In Clearbrook Treatment Centers Massachusetts, Family Resources, Pain Killer Addiction, Personal Resources, Prescription Drug Abuse

Barbiturates are central nervous system (CNS) depressants that reduce nerve activity in the brain, causing muscle relaxation. They’re usually prescribed to treat headaches, insomnia, and seizures and can reduce functions like heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure. Some common barbiturate drugs include amobarbital (Amytal), butabarbital (Butisol), pentobarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital (Seconal). As with many other prescription drugs, barbiturates are often abused for their sedative effects on the body. Since the 1800s, people have been misusing barbiturates and suffering the repercussions. Our drug rehab in Massachusetts is sharing barbiturates’ side effects and why they’re so addictive.


How Do Barbiturates Work?


Barbiturates work by increasing the activity of a chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a naturally occurring amino acid that acts as a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger in the brain. This chemical is formally known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter because it blocks (inhibits) specific brain signals and reduces nerve activity in the brain and spinal cord. When GABA attaches to a protein in your body called a GABA receptor, it produces a relaxing and sedative effect, which makes medications like barbiturates effective for treating anxiety.


Barbiturates are highly addictive drugs. This addiction propensity is why other medications like benzodiazepines were created as safer alternatives. However, barbiturates’ mechanism of action, inhibition of the central nervous system, is also the main reason why people abuse these medications. When a person takes them in high doses, they may experience a euphoric and relaxing high. With frequent abuse, barbiturates’ adverse effects can catch up to you. If you or someone you know is addicted to a prescription drug like these, our medical detox at Clearbrook Massachusetts can help.


What Are the Effects of Barbiturates?


Barbiturates are derived from a chemical called barbituric acid, hence their name. While the acid itself serves no medical purpose, any drugs derived from it increase the action of GABA, making them effective in treating conditions associated with high levels of nerve activity in the CNS. Additionally, barbiturates are also common drugs of abuse. In 2018, approximately 405,000 people in the United States aged 12 and higher reported using barbiturates, and 32,000 of the same age bracket reported misusing them.1


When used recreationally or in high doses, barbiturates effects on behavior and the body include:


  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sedation
  • Reduce inhibition
  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Slowed breathing
  • Reduced heart rate
  • Tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Addiction


The effects of barbiturates can kick in within 15 and 40 minutes and can last for up to six hours. Long-acting barbiturates’ side effects can last for up to two days. The longevity and severity of these side effects vary depending on the dosage taken, how long the person has been using them, and whether the medications are classified as ultrashort-, short-, intermediate-, or long-acting.


Despite being Schedule II, III, and IV drugs, barbiturates are among the most commonly abused drugs in the U.S. Even with their medical purpose, barbiturates’ long-term effects often include tolerance, physical dependence, and addiction. A person with increased tolerance to these drugs requires a higher dosage each time to experience the same high or side effects. More frequent use eventually results in physical dependence, which is marked by withdrawal symptoms when drug use stops. Chronic barbiturate users may experience withdrawal symptoms within 8 to 15 hours after their last use. These prescription drugs are also commonly abused along with other substances like alcohol, heroin, and benzodiazepines to enhance users’ high, though taking barbiturates and other substances together increase the risk of overdose significantly.


Prescription drugs aren’t entirely safe just because they’re prescribed to you by your doctor. Always take medications as prescribed and as directed by your physician. Many people who begin misusing their prescription pills end up needing prescription drug treatment to regain their sobriety and recovery physically.


Whether it’s a barbiturate addiction or any other substance use disorder, we can help. Call Clearbrook Treatment Centers Massachusetts today at 570-536-9621 for more information about our inpatient drug rehab in Massachusetts.


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