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Barbiturate Withdrawal

Addiction is a chronic disorder from which millions of people in the United States and around the world suffer from on a daily basis. The disorder is characterized by the physical and psychological dependence on a certain substance, whether prescription or illicit, with the inability to stop using the substance on your own. There are countless substances that possess addictive qualities, and one such substance is a barbiturate.

Perhaps less familiar than opioids or benzodiazepines, barbiturates are a classification of drug that directly impacts the central nervous system. The effects of barbiturates range from mild sedation to total anesthesia.

There are a number of different uses for barbiturates. They can be used as hypnotics (sleeping medications), anticonvulsants, and anxiolytics (anxiety suppressors). Despite having such a wide variety of functions, barbiturates are all but removed from the medical purview in favor of benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines have very similar functions as barbiturates but are considered far safer.

Both the medications are highly addictive and affect the brain in a similar fashion. Acting on gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitters causes the body to slow down and produce a calming effect on the body. Overtime, the body builds up both a tolerance (resistance) to the medication and a dependence, meaning it relies on the medication to function normally.

However, in today’s modern medical practices, doctors and other medical professionals are favoring benzodiazepines over barbiturates due to the overall safety of patients. Barbiturates have a higher rate of overdose than benzodiazepines, and there is no antidote for a barbiturate overdose.

Despite this; however, barbiturates are still in circulation for certain medical conditions such as chronic migraine treatment and general anesthesia. Because of this, there are still people struggling with barbiturate addiction today, and people who wish to stop using the medication may face the dreaded barbiturate withdrawal and its uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms.


Barbiturate withdrawal is on par with that of benzodiazepines. Due to the striking similarities, many of the barbiturate withdrawal symptoms mirror those of benzos. The severity of the barbiturate withdrawal varies from person to person, and every case is as unique as the individual struggling with the barbiturate addiction.

Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms may manifest in a physical or psychological way. This means that the discomfort occurs both on an actual physical level and negatively impacts the emotional well-being of the barbiturate addict.

Despite each case being unique, there are some pretty basic and common barbiturate withdrawal symptoms you or a loved one may encounter.

Some of the more frequently experienced barbiturate withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Agitation
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Tremors
  • Shakiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Restlessness
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Fevers
  • Delirium

These are just a few of the variety of different withdrawal symptoms associated with barbiturate addiction. There is no cookie-cutter manifestation of these symptoms and everyone’s experience may differ. The one thing that is clear, though is the danger associated with barbiturate withdrawal. Some of the aforementioned withdrawal symptoms can cause permanent damage and even death in the most serious cases. Because of this, it’s urgent that you understand barbiturate withdrawal and obtain proper treatment in order to ensure your safety.

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So, if you believe you or a loved one may be suffering from a barbiturate addiction, the next question is how long do barbiturate withdrawals last exactly? Understanding the timeline associated with barbiturate withdrawal is important so that you know exactly what to expect and when to expect it.

There are a number of key factors that go in to determining both the severity and length of your barbiturate withdrawal. 

Much like any other addictive substance, the amount of the drug that you abused and how long you were abusing it factors into the overall barbiturate withdrawal timeline. Obviously an individual who took larger doses of barbiturates for a longer period of time will have a more intense withdrawal than someone who only took smaller doses for a shorter period of time.

Other important facets that go into determining the intensity of your barbiturate withdrawal are your age and metabolism. The actual type of barbiturate you abused as well will impact the overall withdrawal experience, as some medications have a longer (or shorter) half life, meaning they leave your system quicker or slower than other medications.

The overall barbiturate withdrawal timeline; however, will more than likely look something like this:

24 TO 72 HOURS

Within the initial three days following your final barbiturate dose, the onset of withdrawal symptoms will begin. The barbiturate withdrawal symptoms are the most intense within the first three days, with many people encountering seizures during this time period. Other barbiturate withdrawal symptoms that are commonly experienced are insomnia, nausea, mood swings, and vomiting.


Following the first three days, barbiturate withdrawal symptoms begin to fade slowly. The first three days are the most intense and dangerous, with the physical symptoms becoming less intense over the following week. During the first week following your final dose, you’ll still encounter symptoms like insomnia, agitation, mood swings, depression, drug cravings, and even psychosis.


At this stage of barbiturate withdrawal, the majority of the physical manifestation of symptoms will be over. However, lingering emotional withdrawal symptoms may be present and still intense, making it difficult for many people to resist returning to barbiturate addiction. Different symptoms like insomnia, depression, and agitation may still be very relevant and troublesome.


The following two weeks individuals will notice a decline in the insomnia and volatile mood swings. Most of the barbiturate withdrawal symptoms will be gone or at least fading, with only some mild symptoms such as headaches or sensitivity present. At this stage of the barbiturate withdrawal timeline, your condition should begin to stabilize and you should begin to feel normal again.

