Skip to Main Content

What are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a type of depressant that is derived from barbituric acid. They cause the central nervous system to slow down and create a sense of calm. Because they have these effects, physicians prescribe them for people who struggle with anxiety, headaches, insomnia, seizures, and similar medical issues. They are also used as anesthesia. Common barbiturate brands are Amytal, Nembutal, Seconal, and Luminal. Generic names include amobarbital, pentobarbital, secobarbital and phenobarbital.

Barbiturates are highly addictive, so they should be used only if prescribed. Even with a prescription, people who use barbiturates are at risk for dependence. Because they are so addictive, they can lead to major problems with withdrawal. They’re considered to be extremely dangerous, as they can cause coma or even death.

Barbiturates were very popular in the ’50s and ’60s. But today, there are other drugs available that have less risk, so physicians don’t prescribe barbiturates as frequently as they did in the past. However, they’re still largely available, and some experts believe that barbiturate abuse is increasing. In a recent survey, nine percent of high school students had used barbiturates for recreational purposes.

If someone you know is misusing barbiturates, it’s extremely important for them to get help as soon as possible because of the serious risks of addiction and overdose.

Barbiturates’ Street Names

Teens and young adults might also obtain barbiturates on the street or through the Internet. Barbiturates are also sold in illegal online pharmacies, both domestic and foreign. They may also get the drugs from friends who have obtained them illegally themselves.

The most common way that barbiturates are taken is orally, in pill form. But it’s becoming common for young people to use barbiturates along with other illicit substances including alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. This is called polydrug use and is extremely dangerous.

Effects of Barbiturates

Because the most common effects of barbiturates include relaxation, sleepiness, and euphoria, physicians prescribe them for anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and similar medical issues.

However, barbiturates have negative effects. They can cause major physical problems in both the short term and the long term. Below are some of the most common problems resulting from barbiturate abuse:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred and slowed speech
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of coordination
  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Damage to major organs
  • Coma
  • Death

How Young People Use Barbiturates

Because barbiturates are available through prescriptions, teens often acquire medicines containing barbiturates from their parent’s medicine cabinet. Sleeping pills and anti-anxiety medications, for example, often contain barbiturates.

Risks of Barbiturate Use

Since barbiturates are highly addictive, people who use them are at risk of quickly developing physical dependence. Once a person has become dependent on barbiturates, withdrawal can involve life-threatening side effects that can last for years. These withdrawal symptoms can include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Shakiness
  • Hallucinations
  • High body temperature
  • Insomnia
  • Breathing problems
  • Seizures

Another risk of repeated barbiturate usage is that the user develops an increased tolerance of the drug. In other words, the individual must take more of the drug in order to experience its effects. As a result, users often take more and more of it and have a greater risk of barbiturate overdose and death.

Finally, barbiturate usage can cause permanent damage to the brain, liver, heart, and other vital organs. It can also result in lifelong problems with coordination, cognitive ability, breathing problems, memory, and reflexes.

Signs of Barbiturate Addiction

A teen who is struggling with barbiturates may display several symptoms. Barbiturates relax the brain, so people who are using barbiturates tend to act like they’re intoxicated. Other common symptoms of barbiturate abuse include:

  • Mood swings
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Slurred speech
  • Dizziness, drowsiness
  • Sleepiness
  • Lethargy
  • Dilated pupils
  • Problems with vision
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Lack of coordination and/or concentration

You may also hear your child using slang terms – street names for barbiturates include downers, blue velvets, yellow jackets, abbots, Mexican yellow, dolls, red devils, reds, red birds, barbs, feenies and phennies.

What to do if You Suspect Barbiturate Abuse

If you think your teen or young adult may be abusing barbiturates, or if you’re concerned about your own usage, get help immediately. The dangers of barbiturate addiction for teens and young adults are serious, and overdoses are common. Help is available, and the sooner you reach out, the better.

Family Treatment

To improve the quality of life as a family, it’s essential to involve the entire family in treatment. We have individual family therapy, multi-family groups, and parent support groups. Here, families will find a space where they have permission to be open and honest about the challenges they are facing. They can also find answers about mental health and what treatment looks like at Sandstone Care.