Barbiturates are a class of central nervous system depressants. During the 1960s and 1970s, barbiturates were frequently prescribed for treating conditions like insomnia and anxiety. Now, they’re not used very commonly because safer medicines like benzodiazepineshave replaced them. However, they are still occasionally used. Some conditions barbiturates may be prescribed to treat include migraine headaches, general anesthesia and epilepsy. Barbiturates slow brain activity by affecting GABA receptors and neurotransmitters. While they do have some medical benefits, this drug class is addictive and can also lead to physical dependence.
When someone is dependent upon barbiturates, they may experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly try to stop using them. Withdrawal can include physical and psychological symptoms, although it’s different from addiction. Withdrawal is a group of symptoms that can be physically uncomfortable and, in some cases, life-threatening. Some of the common barbiturate withdrawal symptoms include:
- Raised body temperature
- Changes in behavior
The specific barbiturate withdrawal timeline and duration of symptoms can vary depending on a few factors. For example, the age of the person, how long they’ve used barbiturates and how much they have been using can all play a role. In general, some of the most intense symptoms are experienced during the first 72 hours after ceasing the use of barbiturates. Initial barbiturate withdrawal symptoms can include changes in heart rate, nausea, vomiting, insomnia and changes in mood.
Following the initial first days after people stop taking barbiturates, symptoms can include insomnia, irritation and changes in mood. In severe cases, people may experience psychosis. During the second week, many of the physical symptoms of withdrawal will subside. At this point, symptoms may be more psychological and emotional in nature. For some people, symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal can last for weeks or months. When withdrawal symptoms are ongoing, it’s called Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms or PAWS.
Barbiturate withdrawal can be very severe or even deadly. In almost all cases, it’s best for people to go through a medical detox when they are dependent upon barbiturates. During a medical detox, the patient’s dosage of barbiturates can be gradually tapered down. Medications may be prescribed to manage physical and psychological symptoms. During a medical barbiturate detox, the focus is on making the patient comfortable and managing their symptoms and vitals to keep them safe. During barbiturate withdrawal, a patient can also begin psychiatric medications when necessary -which can help stabilize them as they begin actual addiction treatment.
There aren’t specific medications designed for managing barbiturate withdrawal symptoms like there are for opioids. Instead, the focus during barbiturate detox is to manage symptoms, especially those symptoms that can be life-threatening like seizures. Other medications can include sleep aids since insomnia is a primary side effect, as well as medications for nausea and vomiting. Regardless of the specific circumstances, it’s not recommended that anyone try to withdraw from using barbiturates on their own without medical care due to the severity of the symptoms that are possible.
First and foremost, it’s important to choose a barbiturate center that offers medical detox. During this time, the dosage of barbiturates can be gradually and safely lowered. It is also important to know whether or not a barbiturate detox center offers addiction treatment. Detox is not treatment. It’s a necessary first step that has to be completed before undergoing treatment, but it doesn’t address addiction. It can also be helpful to look for a detox center that treats underlying mental health conditions, as well as polysubstance addictions. A good barbiturate detox center will offer comprehensive medical care, professional support, and the ability to move patients directly into treatment.
If you want to learn more about detox and addiction treatment, reach out to The Recovery Village today.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.