While the barbiturate withdrawal timeline is only tentatively about four weeks, there may still be some lingering withdrawal symptoms. Post acute withdrawal symptoms, or PAWS, refers to bothersome withdrawal symptoms that may present themselves for several weeks or even months following the final dose of barbiturate. They may come and go and vary in intensity but can still be troublesome for those trying to overcome their barbiturate addiction.


As mentioned previously, detoxing is crucial when it comes to barbiturate addiction. Some of the withdrawal symptoms associated with barbiturate detox can be life threatening, which means undertaking barbiturate withdrawal by yourself is dangerous. Going to a medical detox facility is your best chance to have a safe and successful detox.

Another reason why detoxing in a medical setting is ideal is comfort. The dangerous withdrawal symptoms aside, many of the other symptoms that may not be deadly can be extraordinarily uncomfortable bordering intolerable. Trying to manage your withdrawal symptoms alone can make the entire process unbearable for some. Detoxing in such discomfort is not required; a medical detox facility can put you on the right regimen of medications to help alleviate the most uncomfortable symptoms.

Lastly, another great reason to detox professionally is long-term success. Since many of the barbiturate withdrawal symptoms can be as a uncomfortable as stated above, many people find they are unable to handle the symptoms and return to the drug to alleviate the discomfort. The first few days and even weeks of barbiturate withdrawal is a volatile time where most people who suffer relapse are the most vulnerable.

The drug cravings are strong, as are the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Many people cannot find lasting recovery or sobriety from barbiturate addiction without professional intervention.


If you have decided that you or a loved one is suffering from a barbiturate addiction and need help, then it’s time to take the first step. Getting into barbiturate withdrawal treatment is important to avoid uncomfortable and dangerous symptoms associated with the withdrawal process. Taking the initiative to head off to medical detox is the first stop in the full continuum of care.

The full continuum of care refers to starting at the highest level of addiction treatment care (detox) and going through each stage until reaching the lowest level (outpatient). The full continuum of care works by slowly allowing patients to amass more freedoms and personal responsibilities throughout each subsequent level of care. There is less intervention on part of the medical and clinical staff. This allows clients to transition slowly and safely and puts them at a increased chance of success in recovery.


The first level of care in barbiturate withdrawal treatment is detox. Medical detox is the level of care in which you handle the physical aspect of your barbiturate addiction and receive medical intervention to help you remove the drug from your body.

Upon arriving at detox, you’ll undergo a full medical assessment of your barbiturate addiction and health. You’ll then be given a personalized detox plan that may include different detox medications to help alleviate troubling withdrawal symptoms and make the withdrawal process safe.

You’ll be under 24/7 surveillance by the medical team who will monitor your progress throughout detox to ensure you’re both safe and your detox is effective. The medical staff will be made up of doctors, nurses, and support staff to help keep you as safe and comfortable as possible.

There will also be a full clinical team. Since not all barbiturate withdrawal symptoms are physical, having clinical support helps you through the difficult transition as well. Therapists, case managers, and other support staff will be there for you 24/7 ready to help you work through any troubling feelings you may be encountering. They will also start the therapeutic aspect of treatment with some groups and therapy sessions.


Once medically stabilized, it’s recommended you continue with the full continuum of care and head off to inpatient. At this level, you’ll live onsite at the treatment facility where you will engage in full time therapy and group sessions with other clients.

Different treatment centers employ different therapy techniques and amenities, so it’s important to know what you’re looking for in barbiturate withdrawal treatment prior to treatment. Choosing the right facility is important to your success.

Most facilities offer clients intensive therapy sessions and teach them different coping mechanisms and life skills they can bring with them even after treatment ends. The idea is that during treatment, you’re free of outside distractions and stressors so you can do the therapeutic heavy lifting. Getting to the underlying causes of your addiction and different emotional issues is crucial in order to avoid falling back into old patterns of behavior.


The next level of care is known as intensive outpatient, or IOP. At an IOP level, you’ll no longer live on-site at the facility, but find alternative housing. This can be at a sober living facility or halfway house if you’re looking for more structure. Still, other clients opt to return home during this level of care.

You will back down to part time therapy instead of the full time therapy encountered in inpatient. Although it is on a part time basis, you’ll still attend therapy sessions multiple times a week for several hours at a time. The therapy encountered is still intense therapy as well.

The idea is to allow clients to have some personal freedom and responsibilities back into their lives while still under close clinical care. That way they can begin to make the transition back into everyday life while still having plenty of help and support to fall back on in times of stress or difficulty. Clients will also still be subjected to drug tests to keep them accountable to their sobriety and on track. IOP acts as a form of relapse prevention, designed to help clients avoid falling back into active barbiturate addiction.


After a successful completion of IOP, clients are then graduated to outpatient. At this stage, clients have even more freedom and responsibility to their recovery, as therapy sessions back off to usually just one hour per week. At this point, clients should be stable enough in their recovery to handle the majority of the responsibility with limited clinical intervention.

However, clients still will have their therapy session in which they can go to clinical staff for help or support if need be. Clients will also still be administered drug tests to keep track of their sobriety and help them to continue to abstain from drugs and alcohol


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