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Barbiturate Withdrawal

Based on our present knowledge of drugs, we may find that using opium or alcohol as medications to help someone sleep a bit extreme. With all we know about the dangers and addiction potential, that sounds like a last resort measure to deal with sleeplessness. Well, these drastic measures were once used to treat anxiety and insomnia; however, they soon showed their ineffectiveness, and other means were sought to address these ailments. 

An astounding 50 million U.S. residents struggle with more than 80 sleep disorders annually. In addition to these staggering figures, another 20 to 30 million experience intermittent sleep problems every year. While barbiturates are seldom prescribed today, they were the first medicines of their kind to treat sleep, anxiety, and seizures.

Barbiturates were developed in 1864 by Adolf von Baeyer when he created malonylurea, which is considered the first barbiturate. The drug was introduced to the market by Farbwerke Fr Bayer and Co in 1904. Barbiturates are seen as closed-chain ureic compounds. The nucleus of the drug is malonylurea, and although it was synthesized in 1864, the formula was not perfected until 1879. 

After a rigorous perfection process, more than 2,500 variations were made available to treat anxiety, sleep disorders, and seizure disorders. After many successful years of use, doctors started to notice the first signs of dependence. It wasn’t until that doctors saw alarming rates of delirium and withdrawal symptoms when a person abruptly stopped using the drug.

Barbiturates like phenobarbital, allobarbital, and barbital depress our central nervous system. They produce calming effects that slow down an overactive nervous system. Due to the addiction potential, there can be terrible consequences associated with consumption. Over time, more sophisticated drugs known as benzodiazepines came to replace barbiturates. Today, the market has been flooded with Z-drugs, which are less addictive sleep medications. Still, they can be dangerous and addictive if used improperly.

Despite the lack of accessibility over the years, barbiturates are readily available on the black market. Recreational drug users seek them out for their effects. Those who engage in nonprescription use of the drugs may not be aware of the danger potential of doing so. While the high itself may not be deadly, the withdrawal symptoms can be fatal if not treated by a medical professional. 

What Are the Barbiturate Withdrawal Symptoms?

When someone misuses barbiturates, it will increase the odds that they will develop a dependence or addiction to the substance. If you have reached this point, stopping the medication will be dangerous because of the withdrawal symptoms you may experience. If you find that you cannot stop using barbiturates, you need to seek help from medical specialists. They will refer you to a treatment center where you will have support from a caring staff. The environment will allow you to cope with your symptoms without distraction.

The most common withdrawal symptoms stemming from barbiturate use include:

  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Anxiety
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Aggression
  • Exhaustion

Symptoms may become severe, which include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Circulatory failure
  • Tremors
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)
  • Seizures
  • Death

Stages in the Barbiturate Withdrawal Timeline

When it comes to withdrawal, the situation will vary from one person to another.

Some of the factors that contribute to barbiturate withdrawal include:

  • Age
  • The last dose of the barbiturate drug
  • How long you’ve been taking barbiturates
  • Frequency of use
  • The half-life of the barbiturate used
  • Metabolism
  • How the barbiturate was consumed
  • If one or more drugs were used with the barbiturate
  • Substance use history/ addiction family history
  • Tolerance
  • Support system
  • Diet

In many cases, the length of withdrawal will be short and take one to two weeks. Heavy users of the drugs, however, might experience prolonged symptoms that last up to a month. Mild users will get through the process much quicker.

A general withdrawal timeline will consist of:

Days 1-3: You will likely experience effects within the first or second day of this process. You will experience anxiety, nausea, and vomiting. Sleep will be difficult to come by, and you will feel tired and agitated. The symptoms will peak around day two or three, and you must be under the care of medical professionals that will monitor you for more severe symptoms. 

Days 4-7: Around the fifth day, you will notice the symptoms subsiding. Your body has released most of the toxins that were built up in your system. The body can now focus on balancing itself, which will provide relief. Cravings will still be present, and anxiety, sleep problems, and mood swings will still be prevalent. Continuing your support in detox will help you overcome this hurdle.

Week 2 and beyond: A severe barbiturate user will experience symptoms week two and beyond. You will still crave the drug, and continued support is recommended to avoid a relapse. 

Why Should I Detox?

The detox process from any drug is unpredictable, but barbiturates pose a unique threat. When you go through the process under the strict supervision of professionals, you can mitigate the risks and lower your chance of dying. The symptoms are often severe enough to push someone into a relapse, which can cause them to overdose and die. When it comes to barbiturates, the only option should be a medical detox facility

What Is the Next Treatment Step?

When the drugs have exited your body, you need to start thinking about the next step in your journey. Detox alone will not help you conquer addiction, but entering into a program can help you measure where you are with addiction. You will go through an evaluation to determine if a mental disorder helps fuel your addiction. 

When the specialist determines where you are, you can enter into therapy that provides you with tools to battle your addiction. To address the underlying causes of addiction, you will be placed in a residential or outpatient facility. It will help you live a better and healthier life as a whole.

Sources

Sarrecchia, C., Sordillo, P., Conte, G., & Rocchi, G. (1998). Barbiturate withdrawal syndrome: A case associated with the abuse of a headache medication. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10349206

López-Muñoz, F., Ucha-Udabe, R., & Alamo, C. (2005, December). The history of barbiturates a century after their clinical introduction. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2424120/

The State of SleepHealth in America. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.sleephealth.org/sleep-health/the-state-of-sleephealth-in-america/

(n.d.). Delirium tremens: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000766.htm

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

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