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Barbiturate Overdose Symptoms

Learn more about barbiturates, the risk factors of a barbiturate overdose, and how to seek care for overdose symptoms.

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic drugs generally used to induce a sense of calmness and relaxation in the central nervous system. Ordinarily, barbiturates can be safely used in clinical treatments. Still, when abused or taken in excess, they can quickly lead to barbiturate overdose or acute barbiturate poisoning.

barbiturate overdose

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How Do Barbiturates Work?

Barbiturates work by suppressing nerve impulses in the central nervous system. This happens due to an increase in the activity of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) induced by the ingestion of barbiturate drugs.

GABA is a brain chemical with sedative effects. When its activity is increased, it causes an overwhelming sedative and depressive impact on the brain. Therefore, when taken in considerable amounts, barbiturate drugs would place a person in a state of barbiturate intoxication.

What Are Barbiturates Used For?

Barbiturate uses generally relate to neurological and psychological treatments. Some common barbiturate uses include:
  • Seizures and Epilepsy: Barbiturates drugs effectively treat seizures and epileptic disorders. In addition, research has shown minimal side effects in using barbiturates for seizures.1
  • Anxiety: When barbiturates medications are administered in low doses, they have therapeutic effects on anxiety and tension. This is due to the sedative effects of barbiturates on the central nervous system.
  • Insomnia: Insomnia is a sleep disorder characterized by difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep. Barbiturates medications calm the central nervous system, which invariably induces sleep.
  • Pre-Anesthesia: Barbiturates, such as thiopental and thiamylal, are commonly used by doctors for anesthesia in patients. Anesthesia is integral during surgeries and other related medical procedures.
  • Euthanasia: In a clinical setting, large doses of barbiturates are administered to terminally ill patients to cause death. Euthanasia is also performed on pets to reduce suffering towards the end of their lives.2

How Long Do Barbiturates Stay in Your System?

Barbiturates medications are classified based on their duration. This varies between very short-acting, short-acting, and intermediate-acting durations. Barbiturates such as thiamylal (Surital), Pentobarbital (Nembutal), and Secobarbital (Amytal) may last anywhere between a few hours to up to seventy hours in your system. Other long-acting barbiturates may last for up to over one hundred hours.3

What Do Barbiturates Do?

Once barbiturates enter the system’s circulation, it creates an increase in the activities of GABA, which reduces the neurons’ efficiency. Therefore, depending on the barbiturate drugs consumed, people may feel barbiturates’ effects in anywhere from fifteen to thirty minutes.

Most Common Types of Barbiturates

  • Phenobarbital: Phenobarbital is a long-acting barbiturate drug used in treating seizures, insomnia, anxiety, and many other disorders. They are also helpful in suppressing withdrawal during addiction treatments. 
  • Secobarbital: Secobarbital is a short-acting barbiturate used as a general relaxant. Secobarbital has several popular slang names, such as red devils and downers.
  • Amobarbital: This short-intermediate-acting barbiturate was first synthesized in 1923 as a sedative. It is still used to induce sleepiness in patients experiencing insomnia. Popular barbiturate names for amobarbital include blue heavens, blue velvet, and blue devils.
  • Pentobarbital: Pentobarbital is used in treating Insomnia and as a pre-anesthetic for surgery.4 In some cases, pentobarbital is used for euthanasia in dogs and other animals. Street names for barbiturates such as pentobarbital include yellow jackets, abbots, and many others.5

Are Barbiturates Safe?

Barbiturate prescription drugs are generally safe when considerate dosages are taken. Although some barbiturates have short-term effects, these effects are usually mild when the drugs are consumed based on a doctor’s prescription. 

However, where there has been barbiturate abuse, side effects can be more severe, sometimes even leading to a barbiturate overdose and death.

Are Barbiturates Controlled Substances?

Most barbiturates fall under Schedule II, III, and IV depressants under the Controlled Substance Act. Consequently, several restrictions are put in place to limit their accessibility, reducing the risk of barbiturate abuse and barbiturate overdose.6

Signs and Symptoms of a Barbiturate Overdose

During the use of any drug, there is the likelihood of the onset of certain signs and symptoms. The same happens with barbiturate use, even when used as prescribed. However, there are certain signs and symptoms of barbiturate use that may be indicative of an overdose. 

These include:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Poor coordination
  • Shallow breathing
  • Altered consciousness
  • Coma
  • Death

Risk Factors for a Barbiturate Overdose

Barbiturates are generally administered under medical supervision or with a doctor’s prescription. This allows medical personnel to closely monitor their patients and ensure there are no risk factors present that may lead to barbiturate complications or overdose. If this critical step is ignored, it exposes patients to the dangers of a potential overdose.7

Using the Drug for Nonmedical Purposes

Barbiturates are highly addictive drugs that patients should not take without a medical prescription. When barbiturates are introduced into the body outside medical use (i.e., for fun, self-prescription, or used in a way unintended by the prescriber), there is an increased risk of having a barbiturate overdose.

Using the Drug in Larger Amounts or More Frequently Than Prescribed

When barbiturates are taken in unprescribed amounts, a barbiturate substance abuse disorder may begin to set in through barbiturate dependence. A larger than normal intake of barbiturates can eventually lead to acute barbiturate poisoning and an overdose. To prevent this, patients are advised to take only the amount prescribed by their doctors.

Using the Drug Over Longer Periods Than Intended

Over an extended period, many long-term barbiturates effects on the brain and other parts of the body (i.e., sexual dysfunction, slow reflex, cardiac issues, liver problem, etc.) become visible. In extreme cases, the effects of long-term barbiturate use may lead to systemic buildup and increase the likelihood of a barbiturate overdose.

Mixing Barbiturates with Alcohol, Opioids, or Other Drugs

Barbiturates, when misused alone, can lead to varying degrees of toxicity. When combined with alcohol, opioids, and other drugs, the barbiturate toxicity reaches an alarming level, thereby increasing the possibility of a barbiturate overdose. Other dangers of barbiturates include suppressed breathing, respiratory depression, coma, and even death.

Over the years, these risk factors have helped scientists and medical researchers formulate specific facts about barbiturates while ensuring patient safety.

Symptoms of Barbiturate Withdrawal

Barbiturates withdrawal symptoms during treatments for addiction can take a heavy toll on an individual’s recovery and overall quality of life. Withdrawal symptoms present after dependence on the substance sets in, and the individual involved tries to stop using barbiturates. 

Depending on the duration of abuse and the different types of barbiturates involved, individuals can experience withdrawal symptoms ranging from mild to highly debilitating.

Indications of Withdrawal

barbiturate overdose
It’s best to undergo withdrawal at a professional treatment or medical facility, as some of these symptoms can be life-threatening. Some common symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal include:
  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Restlessness
  • Seizures
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Stomach upset
  • Vomiting

Get Help for Barbiturate Overdose at Ripple Ranch

The best way to prevent a barbiturate overdose is to use barbiturates in the exact manner they were prescribed. In instances of barbiturate addiction or abuse, it is essential to start barbiturates treatment early. One way to do this is to visit Ripple Ranch for help managing barbiturate overdose symptoms.
Ripple Ranch is located in Comal County, Texas. We are dedicated to helping people get the appropriate care needed to overcome substance abuse. Ripple Ranch has helped thousands of individuals overcome barbiturate intoxication and addiction through effective barbiturate reversal and rehab.

Reach Out Today

Our team of experts carries out detoxification and barbiturate treatment with care. At the same time, providing support on how to properly stop barbiturate use. 

For more information on barbiturate overdose symptoms or essential care needed in overcoming barbiturate addiction, please contact us today!