newer drugs are also much harder to overdose on.

Finally, barbiturates are used to treat severe headaches. This is fairly rare. Like with insomnia, they’re only used in extreme cases.

You’ll notice that there are other drugs that help all of the things you might use a barbiturate for. Doctors generally prefer using those other drugs. However, they still might recommend something like phenobarbital. This is especially true if someone is allergic or responds badly to the safer alternative.

Some people think that barbiturates are a drug of the past. While they’ve been replaced by benzos for many uses, there are still a lot of pills around. For example:

  • The United States legally produces more than 300 tons of the drug each year
  • 19 million prescriptions are written for barbiturates every year
  • Up to 33% of all drug-related deaths have barbiturates as a contributing factor
  • 1 in 3 US homes have at least one bottle of the drug at any given time

These facts show that the drug is still a problem. It may not be as popular recreationally as it was in the 1970’s, but it’s still out there.

Barbiturates depress the central nervous system, or CNS. The effects are similar to alcohol. But they are much more powerful. Depressing the CNS causes several side effects, including:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shallow breathing
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Slow breathing
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache

These are only the immediate side effects. We’ll look at the results of long-term abuse and use in the next section. It’s important to note that these side effects are more serious than they sound. They aren’t just uncomfortable. They create serious risks. Many of them, like slow breathing and reduced heart rate, can cause death.

Also, they can stop you from going about your normal life. After all, it’s hard to get things done if you’re always dizzy or sleepy. This can cause missed appointments and deadlines. It also reduces your performance at work and at home.

Barbiturate abuse happens when you take the drug without a prescription. It also happens if you take it more than your doctor recommends. Studies suggest that one of the most important things about abuse and tolerance is the gamma-aminobutyric acid A receptor (GABAA). This receptor plays a key role in the development of tolerance and dependence for barbiturates.

Abuse and tolerance are a vicious cycle. Tolerance leads to abuse to get the same effects. The increased abuse causes more tolerance.

Also, the whole time, the body and brain get more and more used to the drug. As a result, they start to expect it. They adjust the way they operate. Instead of functioning normally, they function as if the drug will be there.

People also go to extra levels to abuse the drug. Some people crush it up and snort it. Others grind it to a powder and inject it. These steps increase the power of the drug. They make it work faster and more intensely. But they also increase tolerance. The result is a need for more and more of the drug to get the same effects.

This situation is especially dangerous. The risk of overdose increases as tolerance goes up. That’s because there’s only so much of the drug the body can handle. Tolerance works different for the brain and the body. The amount of the drug needed to get high might be more than the body can handle.

Many people who abuse barbiturates also abuse other recreational drugs. This is known as polydrug abuse. It’s especially dangerous.

Drugs affect the body in different ways. The human body is very complex. There are lots of things that go into its functions. Taking barbiturates with other drugs increases the overall effect on your body. For example, it’s very dangerous to take these drugs with opioids.

Both drugs work on the central nervous system. This system controls important things like breathing and heart rate. Mixing drugs increases the effect on the central nervous system. As a result, this increases the chance of an overdose and death.

Polydrug abuse requires specialized treatment. Doctors need to consider all of the different angles. Complex treatments are needed to cover everything that’s happening to the body. In fact, barbiturates with other drugs have caused some famous celebrity deaths.

Tragic Examples of Barbiturate Overdoses

Most barbiturate overdoses are accidents. However, they can still have tragic results. It may surprise some people to find out that the drug caused several celebrity deaths. Two of the most well-known individuals include Marilyn Monroe and Jimi Hendrix.

Marilyn Monroe was a famous actress and model. She was one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s. Nearly everyone has seen the famous picture of her holding down her dress as a burst of air from the subway pushes it up.

Marilyn worked on both popular and critically acclaimed films. Despite her success, she had problems. She was married three times. Her husband's include famous playwright Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio, a baseball hall of famer.

She also struggled with depression and anxiety. This could be because of her rough childhood. It could also be from the pressures of being famous. These situations caused her to develop substance abuse issues. Her doctors prescribed barbiturates.

When she died she had a 4.5 mg% of pentobarbital in her blood and a 13 mg% of pentobarbital in her liver.  There’s a lot controversy over her death. Some people claim it was a conspiracy. The coroner ruled it a suicide. No matter what, it was tragic and preventable.

Jimi Hendrix is one of the most famous rock musicians of all time. In his short career he earned widespread popular and critical praise. He pioneered several innovative musical techniques artists still use today. These include using a wah-wah pedal and stereophonic phasing.

Jimi Hendrix died on September 18, 1970. He was in London at the time. The corner determined that he died by choking on his own vomit. The drug suppressed important body functions. These complications proved to be fatal.

He had taken nine Vesparax sleeping tablets. That’s a type of barbiturate used as a sleeping aid at the time. The 9 tablet dosage he took was 18 times the recommended dose. As a result, his body couldn’t properly function. This lead to his choking, suffocation, and death.

