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Barbiturate Withdrawal

Girl in barbiturate withdrawal in fetal position

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 They have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines due to the risk of dependence and overdose, but they are still used as anesthetic agents and for the treatment of seizures. 1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.

If you want to explore treatment options for yourself or a loved one, please complete the short form on the right or call 1-888-935-1318Who Answers? for confidential support and assistance.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Symptoms of Barbiturate Withdrawal

Man with head in hands Find out how long barbiturate withdrawal symptoms last and how they can affect your health.

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Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Fatigue.
  • Anxiety.
  • Tremors.
  • Seizures.
  • Delirium.
  • 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

Withdrawing from Barbiturates: Treatment Methods and 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.

Detox Methods

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.

Treatment Options

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.

Learn more about barbiturate withdrawal treatment options and medications.

Recovery From Barbiturate Addiction
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Detoxing, Addiction Treatment, Rehab, and Recovery

Man sharing in support group for barbiturate withdrawal Detox helps the user safely stop using the drug. But it does not deal with the 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.

People who are interested in seeking help for barbiturate withdrawal and dependence treatment can complete the short form on the right or call 1-888-935-1318Who Answers?.

Barbiturate Information at a Glance
Medication Name, Costs Class of Medicine
Generic Name: Barbiturate, Phenobarbital, Mephobarbital, Secobarbital, Pentobarbital, Butabarbital, Amobarbital, Butalbital
Brand Name: Luminal, Mebaral, Seconal, Nembutal, Butisol, Tuinal, Fiorinal, Fioricet
Function or Use at Low Dose: sedative or anticonvulsive 1
Type of Drug: central nervous system (CNS) depressant 2
Duration of Action: short-acting: 4-6 hours, long-acting: 8-12 3
Form, Intake and Dosage Interactions and Complications
Drug Forms: tablet, IV suspensions and solutions 1,2,3
Administration Routes: oral, intravenous, intramuscular
Overdose Effects: shallow breathing, clammy skin, dilated pupils, weak and rapid pulse, coma, and possible death 2
Alcohol Interaction: mixing alcohol and barbiturates is extremely dangerous and can result in death 3
Contraindications: in patients with known barbiturate sensitivity, history of porphyria, history of substance abuse, liver problems, or with severe respiratory distress 1
Effects and Adverse Reactions Substance Abuse
Short-Term: drowsiness, slurred speech, poor judgment, little or no anxiety, memory lapses, impaired coordination, dizziness, slowed heart rate and breathing, and feelings of well-being 2,3
Long-Term: tolerance, withdrawal, addiction, birth defects in babies born to dependent mothers 2,3
Risk of Substance Abuse: High
Signs of Abuse: anxiety when you do not have the drug, neglect of daily activities, doing anything to get more of the drug
Physiological Problem Signs and Symptoms Dependence and Addiction Issues
Withdrawal Syndrome Onset: 8-12 hours after the last dose 1
Withdrawal Symptoms: anxiety, muscle twitching, tremor of hands and fingers, weakness, dizziness, distortion in visual perception, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, hypotension, death 1
Tolerance: Yes 1
Physical Dependence: Yes 1
Psychological Dependence: Yes 1
Legal Schedules and Ratings
Controlled Substances Act Rating: II, III, IV 2

Questions and Answers (FAQ)

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

Do You Have a List of Popular Slang or Street Names for Barbiturate?

  • Barbs
  • Reds
  • Redbirds
  • Yellows
  • Yellowjackets
  • Tooies
  • Phennies 5

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.

How Long Does It Take to Detox From Barbiturates?

It typically takes 7-14 days to detox from barbiturates. The symptoms can be very difficult to manage on your own.

To get help with barbiturate withdrawal, call 1-888-935-1318Who Answers?. A recovery program advisor can answer your questions and help you find a program today.


[1]. European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction. (2015). Barbiturates drug profile.

[2]. Herron, A. and Brennan, T.K. (2015). The ASAM Essentials of Addiction Medicine: Second Edition. Wolters Kluwer.

[3]. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (2013). Washington, D.C.: American Psychiatric Association.

[4]. 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.

[5]. NIDA for Teens. Prescription Depressant Medications

Barbiturate Information at a Glance Sources

[1]. National Institute of Health. (2006). PHENOBARBITAL SODIUM- phenobarbital sodium injection.

[2]. Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Barbiturates Drug Fact Sheet.

[3]. George Mason University. (n.d.). Barbiturates.