Can you develop an addiction to Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic drugs that are extremely addictive.

Barbiturates, like Ambien, are sedative-hypnotic drugs which depress the central nervous system (CNS). They are used for the treatment of insomnia, seizures and headaches. They are also known to be used in a hospital-setting for pre-operative sedation (RXList, 2019). Developed in 1864, these medications gained popularity in the 1960s and 1970s, extensively prescribed due to their effectiveness in producing relaxation and sleepiness in patients. Barbiturates are only prescribed for specific indications these days due to the high risk for users to develop an addiction. Doctors have difficulty determining a safe and effective dose of a barbiturate and warn that even a slight miscalculation can result in coma or death, adding to its decline in prescriptions.

Phenobarbital, Butabarbital (Butisol), Seconal, Nembutal and Amobarbital are a few common barbiturates available in the United States; although they are available in many names. Depending on their form and use, barbiturates are now scheduled II, III and IV drugs in the US. Street names for these drugs vary greatly and are usually derived from the color and markings of the actual pill (ex. Downers, Yellow jackets, Purple hearts, Goof balls). Due to the significant decrease in doctors prescribing them, recreational use of these drugs has decreased. While not as common as other prescription drugs, people still become addicted to barbiturates. Disturbingly, a large portion of barbiturate abusers are high school students, likely due to this age group being too young to recall the deaths associated with their use during the 1970s.

Woman suffering from barbiturates addiction.

Known as “downers”, abusers offset the exhilaration from stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines by adding barbiturates to the mix. Users of these drugs report experiencing a “high” similar to intoxication. It’s important to emphasize that there is a very small difference in a dose that causes drowsiness and one that causes death – that’s why anyone taking these medications is in imminent danger. In the medical profession, this narrow difference is known as a Therapeutic Index (the ratio of a medication’s toxic vs. therapeutic dose). The narrow therapeutic index for barbiturates is the likely reason why they are not often prescribed today. If the narrow therapeutic index wasn’t enough, barbiturates are extremely addictive. People who use barbiturates, even for short time periods, develop an addiction.

RXList (2019, September 24) WHAT ARE BARBITURATES AND HOW DO THEY WORK? Retrieved from