Barbiturates – FAQ

In a class of drugs called CNS depressants, barbiturates, when taken as prescribed, are used to treat people showing signs of anxiety, having trouble with insomnia (sleep issues), or have a seizure disorder.

CNS depressants work on the body’s central nervous system by affecting GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) which is a neurotransmitter that nerves use to communicate with each other. Use of barbiturates produces a sedating or tranquillizing effect by slowing down brain functions that control voluntary actions, however when taken at dosages other than prescribed, they act on the body’s automatic functions – like breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure.

While once frequently prescribed, these drugs are now mostly used for treatment of seizure disorder or used for sedation prior to surgical procedures. They have a high likelihood of abuse potential with a risk of overdose according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) because they slow body and brain functions at a rapid rate.

Barbiturates are broken into four groups based on how the drug takes effect:

  • Ultra-short Acting – used for anesthesia during surgery; injected; produces effects in one minute or less
  • Short-acting – used for sedation; produces effects in 15 to 40 minutes; effects last up to 6 hours
  • Intermediate-acting – used for sedation; produces effects in 15 to 40 minutes; effects last up to 6 hours
  • Long-acting – used for sedation, seizure treatment, mild anxiety; produces effects in 60 minutes; effects last approximately 12 hours

Abuse of barbiturates happens as the user takes more of the drug than prescribed or uses it more frequently. This is generally easy as the drugs are most commonly found in pill form. Some individuals looking for a quicker effect of the drug may choose to alter it and then inject it. Signs and side effects associated with barbiturate abuse include headache, confusion, slowed reflexes, lack of concentration, poor judgment, coordination and vision problems, lack of inhibition, and impaired speech. For individuals who are addicted to barbiturates, getting clean can be tough as mental cravings for these drugs can last for months or years.

If you or somebody you know has become reliant on using barbiturates, help to break this addiction is available. To learn more, check out the related topics or contact a representative at The Recovery Village to learn about options for recovery.