Barbiturate Withdrawal

Barbiturates are a type of sedative first developed in Germany during the 19th century. They were originally used as a sleeping pill, but by the 1960s and 70s, they were used as a recreational drug. However, barbiturates can be very dangerous because the difference between the amount that can make you drowsy and the amount that can cause an overdose is small. This makes it easy to fatally overdose on them. In addition, barbiturate withdrawal is difficult and can even include the risk of death.

Because of the high level of danger associated with taking barbiturates, they are not commonly prescribed anymore, although some kinds are prescribed to treat epilepsy and a few other disorders. For the most part, they have been replaced with other types of drugs, including benzodiazepines such as Valium. That said, there has been a rise in recent years among people too young to recall the death and dangers associated with barbiturates during the 1970s.

Barbiturate Withdrawal

How Barbiturates Affect the Brain

Barbiturates cause a calming effect on the central nervous system (CNS). These effects can range from mild relaxation to a loss of consciousness.

They increase the activity of a chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). This causes muscle relaxation, relieves anxiety and pain, reduces seizures, and induces sleep.

Barbiturates usually take effect within about 30 minutes of administration and last for four to 16 hours.

What You Can Expect from Barbiturate Withdrawal

Barbiturate withdrawal can be very dangerous and should not be attempted at home. Up to 75 percent of people withdrawing from barbiturates experience seizures, and up to 66 percent may experience delirium that lasts a few days. Symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal include:

  • Tremors
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Hallucinations
  • High temperature
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure
  • Death



Barbiturate Withdrawal Timeline

Minor withdrawal symptoms begin about eight to 12 hours after the last dose. These may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Muscle twitching
  • Hand tremors
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Distorted vision
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Low blood pressure

Major barbiturate withdrawal symptoms usually occur about 16 hours after the last dose and last for about five days. These include:

  • Convulsions
  • Delirium

Barbiturate withdrawal symptoms, particularly mental and emotional symptoms, may continue for several months or years.

What Are the Barbiturate Withdrawal Treatment Steps?

Withdrawal from barbiturates can be dangerous and even deadly. Because of this, barbiturate withdrawal needs to be completed under medical supervision. It’s best to follow a full continuum of treatment to ensure the best opportunity for a successful recovery. Full continuum treatment includes starting with the medical detox process, then progressing from a residential status to an outpatient level of treatment:


During the first stage of withdrawal treatment, known as detox, the goal is medical stabilization. Detox usually lasts from a few days up to a week. The medical team, which includes doctors, nurses, and support staff, will give you a complete medical assessment to determine your level of addiction and any additional medical needs you may have. This will include a medical exam and urine or blood tests to screen for drugs.

The medical team will monitor you around the clock to help manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and prevent dangerous sedative withdrawal symptoms.

Your treatment plan will also include emotional support as you begin addiction therapy because many people also experience anxiety, depression, and other emotional and psychological challenges as they detox. Once you are medically stabilized, a longer-term treatment plan will be put in place for you.


If you require further medical treatment, possibly for co-occurring medical conditions or additional post-acute withdrawal symptoms, you will continue with the next stage of treatment on a residential basis. This level of treatment is intensive and includes 24/7 monitoring while you live at the facility and participate in daily therapies.


Partial-hospitalization is a cross between inpatient care and outpatient treatment. To better prepare you for success, you’ll live off campus at home or in a transitional living facility while undergoing a supportive and structured treatment program five days a week for six hours each day. You will be able to participate in individual, group, and family therapy programs to address your emotional and mental health needs. The focus will be on learning positive life skills, coping mechanisms, and techniques to help prevent relapse so that you will be better prepared for long-term recovery. This training will help you begin the process of returning to your life outside the treatment center.  


The intensive outpatient level of treatment allows you to live at home while still providing counseling and programs designed to help support you in your recovery process. You will participate in about nine or more hours of clinical therapy each week, depending on your treatment plan. Sessions occur several times throughout the week and help you continue to learn ways to cope with cravings, stress, and other issues that may come up.


During the outpatient phase of treatment, you will receive less than nine hours of therapy each week. At this point, you are almost transitioned out of the treatment program. The focus will be on continuing to support you with relapse prevention strategies and other tools for successful stability as you regain your independence. This is the last part of the formal treatment program. Once you complete the outpatient phase, you will transition into aftercare as part of the treatment program alumni.


After you complete the formal treatment program, you will have the opportunity to get to know other treatment center alumni during weekly support groups and social events. These aftercare opportunities to meet other program graduates can help you develop new friendships and build social support with others who understand the recovery process. Participating in this support network can help you grow and stay focused on your recovery as you continue to adjust to life after the treatment program and take on new responsibilities. It can be a great way to share relapse prevention strategies, new experiences, techniques to manage stress and frustration, and simply a way to enjoy being with new friends.

If You’re Suffering from Barbiturate Addiction, We Can Help

If you’re looking for help to withdraw safely from barbiturates, contact the admissions specialists at Ocean Breeze Recovery for free and confidential help. Our specialists are available 24/7. They can provide the guidance and support you need to by discussing the treatment process with you and answering any questions you may have. After you speak with a specialist, you will know what to expect from our evidence-based services and feel prepared to make an informed decision about your plans for treatment.

Our specialists can also check with your private health insurance to see if your treatment costs will be fully covered. Remember, you don’t have to do this alone. Call us today at (855) 960-5341 and let us help you get started on your journey to recovery.

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