Barbiturates are not new to human society. We’ve been using them since the 19th century to treat various ailments, ranging from insomnia to anxiety. With time, medical technology advanced to the point where we no longer use them for treating diseases on a large scale. Benzodiazepines have mostly replaced barbiturates as the drug of choice for many medical treatments. Still, we use barbiturates in treating several mental conditions. Between the 1920s and the 1950s, many mental ailments were treated solely with barbiturates. With time, doctors realized the danger of long-term exposure to the drug and started medically supervised barbiturate detox together with long-term treatment
Barbiturates are dangerous because of how addictive they can be. When someone is taking this class of drugs over the long term, they become dependent on it. In these cases, detoxification and rehab are necessary to help them avoid their drug dependence. Unfortunately, suddenly ceasing consumption of barbiturates after becoming dependent on them can lead to severe side effects, and in some cases, death. There’s no question that this class of drug is among the most dangerous in use today. The DEA classes barbiturates as Schedule II, III, and IV depressants under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning they are only available with a prescription from a doctor. But what are these drugs, and how do they affect a person?
What are Barbiturates? A Barbiturate Definition
Barbiturates are a class of drugs that bring a calming sensation to the human body. Taking them creates a feeling of euphoria that’s not unlike consuming alcohol. In extreme dosages, barbiturates can lead to unconsciousness. The original set of barbiturates was manufactured in the 1860s by Bayer in Germany. It was initially used in treating mental conditions including depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Today, barbiturates are usually not used in treating these conditions anymore because there are safer alternatives. Barbiturates’ effectiveness comes from how they interact with the human body.
Barbiturates create this feeling of euphoria within a person’s brain by interacting with the [gamma]-aminobutyric acid (GABA) system. GABA is a channel in the brain that the body uses to regulate voltage within the brain’s cells. When barbiturates bind to the GABA channel, they force it open for a more extended period, causing a negative voltage to develop. The negative voltage acts as an inhibitor to nerve impulses. Because of its mechanism of action, barbiturates are also used as anesthetics but in controlled doses. Several other medical uses, such as sedation or treatment of acute convulsions and seizures, also utilize barbiturates, but usually as a last resort.
Barbiturates have also found used as a recreational drug because of the feelings of euphoria they produce when someone consumes them. Among the typical symptoms of barbiturate use are:
- impaired judgment
- loss of coordination
- slurred speech
- reduced inhibitions
- euphoria and relaxation
Because there are so many barbiturates, people who want to use them recreationally can find a drug that suits them. A person using the drug may experience the effects from anywhere between a few minutes to two days. Barbiturates can be injected into the body but are usually taken as pills because they are easier to carry and buy. While barbiturate abuse has declined significantly since the 1970s, the most recent generation seems to have rediscovered the drug. Many more people have come to rehab centers to deal with barbiturate detox in the last few years than is typical.
Examples Of Common Barbiturates
Some barbiturates are still in circulation, within drugs people use to manage some typical conditions. They include:
- Phenobarbital: This drug is used to manage epilepsy in patients and helps deal with extreme seizures. It also forms part of the detox and recovery system, used to taper off users of other barbiturates. Because it’s such a common drug and has so many uses, getting phenobarbital is a lot easier than acquiring other drugs in this class. Phenobarbital is considered a high-risk drug because it can easily lead to addiction in users, regardless of age.
- Amobarbital (Amytal): Amytal is a well-known pre-surgery relaxant used for anesthetic purposes. Barbiturates such as Amytal lead to dreamless sleep, but this sleep is not restful since users don’t experience any REM cycles during their sleep. Typically, individuals who use Amytal recreationally may suffer from a lack of quality sleep, impacting their lives in significant ways.
- Pentobarbital (Nembutal): Another pre-surgery anesthetic, pentobarbital is also used to deal with severe insomnia problems. In small doses, it can be used as an anticonvulsive. Nembutal is referred to as the “end-of-life” drug because it carries a significant risk of death from withdrawal. In some areas, the drug is entirely illegal, especially where euthanasia is not acceptable to society.
- Secobarbital (Seconal): Another less well-known drug used for sedation and pre-surgery relaxation, Seconal can also be used in euthanasia, making it illegal in several locales. Seconal is significantly more addictive than other barbiturates, with addiction showing up in as little as two weeks of usage.
