Barbiturates are sedative medications that were once commonly prescribed for a variety of conditions, including anxiety and insomnia. They have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines due to the risk of dependence and overdose, but they are still used as anesthetic agents and for the treatment of seizures. 1
Regular use of barbiturates – whether therapeutic or recreational – can lead to tolerance and dependence. 1 The user begins to experience less of an effect and may take increasingly higher doses of the drug (tolerance).
This increased use often leads to physical dependence as the body becomes used to the constant presence of barbiturates. When the person abruptly stops taking the drug or reduces the dose, withdrawal symptoms may arise.
Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.1 Rehabilitation facilities and detox centers provide treatment for barbiturate withdrawal and dependence.
Symptoms of Barbiturate Withdrawal
Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Abdominal cramps.
- Hallucinations. 1,2
As mentioned above, some of these withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. Seizures can be dangerous, and the delirium some users experience can lead to agitation, hyperthermia, and cardiovascular failure. 1
How Long Does Barbiturate Withdrawal Last?
The timeline for barbiturate withdrawal is different for each person. For shorter-acting barbiturates, symptoms peak in 2-4 days and last about 4-7 days. For longer-acting barbiturates, symptoms peak in about 4-7 days and last about 7-14 days or longer. 3,4
Withdrawing from Barbiturates: Options for Help
Medical assistance is recommended for barbiturate withdrawal. Medical assistance is often recommended for barbiturate withdrawal to reduce the severity of withdrawal symptoms and prevent life-threatening consequences.
In withdrawal treatment, a physician can taper the dose down from what the person regularly takes. Tapering can reduce the intensity of symptoms and make it easier for the person to focus on recovery. Typically, the dose is low enough that the person will not get high from it or feel the effects they seek when using.
Other pharmacologic interventions will be on-hand if a person has seizures during withdrawal.
The detox process can be completed in a hospital, inpatient rehab facility, or detox center. Inpatient programs often include other treatment services, such as therapy, medical care, and support group meetings. Hospitals and detox centers usually focus on withdrawal treatment. The staff at these programs can provide referrals to other treatment professionals and/or rehabilitation centers when the person leaves the facility.
Outpatient detox may be an option for people with relatively mild barbiturate dependence. Users visit the center on certain days of the week to meet with a physician and receive a tapered dose.
Detoxing, Addiction Treatment, Rehab, and Recovery
It typically takes 7-14 days to detox from barbiturates. The symptoms can be very difficult to manage on your own. Detox helps the user safely stop using the drug. But it does not deal with psychological addiction. People who are struggling with barbiturate addiction should consider continuing with treatment after the initial withdrawal phase. Treatment can help them cope with the underlying issues driving the addiction and teach relapse prevention strategies.
In both inpatient and outpatient treatment for barbiturate addiction, rehab usually includes individual and group therapy. The major difference between these programs is that the user either lives at the inpatient center or visits an outpatient treatment center on certain days of the week. Inpatient programs may be able to offer relatively more intensive care that includes 24/7 supervision. These programs typically last 28-90 days but can be longer in some cases.
Inpatient care may be a more suitable option for those with coexisting mental health conditions or unhealthy living situations. For example, if the person shares an apartment with other drug users, they may benefit from a temporary stay in a drug-free facility.
Community-based support groups are another commonly used treatment strategy. Groups such as Narcotics Anonymous are run by people who are in recovery. The groups offer weekly meetings that can also provide the person with a sponsor, who offers one-on-one support and advice as needed. Support groups are often used in conjunction with professional counseling.
Are There Any Home Remedies for Getting Clean Safely?
Home remedies are not recommended for barbiturate withdrawal. Users can develop seizures, convulsions, and other serious medical complications.
Talk to your physician about stopping your use of barbiturates or seek withdrawal treatment at a detox center or inpatient rehab program.
. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. (2015). Barbiturates drug profile.
. Herron, A. and Brennan, T.K. (2015). The ASAM Essentials of Addiction Medicine: Second Edition. Wolters Kluwer.
. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.
. Miller, N. and Gold, M. (1998). Management of Withdrawal Syndromes and Relapse Prevention in Drug and Alcohol Dependence. American Family Physician 58(1):139-146.
. NIDA for Teens. Prescription Depressant Medications
Barbiturate Information at a Glance Sources
. National Institute of Health. (2006). PHENOBARBITAL SODIUM- phenobarbital sodium injection.
. Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Barbiturates Drug Fact Sheet.
. George Mason University. (n.d.). Barbiturates.