Barbiturates are a group of drugs considered to be sedative-hypnotics. These medications are usually used to induce sleep and decrease anxiety. Barbiturate abuse is not as common as abuse of other drugs; however, statistics show that it poses a significant health risk. Around 9 percent of Americans will abuse a barbiturate during their lives. Around one in five children live in a household where an adult abuses a barbiturate and/or other drugs. Barbiturate abuse can lead to coma and death if overdose occurs. Addiction is common when a person abuses this drug for several weeks, and the withdrawal symptoms can be life-threatening.
Barbiturates first became popular in the 1960s when they were originally used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and seizure disorders. They also are abused when a person uses more and more of the prescribed drug to achieve a “high” or “buzz.” Doctors now recognized the illegal use of barbiturates among teens and young adults, and illegal use has decline recently.

Types of Barbiturates

There are many types of barbiturates, and the primary differences among these drugs are the effects. Some barbiturates have long-lasting effectiveness (up to two days), while others only last for a few minutes. Barbiturates are often abused by being injected into the veins (IV) or they can be taken in pill form.

Generic Name Street Name
Pentobarbital Nembies, Abbots, Mexican Yellows, Yellow Jackets
Amobarbital Downers, Blue Velvet, Blue Heavens, Blue Devils
Secobarbital Reds, Red Birds, F-40s, Pinks, Pink Ladies
Phenobarbital Purple Hearts, Goof Balls

Causes and Risk Factors for Barbiturate Abuse

There is a common reason many people abuse barbiturates: to counteract the symptoms of stimulant drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine. In the last 10 years, high schools are abusing barbiturates more and more. Causes and risk factors include:
  • Teen users are too young to remember the dangers effects of barbiturates from the 1970s, so they underestimate the risks associated with them.
  • They are used in suicide attempts.
  • They are associated with other addictions, such as alcohol, tobacco, and gambling.

Signs and Symptoms of Barbiturate Abuse

Barbiturates are often thought of as brain relaxers, as is alcohol. The effects of barbiturates and alcohol are similar. Also, antihistamines, pain medications, and sleeping pills cause signs and symptoms much like barbiturates. People who use these drugs to get a “high” experience:
  • Drowsiness, intoxication, and disinhibition (low doses)
  • Slurred speech, confusion, and staggering (high doses)
  • Complications that are life-threatening, such as coma or seizures
  • Withdrawal symptoms, such as agitation, difficulty sleeping, and tremors
A person who has the potential for overdose from barbiturates will need to be observed at a hospital by emergency personnel. If you or someone you love has taken barbiturates inappropriately, he or she needs to be evaluated by medical workers. Also, if you cannot arouse a person, and suspect barbiturates or other drugs, call 911 for emergency assistance. Give the emergency workers any pill bottles, leftover pills, or signs of drugs.