What is Barbiturate Withdrawal?

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Barbiturate withdrawal refers to the set of symptoms that individuals may experience when they suddenly stop or significantly reduce their intake of barbiturate medications after prolonged use. 

What Are Barbiturates? 

Barbiturates are a class of central nervous system depressant drugs that were once commonly prescribed for various medical conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. They work by enhancing the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain, leading to a calming or sedative effect. Barbiturates were widely used in the first half of the 20th century but have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines (benzos) and other medications with fewer side effects. However, barbiturates are still used for anesthesia and to treat:

  • Migraine headaches
  • Cluster headaches
  • Epilepsy

Barbiturates Withdrawal Symptoms

Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms can vary in intensity and may include:

  • Anxiety and restlessness: Individuals may feel on edge, nervous, or agitated.
  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep is a common withdrawal symptom.
  • Muscle twitching or tremors: Involuntary muscle movements may occur.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as nausea and vomiting, can happen.
  • Sweating and fever: Increased sweating and elevated body temperature may occur.
  • Violent behavior: Some people withdrawing from barbiturates can engage in violent behavior.
  • Mood swings: In some cases, withdrawal from barbiturates can lead to extreme mood swings.
  • Fast but shallow heartbeat: Withdrawing from barbiturates can lead to a fast and shallow heart rate.
  • Seizures: In some cases, withdrawal can lead to seizures, which can be life-threatening. 
  • Slowed breathing: Individuals withdrawing from barbiturates may have slowed, shallow breathing.

If you or a loved one is withdrawing from barbiturates and experiencing:

  • Quick heart rate
  • Shallow heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Slightly blue face
  • Slowed breathing

Call 9-1-1 immediately for medical assistance.

What Is the Barbiturate Withdrawal Timeline? 

Below is a chart with the typical barbiturate withdrawal timeline:

Time Frame

Withdrawal Symptoms

Early Withdrawal (1-4 Days)

Early withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, insomnia, tremors, sweating, nausea, vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure and mood changes.

Peak Withdrawal (2-4 Days)

Peak withdrawal symptoms include intense anxiety, hallucinations, delirium, seizures and psychosis.

Late Withdrawal (1- 4 Weeks)

Late withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, fatigue, lingering anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating.

Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms (One month to several years)

Protracted Withdrawal Symptoms can include depression, anxiety, panic attacks, difficulty thinking and moving properly when under stress.



Barbiturate Withdrawal Treatment

These are the key aspects of barbiturate detox treatment:

  • Medical Assessment: Before initiating withdrawal treatment, healthcare professionals conduct a thorough medical assessment to evaluate the individual's overall health, the extent of barbiturate use, and the potential risk of complications during withdrawal.
  • Tapering: Quitting barbiturates out of the blue can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms, including life-threatening seizures. Therefore, the most common approach is a gradual tapering of the barbiturate dosage. (Tapering means to take smaller doses every day under the care of a healthcare professional). Your healthcare team will develop a tapering schedule based on your specific circumstances, adjusting the dosage over time to allow your body to adapt to decreasing levels of the drug. If you or a loved one is struggling with barbiturate withdrawal, reach out to us at Avenues Recovery so we can guide you on your path to recovery.
  • Symptom Management: Medications may be prescribed to manage specific withdrawal symptoms like anticonvulsant medications to control seizures or benzos to manage anxiety and reduce the risk of seizures.
  • Monitoring Vital Signs: Continuous monitoring of vital signs, such as heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, is very important during withdrawal. This helps healthcare professionals identify and address any medical complications promptly.
  • Fluid and Nutritional Support: Dehydration and nutritional deficiencies are common during withdrawal. Adequate hydration and nutritional support are provided as part of the treatment plan.
  • Psychosocial Support: Emotional and psychological support play a crucial role in barbiturate withdrawal treatment. Individuals may receive counseling and therapy or participate in support groups to address the underlying factors contributing to their substance use and develop coping strategies.
  • Aftercare Planning: Successful withdrawal is just the first step in the recovery process. After completing the withdrawal treatment, individuals typically need ongoing support to address the root causes of their substance use and maintain sobriety. This may involve participation in rehabilitation programs, counseling, and support groups.

How Can I Manage Barbiturate Withdrawal Symptoms? 

Due to the intensity of withdrawal from barbiturates, the only recommended way to manage barbiturate withdrawal symptoms is with the support of healthcare professionals, usually in a drug rehab center like Avenues Recovery. Wherever you decide to withdraw from barbiturates, your healthcare professional will guide you in tapering off the drug slowly so you will experience less severe side effects.

They will also give you guidance on psychosocial support, like attending therapy or support groups, fluid and nutritional support and aftercare planning so that you don’t relapse into barbiturate abuse. The focus of a barbiturate detox is to make sure that the patient is comfortable and safe during their detox. They may also be prescribed psychiatric medications if necessary to help them detox. 


If you or a loved one is struggling with barbiturate withdrawal, reach out to us at Avenues Recovery Center so we can guide you on your path to recovery. Our expert team of addiction specialists will ensure that your withdrawal will be as pleasant and manageable as possible.

If you are struggling with an addiction to barbiturates, Avenues Recovery can help you turn your life around. No one deserves to be shackled to an addiction. We use a mix of traditional and holistic therapies as well as personalized treatment plans to facilitate optimal success. Our sensitive and caring staff are committed to treating every individual with utmost respect and professionalism. Contact us today to experience top-notch care and unmatched support. We will hold your hand every step of the way to sobriety. Begin your journey home today!

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