Before benzodiazepines came along, barbiturates were the most commonly prescribed central nervous system depressants to treat anxiety and insomnia. Barbiturates have been widely replaced by benzodiazepines for safety reasons.
Here’s where you may be wondering why barbiturates are considered unsafe.
Barbiturates have a higher potential for addiction than benzodiazepines, and are more highly toxic and damaging in the event of an overdose. Both drug types are depressants, which work by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid-A (GABA) levels in the brain, slowing down nerve activity in the central nervous system.
Barbiturates cause a profoundly relaxed state, caused by the depressant effects on the central nervous system that include slowed breathing, a slower heart rate, and a reduced blood pressure.
What drugs are considered barbiturates?
Barbiturates are a chemical derivative of barbituric acid and are sedative-hypnotic drugs currently used for treating such conditions as seizure disorder, preoperative anxiety, epilepsy, acute migraines, and insomnia. Common barbiturates include phenobarbital, Seconal, Amytal, Nembutal, butalbital and others.
The effects of barbiturates include relaxation and mild euphoria, occurring within approximately fifteen minutes. These drugs are not recommended for use by pregnant women or by individuals over 65 years of age. Additionally, individuals with severe respiratory disease or kidney disease should avoid barbiturates.
What are the risks associated with barbiturates?
Excessive drowsiness may occur with the use of barbiturates. In fact, the drowsy feeling may persist into the next day. These substances cause impaired psychomotor functioning and create a safety risk when attempting to operate vehicles or heavy machinery.
Barbiturates are highly addictive substances. When used on a regular basis, the body will develop tolerance to their effects, leading the individual to take higher or more frequent doses in order to achieve the desired effect.
Barbiturates are often consumed with alcohol, which only amplifies the dangerous sedative effects that can increase the risk of toxic poisoning. Barbiturates are also sometimes combined with heroin and prescription opioids.
Overcoming barbiturate use disorder
Treatment for barbiturate dependence or addiction involves a multi-faceted approach. The following therapeutic interventions work together to form an integrated approach to recovery:
- Medically supervised detox and withdrawal: Barbiturate withdrawal is potentially dangerous, with risks surpassing those involved with alcohol or benzodiazepine withdrawal. Withdrawal management under a physician’s oversight involves initially switching to a benzodiazepine, and then introducing a gradual tapering program that helps minimize discomfort.
- Individual psychotherapy: Therapy is an essential element for treating barbiturate use disorder, as well as any co-occurring mental health conditions. The therapist utilizes evidence-based techniques to guide the individual toward making the behavioral changes necessary for a sustained recovery.
- Group therapy: Peers in recovery interact in small group meetings to share their experiences and discuss topics related to recovery. These gatherings can provide additional peer support, which benefits the overall treatment experience.
- Relapse Prevention: Individuals create a detailed relapse prevention strategy by identifying specific triggers or situations that could lead to a barbiturate relapse along with their care team. Once these triggers are listed, the individual creates an actionable response plan whenever they feel like they might relapse.
- Complementary actions: Treatment includes a variety of activities that enhance the clinical results and can include recreational therapy, nutritional counseling, art therapy, and relaxation methods like yoga, massage and meditation.
- Continuing care services: Following completion of the treatment program, continuing care activities help guide the individual through their recovery journey. These might include residing in sober living housing, alumni activities, joining a local 12-step community, and participating in ongoing outpatient therapy.
Individuals who are dealing with a barbiturate use disorder can reform their lives through comprehensive treatment interventions.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.