Author: John Carter

Barbiturate withdrawal syndrome: a case associated with the abuse of a headache medication

barbiturate withdrawal symptoms

However, many of these drugs still see widespread use for specific conditions. Phenobarbital, for example, is common for treating seizures that resist first-line anti-seizure medications. The treatment of barbiturate abuse or overdose is generally supportive.

Taking a barbiturate drug regularly can cause physical dependence. This can trigger symptoms of withdrawal in the event that a person tries to stop taking the drug very suddenly and all at once. Barbiturates are a class of drugs known as sedatives, or sedative-hypnotics. They are prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, convulsions, and are sometimes misused for their sedative effects. Barbiturates and benzodiazepines aren’t the same types of medications, but they’re very similar. They both can stop seizures, cause you to relax and feel less anxious, or can help you feel drowsy and fall asleep when you receive general anesthesia.

This can cause severe drowsiness, passing out or trouble breathing. In severe cases, this could cause a person to have severe organ damage, or it could be deadly. In years past, barbiturates were a common part of general anesthesia in surgeries. That’s because these medications help ease a person into a deep sleep. Barbiturates are a group of drugs in the class of drugs known as sedative-hypnotics, which generally describes their sleep-inducing and anxiety-decreasing effects. We do not receive any compensation or commission for referrals to other treatment facilities.

Barbiturate Misuse

They’re less common today because of the risk of misuse and certain side effects. This website is using a security service to protect itself from online attacks. There are several actions that could trigger this block including submitting a certain word or phrase, a SQL command or malformed data. A key reason why healthcare providers don’t prescribe barbiturates as often now is the risk of misusing them.

  1. If you feel that any of our content is inaccurate, out-of-date, or otherwise questionable, please contact at
  2. Withdrawal will generally reach its peak within or around the 72-hour mark, which is also when severe symptoms, including seizures, can occur.
  3. However, many of these drugs still see widespread use for specific conditions.

The amount of support required depends on the person’s symptoms. People who misuse barbiturates use them to obtain a “high,” which is described as being similar to alcohol intoxication, or to counteract the effects of stimulant drugs. Barbiturates can be extremely dangerous because the correct dose is difficult to predict. Barbiturates are also addictive and can cause a life-threatening withdrawal syndrome. Without clinical support, barbiturate withdrawal can be dangerous and potentially life-threatening, particularly for those who have been taking high doses of barbiturates. While barbiturates are useful for the above listed, some of these uses are less common in certain countries.

What are the risks or complications of taking barbiturates?

The most common uses are for anesthesia reasons, treating epilepsy and nonepileptic seizures, insomnia and other conditions. The doctor cannot give appropriate treatment for barbiturate misuse over the telephone. It is important to note that the difference between the dose causing drowsiness and one causing death may be small.

barbiturate withdrawal symptoms

Substance abuse professionals recommend detox for anyone who has become physically dependent on barbiturates. All of these factors, as well as the setting in which you undergo detox, can influence just how severe symptoms become and for how long withdrawal symptoms last. Quitting barbiturates slowly or all at once can lead to side effects known as symptoms of withdrawal. These can be mild to severe in nature, depending on a range of factors.

We report the case of a 54-year-old woman who developed a barbiturate abstinence syndrome when she suspended self-administration of a drug containing butalbital. The patient had been using barbiturates, 900 mg/die, for 2+ years for persistent headache. She was admitted to the hospital because of seizures, hallucinations and delirium not controlled by benzodiazepine and phenothiazine administration. Her symptoms resolved after parenteral phenobarbital administration. You may feel worried or anxious about telling your healthcare provider that you’re experiencing symptoms that might mean you’re developing dependence on these drugs.

However, developing a dependence on these medications is common. That’s a major reason why healthcare providers prescribe them less commonly these days. Although rare, anyone who is addicted to barbiturates requires prolonged therapy to avoid the dangerous symptoms of withdrawal.

However, barbiturates are still proven medications for treating many conditions. They also combine well with other medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol® or Paracetamol®) to treat certain conditions. For more information about barbiturates and misuse, visit eMedicine’s patient education articles “Drug Overdose,” “Drug Dependence and Abuse,” and “Substance Abuse.” We are here to provide assistance in locating an Ark Behavioral Health treatment center that may meet your treatment needs.


Combining benzodiazepines and barbiturates can be very dangerous, so you should never combine them unless a doctor prescribes them this way. One of the most important advantages of barbiturates is how long they last. Some of these medications are only effective for a very brief time.

Are barbiturates the same as benzodiazepines?

However, you should use them cautiously, taking them exactly as prescribed. Your healthcare provider can tell you more about what to expect and how to use these medications so they help you as they should. If you believe someone has taken barbiturates inappropriately, take them to a hospital emergency department for evaluation by a doctor.

Others can last for hours or even days, which is one reason healthcare providers still prescribe them to prevent seizures. Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic medications, meaning they cause you to feel relaxed or sleepy. For over a century, they’ve treated many conditions, including seizures, migraines, insomnia and more.

In the medical profession, this difference is called a narrow therapeutic index, which is the ratio of a drug’s toxic dose to its therapeutically desirable dose. Due to a high risk for seizures, entering an inpatient setting for at least a few days is highly recommended. This can allow a medical professional to monitor you for severe symptoms. Barbiturates are a class of old-school sedatives that can cause serious withdrawal symptoms in people who have been taking them chronically or have misused them. Barbiturate dependence can be safely treated in a detox facility or rehab center. Barbiturates have some risks, but these risks should be minimal if you take your medication exactly as prescribed.