- Tuinal: This drug is not a single barbiturate but a mixture of amobarbital and secobarbital. The mix of these drugs is highly potent, and Tuinal has been discontinued in many places worldwide because it’s hard to get a solid dosage for the mixture. Users of this drug typically obtain nearly expired pills since the line of drugs has been discontinued by manufacturers.
Sample Street Names for Barbiturates
Because barbiturates have such a colorful presence in the street culture of the day, there are several street names associated with the most common barbiturates available for purchase.
- Amobarbital: blue devils, blue velvet, blue heavens, downers
- Pentobarbital: Mexican Yellows, yellow jackets, abbots, Newbies
- Phenobarbital: Purple hearts or goofballs
- Secobarbital: Species, seggy, pink ladies/pinks, F40s, red devils, reds, Lilly
- Tuinal: F66s, gorilla pills, rainbows, double trouble, reds, and blues
Uses And Side Effects of Barbiturates
As mentioned before, barbiturates are still used in medicine today, but in a much-limited scope. Typically, doctors use barbiturates to treat a handful of symptoms that they can’t find other viable (and safer drugs) to deal with. Among them are:
- Seizure disorder
- Pressure within the skull
- Some types of convulsions
- Severe skull trauma
Anesthetic uses of barbiturates are well documented. They have been used as pre-surgery relaxants but in heavily controlled dosages to ensure that subjects don’t suffer the chance of becoming addicted to the drug. In the past, barbiturates used to be a go-to drug for sleep disorders. They aren’t used in this scope these days because the sleep that barbiturates provide is not restful, and the patient may feel even more tired, despite getting a total of eight hours in bed. Non-medicinal (recreational) use isn’t common since there are so many alternatives to get the same feeling. Individuals who consume barbiturates typically display several side effects because of their consumption, including:
- Appearing dull or thinking slowly and ponderously about things
- Lowered motor control and functionality
- Physical coordination is limited or non-existent
- Speech is slurred, as if drunk or sleepy
- Mood swings occasionally occur, switching from relaxed to manic
- Confusion about relatable things or places
Barbiturate abuse can lead to problems with overdoses as well. Estimates say that around 10% of individuals who overdose on barbiturates die, mainly because of heart or breathing problems. Barbiturate overdose typically happens because of tolerance. When someone starts taking the drug over a long period, the body tolerates it, requiring more of the substance to get the same feeling. Eventually, when addiction sets in, a person may decide to take more of the drug in a rash attempt to get high and end up overdosing as a result.
Barbiturate Withdrawal Symptoms
The first step in leaving barbiturate dependence and addiction behind is detoxification. No one who wants to quit a substance can have the substance in their system while they’re trying to stop. Barbiturate Detox is a method of helping someone dependent on barbiturates break their reliance on the substance. Detox is a supervised method of withdrawal, usually coming after tapering the use of the drug over a short period. Because barbiturates are such a dangerous class of drugs, having medical staff present during a barbiturate withdrawal is necessary to ensure safety. Barbiturate Detox facilities have dedicated staff for barbiturate withdrawal and dealing with the symptoms that accompany it. Among these symptoms are:
- Heart palpitations
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
While some individuals might consider quitting barbiturates on their own without the help of a facility, this may not be such a great idea. Other drugs have severe side effects during withdrawal, making it likely for a person to be drawn back into use. The risk with barbiturates is more pressing since “cold-turkey” withdrawal can lead to death in some cases. Medically supervised barbiturate detox is the more reliable method to ensure that someone makes it out of withdrawal alive.
Timelines For Barbiturate Withdrawals
When someone enters barbiturate withdrawal, several factors affect how long the withdrawal lasts and how intense the symptoms are. If a person has been using the drug for an extended period, withdrawal might be a drawn-out affair. Typically, the most intense symptoms that a person goes through happen within the first 72 hours after their last drug intake. Withdrawal symptoms are the body’s way of forcing the patient to consume more of the substance. Because the body is physically dependent on the drug, the side effects can be traumatizing and, in some cases, deadly. The timeline of barbiturate withdrawal typically follows this pattern:
Days 1 – 3
Mild symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal will begin to show up. The patient will have minor cravings, but they can avoid giving in to these urges with the right distractions. During this phase, the person doesn’t feel any significant side effects, and they might think that they aren’t getting any side effects.
