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Phenobarbital Addiction | Abuse Potential, Side Effects, & Treatment Options

Published on December 7, 2020
Phenonbarbital addiction white pills

Phenobarbital, found in brand name medications like Luminal and Solfoton, is a barbiturate medication. 

Barbiturates refer to a range of sedative-hypnotic drugs that were once the go-to treatment for anxiety disorders before benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax entered the market.

In more recent years, however, phenobarbital prescriptions have been mostly limited to treatment for Tourette’s syndrome, seizures, tics, and other repetitive motor disorders.

Phenobarbital Abuse Potential

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Phenobarbital as a Schedule IV drug, meaning it has a moderate potential for abuse leading to physiological dependence.

This means that phenobarbital is habit-forming, with dependence and addiction developing the longer the drug is used, although taking larger doses in order to get high may speed up the process. 

Although Phenobarbital is relatively difficult to obtain compared to other sedatives, individuals taking it to get high may experience effects consistent with other central nervous system depressants like alcohol or other anti-anxiety medications:

  • giddiness
  • lowered Inhibitions
  • a heightened sense of confidence and well-being
  • intoxication, sedation, and poor motor control

Phenobarbital Side Effects

Short-Term Side Effects

Phenobarbital use is associated with several side effects:

  • drowsiness
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • excitement or increased activity (especially in children)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • increase risk of birth defects

Long-Term Side Effects

Phenobarbital and barbiturate prescription medications in general are not recommended for long term use. Side effects of long term use include:

  • physical dependence leading to withdrawal symptoms when you try to stop drug use
  • increasing tolerance to the drug effects
  • cognitive issues including impaired learning, memory, concentration, speech, and problem-solving
  • increased risk of liver cancer
  • acquired hypersensitivity or allergic reactions to phenobarbital
  • increased risk of bone severe bone conditions
  • hypotension (a reduction in blood pressure)
  • reduced heart and breathing rates leading to hypoxia (low bodily oxygen)
  • anemia (low iron levels, leading to poor red blood cell performance and fatigue)
  • an overall decline in mental health and formation of various psychological disorders

Phenobarbital Overdose Symptoms

Drug addiction too often leads to a life-threatening medical situation: overdose.

Once you start taking phenobarbital, your body rapidly begins forming tolerance to the drug. This means you’ll need higher and more dangerous doses to get the same effect.

Phenobarbital overdose is particularly likely if the drug has been taken with alcohol, other anti-anxiety medications and tranquilizers, or opioids, all of which are central nervous system depressants.

Recognize an overdose on phenobarbital by spotting these symptoms:

  • severe barbiturate intoxication (poor coordination, slurred speech, confusion, aggression, or paranoia)
  • loss of consciousness
  • crossed eyes or random eye movements
  • hypothermia
  • slowed or stopped breathing
  • slowed heart rate
  • extremely low blood pressure
  • coma

If an individual overdoses with opioids, the effects can be reversed with naloxone. However, there is no antidote for an overdose caused by barbiturates, though medical treatment can help save victims.

If you suspect an overdose, call for emergency medical attention as quickly as possible. 

Phenobarbital Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal happens when the body has come to depend on a drug’s effects, leading to severe adverse effects when the user stops taking them. 

But depending on the person involved and just how dependent they’ve become, withdrawal and detoxification can be dangerous.  

Symptoms of phenobarbital withdrawal syndrome include:

  • flu-like illness
  • tremors and twitching
  • muscle weakness
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dizziness
  • insomnia and restlessness
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • anxiety

Other, more severe symptoms are also known to occur in some cases.

Treatment Options For Phenobarbital Addiction

Recovering from substance abuse, addiction, or dependence can be difficult without the help of practiced medical professionals. Addiction treatment centers offer a variety of different rehab programs that can be tailored to the severity of you or your loved one’s situation.

Residential/Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient rehab provides round-the-clock supervision and support inside a rehab center. Inpatient treatment may include: 

  • medical detox, allowing you to safely overcome withdrawal symptoms while under medical supervision
  • treatment for co-occurring mental health disorders
  • recreational activities and peer support

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient rehab programs are a good fit for those experiencing milder cases of addiction, or for those who have finished a term of inpatient care. 

In this type of program you’re able to travel to the treatment facility for appointments during the week while continuing to live at home and attend work as normal.

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is a proven component of addiction treatment programs and has been in use for many years. 

Through therapy sessions, you’ll learn to identify why you developed an addiction to prescription drugs and how you can change the way you think and feel about your situation.

If you or someone you care about needs help to overcome phenobarbital abuse or addiction, please contact Ark Behavioral Health today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - Prescription CNS Depressants DrugFacts
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Phenobarbital

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