Barbiturate Addiction | Abuse, Effects, Signs, & Treatment

Barbiturate abuse can lead to impairment, drug overdose, reduced mental health, and long-term drug addiction.

Barbiturate abuse can lead to impairment, drug overdose, reduced mental health, and long-term drug addiction.

Barbiturates were first used to treat forms of neurosis and psychosis over a century ago. Their use as a prescription drug has declined over the past 50 years, but still, see use for both medical and illicit reasons.

Approved uses for barbiturates include treating seizure disorders and as a preoperative anesthetic.

Phenobarbital is a barbiturate currently approved for medical use.  Secobarbital and amobarbital are considered obsolete barbiturates and may no longer be prescribed, but can still be found illegally.

Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturate abuse can occur when you take the drug without a prescription, take higher doses than directed, or take the drug in unapproved forms. Crushing barbiturate pills, opening capsules, and mixing them into solutions are forms of substance abuse.

Street names for the drug when sold illegally include “barbs,” “pinks,” and “yellow jackets.” They may be sold alongside benzodiazepines and sedative-hypnotic drugs marketed as “downers.”

Barbiturates may be abused to reduce anxiety, achieve mild euphoria, reduce inhibitions, or aid sleep. The “high” that comes with strong doses of barbiturates may be a result of barbiturate intoxication.

Effects Of Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturate abuse can cause side effects on your central nervous system such as:

  • difficulty concentrating
  • low blood pressure
  • confusion
  • light-headedness
  • dry mouth
  • coordination and memory problems

These effects may occur if you take barbiturates as directed, but may worsen if you abuse barbiturates.

Barbiturate Overdose

The risk of overdose during illicit use of barbiturates is significant. 1 gram of a barbiturate can lead to toxicity, while 2 grams is often life-threatening. Approved doses for phenobarbital, a legal form of the drug, range from 65 mg to 130 mg.

Symptoms of barbiturate overdose can include:

  • respiratory depression (slowed breathing)
  • respiratory failure
  • decreased heart rate and body temperature
  • severe impairment
  • weakness
  • trouble urinating

If you experience these symptoms or see them in a loved one, get medical help right away.

Barbiturate Addiction

Barbiturates have a high risk of illicit drug use and can be habit-forming. Physical dependence, a condition where the body requires barbiturates to function properly, can happen after you abuse barbiturates over a long period of time.

Trying to quit barbiturates after forming a dependence can lead to barbiturate withdrawal syndrome. Anxiety, insomnia, seizures, and psychosis can occur during withdrawal. Some people may find withdrawal symptoms painful to the point that they relapse to taking barbiturates.

Addiction, withdrawal, and dependency are facets of a chronic substance use disorder.

Signs Of Barbiturate Addiction

Barbiturate use can have visible effects and impacts on your daily life, some of which can be noticed by people close to you.

Signs of illicit substance use and addiction may include:

  • constant drowsiness
  • difficulties with attention and cognition
  • drug paraphernalia, such as syringes
  • poor performance at school or in the workplace

If you begin to prioritize finding and using barbiturates over your daily responsibilities, and continue to use despite negative consequences, you likely have a substance use disorder.

Treatment Options For Barbiturate Addiction

Treating barbiturate addiction often starts with a detox program, where the drug is flushed out of your body. A doctor may gradually decrease your barbiturate dosage over a long period of time to manage your withdrawal symptoms, a process known as tapering.

After a successful detox, you may be referred to a professional treatment facility while tapering continues. Barbiturate addiction treatment programs may ask you to attend cognitive behavioral therapy, where you may learn how to recognize and avoid patterns of drug abuse.

If you or a loved one are interested, contact Northeast Addictions Treatment Center today to learn about our professional drug addiction treatment programs.


What Are Some Common Barbiturates?

The most common barbiturates include phenobarbital (Luminal), secobarbital (Seconal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), and butalbital (in the combination drug Fioricet). Barbiturates are depressant drugs that cause sedation, reduce anxiety, and treat epilepsy.

They are not widely prescribed today because they have a high risk of abuse and dependence.

Learn more about Common Barbiturates

How Long Do Barbiturates Stay In Your System?

Short-, intermediate-, and long-acting barbiturates have lengths of effect that can range from 15 minutes to 12 hours respectively.

In addition, they can be detected in the urine for up to two weeks after your last dose.

To learn more, read How Long Do Barbiturates Stay In Your System?

What Are Barbiturates Called On The Street?

The most common street names for barbiturates include Barbs, Block Busters, Christmas Trees, and Downers.

There are also unique street names for specific barbiturates, including:

Blue Devils, Blue Heavens, and Blue Velvets (amobarbital)
Abbots, Mexican Yellows, Yellow Jackets, and Yellows (pentobarbital)
Goof Balls and Purple Hearts (phenobarbital)
F-40s, Phennies, Pink Ladies, Red Birds, and Red Devils (secobarbital)
Double Troubles, F-66s, Gorilla Pills, and Rainbows (Tuinal)

Learn more about the Street Names Of Barbiturates

Are Barbiturates Controlled Substances?

Barbiturates are considered controlled substances by the FDA. Many of them have a high potential for abuse, can create tolerance or dependence in the body, and can cause a variety of serious side effects.

To learn more, read Are Barbiturates Controlled Substances?

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

©2023 Northeast Addition Center | All Rights Reserved

This page does not provide medical advice.

Ready to make a change? Talk to a specialist now.