Although drugs like butalbital, also known as Fioricet, have become far less common in modern society, this barbiturate drug still packs a significant punch in those who become addicted to the once useful medication. Today, doctors are far more likely to prescribe benzodiazepines to treat anxiety, insomnia, or seizure disorders. However, once upon a time, before chemists made benzodiazepines, barbiturates were the “it” drugs to treat these conditions. The primary reason medications like butalbital and other barbiturates were largely phased out was how addictive they could be and how small a margin there was between a therapeutic dose and deadly overdose. They were highly effective at two things—treating these conditions and leading to widespread addiction.
Butalbital is a little different from the typical barbiturates in that it’s used to treat migraine headaches instead of the standard course of overactive nervous system treatments. It’s a short-acting barbiturate used for many years throughout North America for headaches despite not being tested in double-blind, placebo-controlled studies in those with migraines. However, clinical experience supports the efficacy of butalbital and caffeine.
As you might imagine, this drug is reserved for those who don’t respond to other approaches to treating headaches. Despite its efficacy, the fact the active ingredient is a barbiturate means butalbital addiction is all but certain if someone were to abuse the medication for its effects.
Barbiturates were first synthesized by Adolf von Baeyer in 1864 and then perfected by a French chemist named Edouard Grimaux in 1879. These drugs are made up of a combination of urea and malonic acid, an acid derived from apples. The first formulation was revolutionary in neurological and psychiatric disorders at the time. It was administered to many patients with severe psychoses and neuroses. Barbiturates were the first medications used to treat seizures and help insomniacs achieve sleep. Over the next several decades, barbiturates started an era of intravenous anesthetic agents. Before barbiturates, gases like nitrous oxide were used.
However, as was mentioned above, the more these drugs were administered to the general public to treat these common ailments, the more prevalent barbiturate addiction and overdose became. It led to the need for less addictive alternatives, although barbiturates are still administered today in severe cases. In the case of butalbital, it’s only used when doctors have exhausted all other resources at their disposal. It’s used with great caution because of the possibility of addiction. Even worse, those using the drug as prescribed still put themselves at risk for severe issues, including butalbital withdrawal.
If you’re prescribed butalbital or have been using someone else’s prescription and became addicted, help is available. You must not stop using the drug without proper medical oversight because you’re at risk of fatal outcomes. Below, we’ll explain what you can expect from butalbital withdrawal and how you can get help.
What Are the Signs of Butalbital Addiction?
Butalbital is commonly combined with other drugs, meaning someone may be unaware they’re struggling with a butalbital addiction. Once they’ve become addicted to the barbiturate medication, they’ll experience severe cravings and continue using it despite its adverse effects. They’ll compulsively seek more, even by means of stealing, and show impaired judgment caused by the drug. People with no background in theft or bad behavior could exhibit changes that drug addiction causes.
Butalbital has side effects that will increase when the drug is misused. The most common signs someone has become addicted include the following:
- Feelings of intoxication
The individual will likely feel confused, weak, tired, exhibit severe mood swings, and be unable to maintain their balance. As a barbiturate drug, butalbital produces intense effects on your brain and nervous system, leading to severe intoxication. Someone struggling with butalbital addiction will appear as though they’re drunk. However, other distinguishable effects separate it from alcohol. When misused, the individual will likely show signs of a hangover, such as nausea, vomiting, and fatigue. These symptoms are bad enough to push them into using more the following day to overcome these feelings.
Other signs of butalbital addiction are less common. However, they can still occur. We all react to drugs differently because of our chemistry, so you must always be careful when ingesting the potent medication.
Less common symptoms of butalbital misuse or abuse include the following:
- Severe skin reactions, including rashes or hives
- Breathing problems
- Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, throat, or eyes
- Severe shakiness
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising
- Loss of consciousness
- Hot spells
If you experience one or several of these side effects, you should seek immediate medical attention. These could indicate an allergic reaction or a potential overdose. If you cannot breathe or your throat swells shut, it’s in your best interest to call 911. The longer you wait to get help, the more severe your injuries could become. It could be the difference between permanent disabilities or death.
What Are the Dangers of Butalbital Addiction?
Addiction to any drug is dangerous. However, a person who becomes addicted to a barbiturate drug like butalbital is putting their lives at risk each day they ingest the medication. Those misusing butalbital will develop a tolerance much faster than individuals who use it as prescribed.
Why is this dangerous? First of all, overdosing is more common than other drugs when you take a little more than prescribed. Second, when you develop a tolerance, you’ll start taking more or using other drugs along with the barbiturate to intensify the effects. When you mix it with another depressant like alcohol or opioids, the odds of respiratory depression and liver failure increase dramatically.
When you mix other drugs with an already dangerous medication like butalbital, the risk of overdose increases significantly. It reaches a point where it’s not a matter of how but when. If someone you love is prescribed this medication and following their doctor’s instructions, you still should familiarize yourself with the symptoms of an overdose.
The most common signs of butalbital overdose include the following:
- Breathing problems
- Respiratory depression
- Slurred speech
- Ringing in the ears
If you see any of these symptoms, call 911 right away. Again, similar to an allergic reaction, it’s the difference between life or death.
Are Butalbital Withdrawal Symptoms Dangerous?
Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are known for their incredibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Since the drug works by increasing the production of GABA, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter in your brain, abrupt cessation can result in seizures, which can also be fatal.
Even if you’re using the medication as your doctor prescribed, they’ll suggest medical detox for a potent drug like butalbital. This process can take anywhere from three to seven days before a medical professional clears you to go home or move into the next level of treatment. If you’ve developed a substance use disorder (SUD), going into addiction treatment is the best option if you’re looking for long-term sobriety.
Butalbital Addiction Treatment
When someone enters addiction treatment for Butalbital, the main goal is to get off the drug, stay off the drug, and help the individual rejoin society. Overcoming addiction isn’t easy, but helping the individual develop the necessary tools to battle their urges and learn their triggers will help with the process.
When a person enters addiction treatment, they’ll start in medical detox, which is vital to battle the potentially severe withdrawal symptoms. During this process, you’ll have 24-hour care to ensure your safety. As you go through the process, you’ll be given medication to help ease your worst symptoms. Since detox is highly unpredictable, it’s important to surround yourself with staff who can treat anything out of the ordinary that may arise. Once you’re medically cleared, you’ll move to the next level of care.
The individual’s history, the severity of their addiction, and if they have a co-occurring mental health condition will dictate the next level of care. It could mean intensive inpatient care that lasts from 30 to 90 days, living on-site at the facility, or outpatient care, where you’ll be discharged each day once you complete therapy. Either way, you’ll be set up to lead a normal life and learn how to manage your addiction.
If you’ve become addicted to your migraine medication and can’t take it anymore, let us help.