Symptoms, Signs & Effects of Barbiturate Addiction

Understanding Barbiturate Abuse

Understanding barbiturate addiction

Barbiturates are a group of drugs that are central nervous symptom depressants previously used to help individuals suffering from sleep-related disorders and to reduce the symptoms of anxiety. This class of drugs has a range of effects, from mild sedation to complete anesthesia. The increasing reports of overdose and dependency problems that occurred in the 1960s and 1970s led to the decreased use of barbiturates today. There are other drugs now used that have proven to be as effective as barbiturates, but have less of a chance of side effects or overdose.

On the streets barbiturates can be found under the common street names “Downers,” “Purple hearts,” “Blue devils,” “Goof balls,” and “Double trouble,” among others. These drugs can be found in pill or liquid form. Although they are most commonly used in pill form, the liquid can be directly injected into the muscles or veins. The different formulations of barbiturates vary in the length of time their effects last, with some lasting up to a few days at a time while others last only minutes. This class of drugs is extremely dangerous because there is very little difference between a therapeutic and a toxic dose, which can lead to overdose and death.


Statistics of barbiturate addiction

The statistics for this class of drugs are not well known, but current information has determined that the abuse of this drug class is a significant health risk. Research has shown that about 9% of individuals in the United States will abuse barbiturates during their lifespan. Studies have also found that 1 in 5 children will grow up in a household where a member of their family abuses barbiturates.

Co-Occurring Disorders

Co-Occurring disorders

Many individuals who become addicted to barbiturates have a co-occurring mental illness. The most common co-occurring disorders include:

  • Depressive disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Substance abuse
  • Alcoholism
  • Conduct disorder


Causes of barbiturate addiction

No one is precisely sure why one individual who uses a barbiturate can do so with no problems, but another individual becomes addicted. The current research indicates that for those individuals who do develop a barbiturate addiction it is a number of different influences that come together to create this problem. Causes for barbiturate addiction may include:

Genetic: It has been well-documented that many individuals who struggle with addiction problems of any kind have a first-degree relative who is also struggling with an addiction. While this does not guarantee the development of a drug abuse problem, this does greatly increase an individual’s chances of becoming addicted should they use a barbiturate for any reason.

Brain Chemistry: For individuals with an addiction to barbiturates, it has been found that their brain structure and the way in which the brain functions is different from other individuals. More specifically the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA binding sites in the brain may be structurally different. Some individuals may have inborn defects in this area of the brain, and as a result self-medicate with barbiturates in an attempt to feel more normal by making up for the defects.

Environmental: Individuals who have been exposed to drug use and abuse at an early age are more apt to develop addiction in later life because they may have become desensitized to drug use. Additionally, these individuals may have learned that substance abuse is an appropriate way to cope with the stressors of life and in turn eventually develop an addiction problem.

Psychological: Sometimes individuals will use barbiturates as a way to come down from the effects of a high from another substance, such as an upper. This causes an individual to become addicted to barbiturates because they begin to rely on the effects of the substance to relax them or reduce the anxiety caused by the other drug. Additionally, an individual may unknowingly have a mental health condition and self-medicate in an attempt to control the symptoms that are causing them distress.

Signs and Symptoms of Barbiturate Abuse

Signs and symptoms of barbiturate addiction

There are a variety of symptoms that are commonly experienced by an individual who is using and abusing these substances. The type of symptom and the severity will depend upon an individual’s genetic makeup, the length of time an individual has been abusing these drugs, and the dosage an individual has taken. Common symptoms of barbiturate abuse include:

  • Depression
  • Sleepiness
  • Slowed pulse
  • Slow breathing
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Mood swings
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Impaired judgment
  • Dependence
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Unusual excitement
  • Slurred speech
  • Decreased motor control
  • Poor concentration
  • Lack of coordination
  • Reduction of REM sleep
  • Respiratory depression
  • Visual problems
  • Unable to urinate
  • Dilated pupils
  • Tolerance
  • Slowed brain function
  • Confusion
  • Sluggishness
  • Hypotension
  • Dizziness
  • Bradycardia

Effects of Barbiturate Abuse

Effects of barbiturate addiction

The long-term effects of barbiturate addiction can present differently in each individual. The most common long-term effects of barbiturate abuse include:

  • Strained relationships with friends and family
  • Changes in alertness
  • Decreased ability to function on a daily basis
  • Lack of awareness for their surroundings
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Divorce
  • Liver damage, heart damage, CNS damage
  • Respiratory depression and arrest
  • Confusion
  • Job loss
  • Incarceration due to illegal activity
  • Expulsion from school
  • Engagement in risky behavior
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms of barbiturate addiction

If used for a prolonged period of time, men and women who abuse these substances can become addicted and eventually dependent. Additionally, since barbiturates dissolve in fatty tissues, an individual can carry around the effects of these drugs for years, which can cause them to continue to crave more drugs. The development of a barbiturate dependence makes it harder for an addict to give up the drug because of the associated cravings and the development of withdrawal symptoms when the drug is no longer used. If you are addicted to barbiturates, you should seek the care of a trained rehab center so a medical professional can help you safely and effectively withdraw from barbiturates.

Withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Agitation
  • Delirium
  • Convulsions
  • Weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Dangerously high fevers
  • Seizures
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