While the statistics may reflect a more significant number of individuals struggling with sleep disorders than ever before, it can be attributed to the growing population of the United States. When adjusted for inflation, sleep disorders have remained relatively consistent over the last century and more. Because of this, it forced chemists to synthesize and create medications to alleviate sleep disturbances.

Initially, alcohol and opium were used to help individuals fall asleep, but as we know today, these are not reliable means of treating the problem.

Today, more than 50 million American’s suffer from over 80 different kinds of sleep disorders, and another 20 to 30 million suffer intermittent sleep problems each year. Barbiturate drugs, while less popular today, were one of the original medications concocted to fight this battle, but it masked a dark side that even doctors were unaware of in its debut.

To establish the roots of barbiturates, we must look back to 1864, when Adolf von Bayer developed malonylurea, which in the early 20th century became a barbiturate. The agents were first brought to the market in 1904 by Farbwerke Fr Bayer and Co. Barbiturates are a closed-chain ureic compound, whose nucleus is malonylurea. While Adolf von Baeyer first synthesized the drug in 1864, it wasn’t perfected until 1879 by chemist Edouard Grimaux.

Once the drug was created, there were more than 2,500 variations of the drug designed to treat sleep disorders, anxiety, and seizures. It wasn’t until 1912 that doctors in Germany observed the first case of dependence on the medications. More physicians began reporting delirium and withdrawal symptoms after abrupt cessation or dose reduction.

Despite being viewed as addictive, barbiturates were wildly popular in the 1960s and 1970s. It may not be a drug you hear much about anymore, but these sedative-hypnotic drugs are known for their calming effects to soothe an overactive nervous system.

Barbiturates such as phenobarbital, barbital, and allobarbital depress the central nervous system, and as a result, produces a soothing effect. Unfortunately, due to the addictive properties the drugs possess, and in high doses, they can have disastrous consequences. Benzodiazepine and Z-drugs have primarily replaced barbiturates as a means of treating these disorders.

Despite their lack of popularity and difficulty to obtain, they are still widely available on the black market and are always sought out by recreational users. On the street, they go by nicknames such as yellow jackets, downers, goofballs, or reds. Those who have not been prescribed barbiturates by a doctor fail to realize how dangerous and addictive these drugs are. It’s not even the high itself that can pose a threat, but withdrawal symptoms can lead to death if not handled properly.

What Are Barbiturate Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone misuses barbiturates, it increases the likelihood that they’ll become dependent or addicted to them. It can make giving up the drug much more difficult because you will experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. If you find yourself unable to abstain from barbiturates, you must seek the help of addiction specialists in medical detoxification or residential treatment. These options will give you a more stable environment to contend with the withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the most common barbiturate withdrawal symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Aggression

More severe symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Circulatory failure
  • Tremors
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Delirium Tremens (DTs)
  • Death

What Are the Stages in the Barbiturate Withdrawal Timeline?

Not everyone will have the same experience when it comes to withdrawals as they will vary from one person to another. Some of these factors include:

  • The dose of the barbiturate
  • What type of barbiturate you had been using
  • How long you used the drug
  • The half-life of the substance
  • Frequency of use
  • Age
  • Method of ingestion
  • Metabolism
  • History of drug addiction
  • Polydrug use
  • Tolerance
  • Dietary habits
  • Support network

Most people can get through the barbiturate withdrawal process in one or two weeks. Heavy users may experience these symptoms for up to three or four weeks, while mild users should get through the process sooner.

A general timeline includes:

DAYS 1-3

You may begin to experience some withdrawal effects within the first or second day of this process. You will experience anxiety, nausea, and even vomiting. Sleep will become challenging to achieve; you’ll feel tired and a bit agitated. Some of the symptoms will be at its peak around days two or three. It’s crucial that you seek the care of healthcare professionals to be monitored for the more severe withdrawal symptoms such as seizures, delirium, or hallucinations.

DAYS 4-7

Once you reach day five, you may start to feel better. Physically, the body has released most of the toxins associated with the drug. The body is now able to get back to balance, which will help you experience relief for the first time in a while. You are still subject to experience cravings, anxiety, sleep issues, and mood swings. Extended support throughout the detox stage is vital.


Those severely addicted to barbiturates will find themselves struggling during week two with these symptoms. You may still have a craving for the drug or the feelings you get from taking the drug. Continued support is recommended to prevent relapse.

Why Should I Detox?

Detoxing under the supervision of addiction specialists is in your best interest when stopping barbiturates. If you try to quit using the drugs cold turkey alone, you are putting yourself in imminent danger.

“When someone attempts an abrupt cessation of the drugs, it can directly result in severe withdrawal symptoms including death.”

Getting rid of the toxins associated with barbiturates is crucial, and this is best done in a medical detox facility.

What is the Next Treatment Step?

Once the drugs have been successfully removed from your system, it is time to consider the next step in your journey. When you enter into a program, an assessment will be completed to get a picture of where you are with regard to the level of addiction. Additionally, you will undergo a psychological evaluation determining if you have a mental health condition that is fueling your drug use.

Once the addiction specialists determine you are clear to move on, you will then have the option to move to further treatment at an addiction treatment center. Detox does not equip you with the tools to sustain your sobriety and is merely a step in the right direction. To address the underlying causes of addiction, you must move into either residential or outpatient treatment. You will benefit from learning more about the disease of addiction and recovery.

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