The short-term side effects of barbiturates are scary enough. The effects of long-term use are even more terrifying. Prolonged use can result in several effects. These include:

  • Addiction and dependence – people who take the drug for a long time develop a physical and psychological dependence on the drug.
  • Birth defects – studies show that using substances like phenobarbital can cause birth defects.
  • Cognitive problems in children – children who use barbiturates are more likely to have problems with learning, memory, attention, problem solving, and judgement.
  • Cognitive problems in adults – long-term use is associated with memory, attention, speech, and problem-solving issues in adults. These problems tend to get worse the longer the drug is used.
  • Cancer – studies on animals and humans found that using barbiturates is associated with higher rates of liver cancer. Other types of cancer, like brain tumors in children and renal cancer, have also been found.
  • Skin – the effects of the drug increase the risk of dermatological issues.
  • Bone health – Long-term use increases the risk of developing osteoporosis, bone fractures, palmar fibromatosis, and other bone problems.
  • Breathing problems – barbiturates slow the heart and breathing. Over time, this can result in chronic hypoxia. That’s a condition where the organs aren’t getting enough oxygen.
  • Mental health problems – Mood disorders like confusion, depression, mood swings, paradoxical reactions, nightmares, panic attacks, and phobias are more common in long-term users.

Given the terrible consequences, it’s important to break free of barbiturate addiction. The best way to avoid problems is avoid the drug entirely. If you need the drug, then you should only take it as instructed by a doctor.

However, addictions and dependence still happen. You should know that hope is not lost. There are ways to break free of barbiturate dependence. We’ll look at that next.

How to Get Back to Living After Barbiturate

A great deal of support is needed when recovering from barbiturate addiction. It’s important to realize that these types of medications often cannot be stopped all at once. Tapering down your dosage may be required. Inpatient barbiturate rehab is the best place to stop your use of them so that you can be closely monitored.

Withdrawal is one of the most challenging aspects of any addiction. In fact, fear of withdrawal and its effects are the two biggest barriers to people getting help. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

One of the best ways to fight fear is with knowledge. We’ll look at what you can expect in recovery. Use this information to find the courage to break your addiction today!

Barbiturate Withdrawal

Withdrawal happens because of the physical dependence on the drug. Your body adapts to the drug as you take it. The body is always looking for balance. Therefore, some body and brain functions speed up and other slow down in response to barbiturates. When you remove the drug, the body needs to adjust those functions.

Barbiturate Rehab Information

This adjustment takes time. Withdrawal is the period where your brain and body are adjusting to life without the drug. The intensity of withdrawal symptoms depends on several things. Your age and metabolism play a large role. Tolerance levels and frequency of use are also important factors.

Barbiturate withdrawal has many possible symptoms. Every person won’t experience every symptom. However, everyone will experience at least one. Most people will experience many of them. Up to 75% of people withdrawing from barbiturates will have at least one seizure. The symptoms include:
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation
  • High body temperature
  • Violent behavior
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Respiratory depression
  • Shaking
  • Hallucinations
  • Coma
  • Death

None of these symptoms is fun. But the last two show why it’s so important to get professional help. Trying to detox by yourself doesn’t offer the same level of medical care and knowledge. Trained professionals know what to do to handle different withdrawal symptoms.

In addition to being safer, trained professionals also make withdrawal easier to deal with. They can use medical and therapeutic techniques to help you cope. That makes it more likely that you’ll be able to get clean and stay clean.

There are a few phases of barbiturate withdrawal. It’s helpful to break the process down by the amount of time since your last dose.

Most barbiturates are very long-acting. Some of them have a half-life of more than a day. The half life is how long it takes your body to remove half of the drug. For example, pretend the half life of a drug is 24 hours. That means if you take 10 mg of the drug, one day later you’ll still have 5 mg in your system.

This is important to realize. If you take another 10 mg the next day, you’ll have 15 mg in your system. Half will be removed by your body in the next 24 hours. But if you take another pill the next day, then you’ll have 17.5 mg in your system. This shows how the amount of the drug can quickly build up. That’s one of the reasons barbiturates are so dangerous.

The first one to three days of barbiturate withdrawal are the hardest. This phase is also where the most dangerous outcomes can happen. That’s why it’s important to have 24/7 care during this period. The symptoms include an increased heart rate, insomnia, vomiting, and mood swings. People can also get seizures during this period.

The first week after your last dose is still difficult and dangerous. Heart rate and pulse will be higher. Most people have problems sleeping. Many are irritable and have rapid mood swings. The craving for the drug gets stronger during this time.

During the second week you will still have many of the same emotional symptoms. Many people also still have problems sleeping. But the risk of seizures and serious problems decreases a lot.