Days 2 – 3
In some cases, moderate symptoms start setting in within the second or third day. Withdrawal symptoms may include anxiety, vomiting, nausea, fast heart rate, and seizures during this phase. The withdrawal symptoms may set in rapidly, without warning. This phase sees symptoms become more and more intense as the patient goes through some of the most significant urges they are likely to get.
Days 3 – 7
After the symptoms peak, they will begin to dissipate slowly, eventually settling back down to a baseline. Patients at this stage may feel as though the worst is over, and they’re usually right. Physical symptoms generally dissipate over the course of the first week. The patient will feel tired and drained but weaned off their dependence on the drug.
Long-term cravings may continue for some time, depending on how long the patient has been using the substance. Mild withdrawal symptoms may also crop up from time to time. Long-term support may be necessary for the form of inpatient and outpatient therapy to help a person break the psychological hold that barbiturates may have on them.
Barbiturate withdrawals are complicated, and without the right support staff, complications can quickly arise.
Risks Of Barbiturate Detox
Occasionally, a person dependent on barbiturates believes that it’s better for them to detox on their own. At-home detox is a hazardous method of approaching this issue. Barbiturates make themselves so much of a vital part of a body’s functioning that without their help, the body will fail. During the first part of barbiturate withdrawal, a person may face severe spikes in heart rate and body temperature. When this happens, a person might enter cardiac arrest or may fall into a coma. Without the proper support, a person could cause damage to their body’s tissues by attempting to detox on their own. Patients who suffer from anxiety during their withdrawal may enter a manic state and cannot act rationally. Without medical staff to supervise them and keep them calm, they will likely hurt themselves and others.
Typically, barbiturate detox causes a person to have cravings for a substance. This craving is a critical component in forcing a person to relapse into use. Within a medically supervised detox facility, a person will have to do without the substance because they are held in a secure facility where they cannot leave. Medical staff will keep them under observation and render medical assistance as necessary. Independent detox means going through this process without the support and protection of a detox facility. With nothing stopping someone from simply consuming more barbiturates to “take the edge off” their withdrawal, they will most likely give in to temptation. During the first three days of detox, the symptoms and cravings are virtually impossible to ignore. Having medical support staff gives a recovering person peace of mind that they’ll make it out of this process alive.
Medically Supervised Detox and Barbiturates
Medically supervised barbiturate detox isn’t a scary thing. Most individuals who enter these facilities aren’t sure what to expect. Many medical detox facilities like Circle of Hope rely on the patient to offer basic information about themselves and their dependency. Medical staff will examine newcomers for mental health issues and comorbidities before developing an in-depth plan for helping the person overcome their addiction. Since each person is different, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan that works in all cases. This information is crucial to tailoring a plan that deals with a specific patient.
After barbiturate detox, patients enter the psychological part of the process to gain the support of trained therapists. These therapists use several methods to help patients come to terms with the psychological aspect of their addiction and overcome it. Therapy techniques may include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which allows individuals to notice the negative thoughts that lead to their dependence and avoid those thoughts altogether. Therapists are usually available at inpatient facilities, but some facilities offer outpatient support. Speaking to a staff member during the initial consultation will better illustrate what that facility provides to its clients.
Long-term support is also necessary since many individuals who quit barbiturates have to deal with the temptation because of their environment. Ongoing maintenance in support groups or additional therapy sessions can help keep a person away from the substance over the long term. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is a psychological term referring to the lingering symptoms of withdrawal for up to a year. With some patients, their cravings stick around for some time, and the support they get from these programs is instrumental in ensuring their long-term sobriety.
Getting Barbiturate-Free with Treatment
Barbiturates are among the most dangerous substances to become dependent on. Because of the way the body reacts to their presence and how easy it is to become addicted to them, they can lead to severe impacts on a patient’s life. Getting clean with the help of a detox center like Circle of Hope gives a patient the chance to return to their lives and reconnect with friends and families. Medically supervised barbiturate detox together with long-term treatment provides the best hope of recovery. Let us help you to overcome your dependence on barbiturates today. Give us a call to schedule a meeting with us now. We’ll be waiting to hear from you!