Get help today 888-287-0471 or sign up for 24/7 text support.
American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

Barbiturate Addiction

Barbiturate addiction symptoms are easily disguised sometimes as effects of prescription drug abuse. They are often mistaken as prescription drug side effects or signs of drunkenness. Because the symptoms are easy to explain (especially when the barbiturates are abused in low doses), the user can quickly build a dangerous tolerance to the drugs. Fortunately, with a little information and some help in seeking recovery options, you can overcome the symptoms of barbiturate addiction in your life.

Did You Know?

Bayer created barbiturates in Germany, during the 1860s.

The Prescription Problem

Drug abuse is taking more than the prescribed dose or taking medication that is not prescribed for you.One of the largest contributors to barbiturate abuse is the legal and medical status of the drugs. Barbiturates are often prescribed as sedatives, anti-seizure treatment, tranquilizers and pre-surgery anesthetics. Legal prescription of barbiturates does treat these issues, but only at the dosages recommended by the prescribing physician. Barbiturate addiction symptoms only appear when the drug is being abused.

Drug abuse is taking more than the prescribed dose or taking medication that is not prescribed for you. This is a common occurrence in the US. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, 12 million people ages 12 and older did not take barbiturates and other drugs as prescribed. Many of these people took drugs meant for a family member or friend. Because the drugs are prescribed, the barbiturate abuser does not see that the drugs can be lethal; however, they can be. If you know anyone taking a barbiturate in a way that wasn’t prescribed by a doctor, please contact us for help and resources.

Did You Know?

The first medical use of barbiturates was in 1903.

The Signs of Addiction

The first step to barbiturate addiction recovery is acknowledging that a problem exists. There is a fine line between the effective dose of the drug and the lethal dose. Barbiturate addiction symptoms are like road signs, pointing out to you, your family and your friends when the danger zone is near. Feeling tired, dizzy or a bit drowsy are common side effects of taking the drug as prescribed. Barbiturate addicts, however, have impaired motor control and judgment that resembles alcohol drunkenness. The addicts also show other signs of addiction that include:

  • Confusion
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Tremors
  • Slow heart rate
  • Uncontrollable drowsiness
  • Trouble speaking

As the addict’s drug abuse progresses, so do the barbiturate addiction symptoms. In fact, long-term and high dose users may develop these chronic symptoms that stick around after recovery. Such symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased ability to react or stay alert
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extreme fatigue

When these symptoms appear, the addict’s tolerance for the drugs is low. Intervention is needed to prevent an overdose.

Did You Know?

“Margin of safety” is a term that describes the tolerance levels between the effective dose of the drug and the lethal dose. Each barbiturate use decreases that margin.

Overdose Indicators

Seek help immediately if you, your friend or loved one is exhibiting any of the following symptoms after barbiturate use:

  • Intermittent or no breathing
  • Weak pulse
  • Difficulty waking
  • Unconsciousness

The hospital is the only place to seek treatment at this point. There, they place barbiturate overdose victims on breathing support machines. In many cases, the opiate Narcan is administered, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH found that one in 10 barbiturate overdose patients succumbed to breathing or heart issues. That is why you should seek medical attention at the first sign of a compromised breathing or heart rate. It is also a good reason to seek barbiturate addiction treatment before your tolerance levels reach the end.

Did You Know?

The opiate Narcan is used to awaken the overdose patients and to increase breathing rates.

Barbiturate Addiction Treatment

Although addicts can and do sometimes succeed in kicking the habit on their own, barbiturate addiction withdrawal symptoms are best treated under professional care. Those symptoms can include seizures, insomnia, nausea and hallucinations. Barbiturate addiction recovery is all about getting over those physical symptoms, while also treating the psychological dependence that develops over the course of the addiction. Group and talk therapies are among those used to treat the dependence.

Contact Us

Don’t wait for the signs of overdose before reaching out to addiction specialists. Contact us at to find resources, support and more information about the barbiturate addiction symptoms that are plaguing you or someone you know.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.