The third and fourth weeks see a decrease in withdrawal symptoms. Mental health and emotional stability start to return. Physical symptoms get less intense. Some people still get headaches and sensitivity to light and sound. Most people still have some issues sleeping. But the insomnia isn’t as bad as earlier in the detox.

Like many drugs, barbiturates can result in PAWS, or protracted withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can last for months or even years after you stop using. The good news is that they can be managed. The most common way of dealing with them is therapy. We’ll talk more about therapy shortly, as it is helpful during all phases of recovery.

PAWS has several possible symptoms. Not everyone will get PAWS. People who do get it may have different symptoms. The most common symptoms include:

  • Difficulty thinking and/or concentrating
  • Shortened temper and easily irritated.
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

It’s very important to seek treatment for dealing with PAWS. The symptoms cause some people to relapse. They seek relief from the symptoms in barbiturates. This doesn’t fix the symptoms in the long run. It can also make future recovery harder.

Alternative Options

There’s no such thing as a perfect drug. All drugs have some risk. However, some drugs are more dangerous than others. There are safer options than barbiturates. These options work as well or better for most people. That’s why drugs like phenobarbital aren’t used as much as they were in the past.

The most common replacement option are benzodiazepines. These drugs have many of the same effects as barbiturates. But they are much safer. They don’t form addictions as quickly. They also leave the body quickly.

Benzos can be used for seizures, anxiety, and insomnia. That means that barbiturates aren’t as needed. Another benefit is that the threshold for overdose is different. It is much more difficult to overdose on benzos. This also helps make them safer.

In the past, insomnia was one of the most frequent reasons to give someone barbiturates. However, modern science has found many alternatives.

Modern sleep aids still carry some risks. People can get dependent on them. They can also cause overdoses. However, they’re much safer. Some examples include:

  • Silenor – used to help people stay asleep. It blocks histamine receptors.
  • Lunesta – helps people fall asleep quickly. However, some people may feel impaired the next day.
  • Sonata – shortest acting sleeping pill. This has the least chance of causing you to feel “off” the next day.
  • Zolpidem – also known as Ambien, Edluar, and Intermezzo, these medications help people fall asleep without the risks of barbiturates.

All of these drugs have risks of their own. But they’re all safer than using barbiturates as a sleep aid. You should talk to a doctor to determine the best options for treating your insomnia.

Getting Help for a Barbiturate Addiction

Getting help for a barbiturate addiction may seem challenging. However, it’s far better than the alternative. After all, withdrawal is only temporary. Addiction lasts forever.

The first step for barbiturate addiction treatment is detox. This is the process of getting the drug out of your system. Detox is longer for this class of drug than others. That’s because the drug stays in your system for so long. Some have a half-life of more than a day. That means it might take 3-6 days from your last dose to be totally rid of it.

Detox is also where you’ll start getting withdrawal symptoms. These can be difficult. They can also be deadly. That’s why detoxing in a safe, clinical environment is best. Doctors can help manage your detox. They can reduce withdrawal symptoms. They also know the steps to take should the worst happen.

The next step of rehabilitation depends on the person. But nearly everyone will go through therapy. Therapy helps several ways.

First, it helps you understand why you started taking the drug. It will help you spot destructive choices before you make them. It also helps you cope with stress. This is important. Stress and stressful situations can cause people to look to drugs for help. That can lead to a relapse.

Some people addicted to barbiturates started taking them for medical reasons. They were recommended as a treatment by a doctor. These people will learn about other options. Doctors will help them pick out other medications. These medications are less dangerous. They might even be more effective.

People that take barbiturates for fun probably don’t need alternative medications. However, doctors and patients decide what’s best on a case-by-case basis.

Barbiturate Rehab Cost in Washington State

Barbiturate treatment programs are no longer as expensive as they once were. Few health insurance providers offered coverage for barbiturate rehabs. This meant far too many people attempted to stop using them on their own. This is all very different now. Health insurance providers are required to provide benefits.

These changes in our country’s healthcare system have been helpful to so many people. Many of them are surprised to find that their barbiturate rehab is covered in full.

Amytal Addiction Treatment

Choosing Washington Barbiturate Rehabilitation at Northpoint Washington

Here at Northpoint Washington, we recognize the dangers associated with an addiction to barbiturates. These medications are extremely powerful. And yet, despite how dangerous they can be, many physicians continue to prescribe them because they can be helpful. Unfortunately, this often leads to addictions that require barbiturate rehab programs in order to stop them safely.

If you’re addicted to barbiturates, please don’t attempt to stop taking them on your own. Doing so can be hazardous. It can easily result in an overdose.

Barbiturates addiction help is available for you so that you can recovery properly. Call (888) 663-7106 or contact us today. We’ll explain what we can do to help. No one should have to live with a barbiturate addiction. Don’t deny yourself the life you deserve. Reach out for help now.

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