Phenobarbital is a potent prescription barbiturate drug with a high potential for abuse and addiction. For these reasons, even within prescribed use, this substance is highly monitored and recommended for only brief periods of treatment.

When used to excess and/or for long periods of time, the side effects of barbiturates could be disabling, and in certain cases, life-threatening. Phenobarbital abuse can cause a declining quality of life, dependence, dangerous withdrawal and fatal overdose.

While anyone who misuses this drug can become addicted, individuals struggling with alcoholism, opioid use disorders, amphetamine abuse or abuse of other sedative-hypnotics are more vulnerable to barbiturate abuse and dependence.

For these individuals, and those who abuse barbiturates alone, comprehensive treatment could be the difference between a continued life of addiction and hope and recovery success.

What Is Phenobarbital?

Phenobarbital is a short-acting barbiturate. This means the effects of the drug are felt quite quickly, however, they do not last that long compared to long-acting drugs.

Phenobarbital is the generic form of the following brand name prescription drugs:

Phenobarbital is delivered two ways, either in an oral or parenteral (non-oral) form. The oral capsule is currently not available in the United States, however, the parenteral form may be mixed with flavored syrup and delivered by mouth.

In addition to this, the parenteral form can be administered through an IV or by an intramuscular injection (the drug is injected into the muscle). In certain cases, this drug may be administered rectally. When abused, a person may use the drug any of these ways.

As a barbiturate and central nervous system (CNS) depressant, this drug can produce drowsiness, sedation and a hypnotic state. For these reasons, it may be used prior to surgery, to reduce seizure activity or in more limited instances, as a sleeping pill for insomnia.

Phenobarbital can quickly cause a tolerance. Because of this, its use as a medication for insomnia is not typically accepted or recommended for prolonged periods of time. If, however, it’s used to treat problems sleeping, it’s recommended that the medication is used no more than two weeks.


About Phenobarbital Abuse

Phenobarbital’s ability to cause a rapid tolerance is one reason why a person may become addicted to this drug quickly. To fight the effects of a tolerance, many people increase their dose, an action that can accelerate addiction.

Phenobarbital, or Nembutal, is a Schedule II controlled substance. This means that it can cause psychological and/or physical dependence that further deepens the hold of addiction. The combination of these effects gives phenobarbital a high potential for abuse and addiction.

The hypnotic effect of phenobarbital lasts one to four hours, however, it remains in a person’s system for 15 to 50 hours, depending on a person’s dose. As a short-acting drug, a person may take frequent doses to maintain their high, behaviors that can fuel addiction.

When used for insomnia, a person may receive 150 to 200 mg once a day at a bed. The typical person struggling with addiction to barbiturates is reported to abuse 1.5 grams per day, a dose ten or more times higher than these prescribed doses.

Barbiturates were once prescribed fairly heavily, however, due to their potential for dependence and overdose, they are largely out of favor with prescribers.

Instead, benzodiazepine drugs are prescribed for similar purposes, due to their lower potential for overdose. Despite this, addiction to an overdose of benzodiazepine drugs is still possible. But even with the reduced number of barbiturate prescriptions today, abuse and addiction do still happen. When abused, barbiturates may be referred to as “Barbs.”

Signs And Symptoms Of Phenobarbital Abuse

Phenobarbital exerts a profound effect on a person’s mental and physical states, especially at levels of abuse. When this happens, a person will begin to experience a variety of side effects, some of which will become visible to an observer. In addition to this, the way a person acts and relates to people around them can drastically change.

Mental Signs Of Phenobarbital Abuse

Though short-term phenobarbital abuse can cause mental symptoms, such as confusion, impaired judgment, and trouble thinking, heavy, long-term barbiturate abuse may produce certain chronic side effects, such as:

  • an altered level of alertness
  • decreased functioning
  • irritability
  • memory loss

Some people may self-medicate emotional problems or mental health disorders with phenobarbital. Not only can this worsen certain psychological problems, but it can also create an environment that fosters addiction.

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