Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction and Abuse: Detox, Rehab, Support Groups

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Barbiturate treatment is not as common today as it was when the drug was first introduced in the 1920s. However, if you are struggling with barbiturate addiction, treatment options are still available.

Understanding the nature of barbiturates, along with risks, symptoms, and side effects associated with drug use, can better inform you and identify the right barbiturate addiction treatment. If you spot the problem early on and get treatment for barbiturate addiction, you will increase your chances of leading a healthy, productive life.

Detox Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction

Detox, the first stage of barbiturate addiction treatment, is generally 3-7 days, and is used to stabilize you and manage the potentially dangerous effects of stopping use. This initial phase may or may not include medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Detoxing from barbiturate drugs usually starts by weaning you off—gradually lowering the dose until you’re completely free from the drug. Statistically, if you do not receive treatment beyond detox, you usually cannot abstain from the drug, so it’s important that your treatment continues long after detox.5

You should detox off of barbiturates safely in a facility or environment monitored by medical professionals.

If you or someone you know is addicted to barbiturates, seek professional help from your doctor or call 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) to find a rehab or detox facility.

Detoxification consists of three essential components:6

  1. Evaluation: Assessment and possibly administering diagnostic tests.
  2. Stabilization: Bringing you back to a state of balance.
  3. Fostering readiness and entry into a treatment program: Preparing you for rehabilitation

Most detox centers will usually provide the same detoxification services as other medical and substance use treatment facilities, but some may also include group and cognitive-behavioral therapies.

The next step after detox is generally an inpatient stay at a long-term treatment program, depending on the severity of the case. Many treatment options are available for barbiturate addiction; finding the one that best suits your needs is possible.

One indication of a successful detox is evaluated in part by whether or not you enter and stay in a longer-term rehabilitation program immediately after.6

Medical vs Non-Medical Detox

Detox can be medical (medication-assisted) or non-medical (without the use of medications) which will be decided by a health care professional.

In most cases, if you are young and healthy with no previous adverse withdrawal history, you may fare well with non-medical detox.6 But the course of withdrawal and detox can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous, possibly leading to an emergency room visit.

Barbiturate Addiction Treatment Options

Formal barbiturate addiction treatment can help address any underlying issues driving substance abuse and addiction to promote long-term recovery.

A few barbiturate treatment options include:7

  • State-funded rehabs. These are government-funded programs that take Medicaid and Medicare and are available to those without a lot of income or adequate insurance. They provide detox, treatment, and support services.
  • Inpatient residential. These inpatient rehab programs provide a 24-hour structured routine, generally in a non-hospital setting. The length of stay can range from 30 days to 12 months, depending on the individual treatment recommendations.
  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs). These programs vary in structure and intensity, generally cost less than residential inpatient treatment, and are more suitable for people with jobs and strong social support.
  • Partial hospitalization programs (PHPs). These programs occur in hospital settings and are a form of intensive outpatient treatment. Most insurance providers cover PHPs.
  • Executive rehabs. These programs cater to busy entrepreneurs or high-profile individuals, are usually more expensive than other programs, and allow clients to continue their work schedule while in treatment.
  • Luxury rehabs. These rehab facilities are typically pricier and provide a range of cutting-edge treatments, traditional therapy techniques, and holistic care in a luxurious, scenic, private setting.
  • Youth rehabs. These programs cater to adolescents and young adult populations with substance use, mental health, and/or addiction issues. Both inpatient and outpatient rehabs for youth are generally offered.

Risks Associated With Barbiturate Misuse

Barbiturates fall into a category of drugs called central nervous system (CNS) depressants which slow down or “depress” the normal processes that occur in your brain and spinal cord.8,9

If your doctor prescribes barbiturates, you can be relatively safe when taking them. It’s when barbiturates are not taken as prescribed (taken more often or in higher doses to get “high,” taken in other forms like crushed into a powder, or when you take someone else’s prescription) that you may experience dependence and barbiturate addiction. Barbiturate addiction occurs when you seek out more of the drug despite negative consequences.8

Dependence, Addiction, and Withdrawal

Barbiturates have a high potential for misuse, and extended use can lead to tolerance and dependence on the drug. If you display signs of tolerance, you will often require a higher barbiturate dosage to produce the desired effects, resulting in dependence and addiction.8,9

If you abruptly stop the barbiturate use, you may experience withdrawal 2-8 days after discontinuation.6

Common withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping barbiturate use include:9

