Barbiturates - Depressants

Classification: Sedative Hypnotic

Slang Names: barbs, bluebirds, blues, tooies, downers, phennies, yellow jackets, blue devils, reds and rainbows

Method of use: swallowed, injected

Dependence Potential: physically and psychologically addictive

What are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a synthetic drug classified as a sedative hypnotic. Sedative hypnotics depress or slow down the body's functions. Often these drugs are referred to as tranquilizers, sleeping pills, or simply sedatives. Their effects range from reducing anxiety to inducing sleep, depending on the amount taken.

There are several medical uses for barbiturates, besides controlling anxiety and sleep disturbances. They are also used as a mild form of anesthesia and to control peptic ulcers, high blood pressure and epileptic seizures.

Barbiturates are also a popular "street" drug. Commonly abused barbiturates include amobarbital (Amytal), pentobarbital (Nembutal), and secobarbital (Seconal). These drugs account for approximately one-third of all reported drug-related deaths, including suicides and accidental drug poisonings. Accidental deaths may occur when a user takes one dose, becomes confused, and unintentionally takes an additional or larger dose.

Using barbiturates in conjunction with alcohol is especially dangerous; because alcohol is also a CNS (central nervous system) depressant, the effects aremultiplied and the risk of death increases. Overdose deaths are more frequent when alcohol and barbiturates are mixed, whether accidentally or deliberately.

No drug rehab cost is too high if it means the complete rehabilitation of loved one who is addicted to drugs.

Physical Effects

The effects of barbiturates are much like the effects of alcohol. Small amounts produce calmness and relax muscles. Larger doses cause slurred speech, staggering, and poor judgement. High doses can cause unconsciousness and death.

Effects of prescribed doses of short-acting barbiturates such as secobarbital generally last 4 - 6 hours while effects from phenobarbital, a longer-acting barbiturate will last from 8 -12 hours.

When taken, barbiturates slow down CNS activities such as heartbeat, breathing, brain activities and reflexes. Because physical and mental responses are slowed down, it is dangerous for users to drive a car or operate machinery while under the influence of this drug. Other physical effects of barbiturates use include difficulty in breathing, lethargy, allergic reactions, nausea, and dizziness.

Psychological Effects

Barbiturates produce a feeling of euphoria, tranquility and temporary relief of anxiety. Regular and prolonged use of barbiturates induce tolerance-the need for higher doses of a drug to produce the desired effect. Physical and psychological dependence and withdrawal symptoms occur when use of the drug is abruptly stopped. Withdrawal symptoms range from restlessness, insomnia and anxiety to convulsions and death.

Because the drug can easily pass through the placenta, use of barbiturates during pregnancy may cause birth defects and behavioral problems in babies. Babies may be physically dependent on the drug at birth and experience withdrawal symptoms shortly after they are born. Their symptoms may include breathing problems, feeding difficulties, disturbed sleep, sweating, irritability, and fever.

Signs and Symptoms

The following signs and symptoms may indicate the use of barbiturates.

Symptoms of alcohol intoxication with no odor on the breath, however many users combine alcohol and barbiturates Slurred speech, lethargic Lack of facial expression or animation

Activities such as frequent visits to several physicians to obtain prescriptions to treat nervousness, insomnia, stress, or tension. Abusers may also visit numerous pharmacists to have the prescription filled

Source: Valcncia Community College Project Infusion Module, Orlando, FL.Reprinted with permission.



The effects of depressants are in many ways similar to the effects of alcohol. Small amounts can produce calmness and relaxed muscles, but somewhat larger doses can cause slurred speech, staggering gait, and altered perception. Very large doses can cause respiratory depression, coma, and death. The combination of depressants and alcohol can multiply the effects of the drugs, thereby multiplying the risks.

The use of depressants can cause both physical and psychological dependence.Regular use over time may result in a tolerance to the drug, leading the user toincrease the quantity consumed. When regular users suddenly stop taking large doses, they may develop withdrawal symptoms ranging from restlessness, insomnia,and anxiety to convulsions and death.

Babies born to mothers who abuse depressants during pregnancy may be physically dependent on the drugs and show withdrawal symptoms shortly after they are born.Birth defects and behavioral problems also may result.

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