Information and educational resources about barbiturates


What is a barbiturate?

Barbiturates are a group of CNS depressants that affect the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA actually works by decreasing brain activity. Although different classes of CNS depressants work in unique ways, ultimately it is their ability to increase GABA activity that produces a drowsy or calming effect.

Barbiturates, such as mephobarbital (Mebaral) and pentobarbitalsodium (Nembutal), are used to treat anxiety, tension and sleep disorders. Despite these beneficial effects for people suffering from anxiety or sleep disorders, barbiturates can be addictive and should be used only as prescribed.

Addiction and Withdrawal

Discontinuing prolonged use of high doses of barbiturates can lead to withdrawal. Because they work by slowing the brain’s activity, a potential consequence of abuse is that when one stops taking a CNS depressant, the brain’s activity can rebound to the point that seizures can occur. Someone thinking about ending their use of a barbiturate, or who has stopped and is suffering withdrawal, should speak with a physician and seek medical treatment.

In addition to medical supervision, counseling in an inpatient or outpatient setting can help people who are overcoming addiction to barbiturates.

Often the abuse of barbiturates occurs in conjunction with the abuse of another substance or drug, such as alcohol or cocaine. In these cases of polydrug abuse, the treatment approach should address the multiple addictions.

Read more about barbiturate addiction >>

Information courtesy of the National Institute on Drug Abuse

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