  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Seizures
  • Low body temperature
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia


Because barbiturates curb the side effects of alcohol and illicit drugs, they have historically been known as secondary drugs of misuse and were often used side by side with primary drugs like alcohol and heroin.2

Most overdoses occur through this type of polysubstance abuse, which involves mixing different drugs, usually alcohol and barbiturates, or barbiturates and opiates such as heroin, oxycodone, or fentanyl.7

Barbiturates, besides having distinct chemical effects, may cause intoxication that mirrors that of too much alcohol, causing motor incoordination, impaired thinking, lowered emotional control, aggressive behavior, staggering, and more.8

Tolerance to the sedative, mood-altering effects of barbiturates develops quickly with consistent and prolonged use.7 Barbiturate misuse can lead to barbiturate addiction. If you become physically dependent on them and suddenly stop using them, you may experience an overdose or death in some severe cases.

Barbiturate overdose warning signs include:10

  • CNS depression
  • Respiratory failure
  • Grand mal seizures
  • Hemodynamic instability
  • Shallow breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Dilated pupils
  • Weak and rapid pulse
  • Coma

If you see someone displaying any of the above overdose warning signs, call 911 immediately.

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are older drugs and central nervous system (CNS) depressants; they produce a feeling of sleepiness, slowing down the CNS causing mild to moderate sleepiness. In some cases, they can cause you to go into a coma. Barbiturates have been used as sedatives, hypnotics, anesthetics, and anticonvulsants.1

Commonly prescribed barbiturates include:1

The introduction of barbiturates in clinical settings began in the early 1900s. It was used for patients suffering from serious neuroses, psychosis, emotional repression, and sleep disorders.2 Barbiturates were the first highly effective pharmacological drug to control epileptic seizures. They paved the path for intravenous anesthesia, playing an important role in the success of minor operations.2

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), barbiturates are categorized as follows:1

  • Ultra-short
  • Short
  • Intermediate
  • Long-acting

During the first few days of taking a barbiturate, you may feel sleepy with a lack of coordination. For this reason, you should not drive or participate in activities that require concentration and focus. After your body gets accustomed to the medication and tolerance builds, the short-term side effects of barbiturates usually taper off.3

Barbiturates come in pill-form or tablet but can be misused by injecting a liquid form. Individuals generally misuse barbiturates to treat anxiety issues, lower inhibitions, induce sleep, or mitigate the uncomfortable effects of illicit drugs.1

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2018, approximately 405,000 Americans aged 12 and higher reported using barbiturates, and 32,000 Americans aged 12 and higher reported misusing barbiturates.4

Common street names for barbiturates are:1

  • Barbs
  • Block Busters
  • Christmas Trees
  • Goof Balls
  • Pinks
  • Red Devils
  • Reds & Blues
  • Yellow Jackets

Barbiturate treatment may start with a detox followed by formal treatment, depending on the severity of the problem. If you or someone you know is seeking help to get off barbiturates, it’s wise to first get evaluated and explore possible options. Call 800-681-1058 (Info iconWho Answers?) to speak to a rehab specialist about your options.


  1. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and U.S. Department of Justice. (2017). Drugs of Abuse.
  2. López-Muñoz, F., Ucha-Udabe, R., & Alamo, C. (2005, December). The history of BARBITURATES a century after their Clinical introduction. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, 1(4), 329–343.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 16). What classes of prescription drugs are commonly misused?
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (n.d.). Results from the 2018 national survey on drug use and Health: Detailed tables.
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, July 24). Treatment approaches for drug addiction drug facts.
  6. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). TIP 45: Detoxification and substance abuse treatment.
  7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, June 3). Types of treatment programs.
  8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2020, October 7). Prescription depressant Medications.
  9. Skibiski, J. (2020, November 20). Barbiturates. Retrieved from
  10. U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2021). Barbiturate intoxication and overdose.
  11. Devenyi, P., & Wilson, M. (1971, February 6). Barbiturate abuse and addiction and their relationship to alcohol and alcoholism.
Pen iconAuthor
Dr. Anjali Talcherkar Headshot
Dr. Anjali Talcherkar, PhD, MA
Author & Adjunct Professor
Dr. Anjali Talcherkar holds a PhD in Integrative Medicine from Saybrook University and an MA in Psychology from Antioch University Los Angeles. Dr. Anjali's focus is in the area of Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM) in addiction treatment. Her versatility emanates from 7+ years of experience working in evidence-based treatment programs and facilitating various recovery mod