October 9, 2023

Barbiturate Side Effects: Short-Term & Long-Term

An image of a man sitting at a table struggling with some of the short term effects of barbiturates

The side effects of barbiturates, sedative-hypnotics once indicated for the treatment of anxiety, insomnia, and seizures, can be dangerous. Prolonged use of this class of medication – now largely supplanted by benzodiazepines – can trigger significant health risks and potentially worsen symptoms that the drugs are intended to alleviate. This guide addresses issues that include:

  • What are some of the effects of barbiturates?
  • Can the short term effects of barbiturates be dangerous?
  • What are the effects of barbiturates in the long-term?
  • What is barbiturate addiction treatment like?
  • How to connect with addiction treatment in California.

What Do Barbiturates Do?

The core side effects of barbiturates, sedative-hypnotics include relaxation and drowsiness. Barbiturates effects are also anticonvulsant, meaning that they can halt or prevent seizures and convulsions.

Barbiturates impact the brain by enhancing the activity of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger. This increase in GABA levels in the brain leads to a reduction in the activity of brain cells, slowing down neural processes.

Common applications for barbiturates include their use in anesthesia, the treatment of epilepsy, both epileptic and non-epileptic seizures, as well as the management of insomnia and other related conditions.

Common Effects of Barbiturates

Barbiturates drugs side effects occur as the drug depresses the CNS (central nervous system).

Barbiturate side effects can occur immediately and over the long-term.


These are the most common short-term effects of barbiturates:

  • Sedation and relaxation: Barbiturates induce a calming and sedative effect, leading to feelings of relaxation and reduced anxiety.
  • Drowsiness: Many barbiturates can cause drowsiness, making them effective for addressing sleep disorders like insomnia.
  • Anticonvulsant properties: Barbiturates can rapidly halt or prevent seizures and convulsions, making them valuable for treating epilepsy and related conditions.
  • Euphoria: In higher doses, some people may experience feelings of euphoria, which can contribute to their misuse and potential for addiction.
  • Impaired cognitive and motor function: Barbiturates can impair cognitive abilities, including thinking, decision-making, and concentration. Motor skills and coordination may also be affected, leading to impaired driving and reduced performance in other activities requiring alertness.
  • Respiratory depression: One of the most critical short-term risks is the potential for respiratory depression. High doses or misuse of barbiturates can lead to slow and shallow breathing, which can be life-threatening.
  • Physical dependence: Even in the short term, regular use of barbiturates can trigger the development of physical dependence, where the body adapts to the presence of the drug and requires it to function normally.


Long term effects of barbiturates include:

  • Tolerance: Long-term use often results in tolerance, where individuals require increasingly higher doses to achieve the same effects, increasing the risk of overdose.
  • Psychological dependence: Regular use of sedative-hypnotics can lead to psychological dependence, with some people feeling the need to use barbiturates to cope with stress or emotional difficulties – this is known as self-medicating.
  • Withdrawal symptoms: Attempting to stop or reduce barbiturate use after long-term usage can cause the presentation of withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe and include anxiety, tremors, seizures, and hallucinations.
  • Cognitive impairment: Barbiturates long term effects may include the development of cognitive deficits, including memory problems and difficulties with abstract thinking.
  • Liver and kidney damage: Extended use of barbiturates drugs can result in damage to the liver and kidneys, potentially causing organ dysfunction.
  • Risk of overdose: The risk of barbiturate overdose significantly increases with long-term use, as individuals may take larger doses to achieve the desired effects.
  • Interactions with other medications: Barbiturates can interact with various medications, potentially reducing their effectiveness or causing adverse reactions.
An image of a woman contemplating long term barbiturate side effects

Barbiturate Adverse Effects

While barbiturates have legitimate medical uses, their misuse or prolonged use is associated with a range of negative effects and health risks. Here are some of the adverse outcomes provoked by barbiturate use:

Dependence and addiction

One of the most prominent risks is the development of physical and psychological dependence on barbiturates. Individuals who use these drugs for an extended period may become addicted, leading to cravings and compulsive drug-seeking behavior.

Withdrawal symptoms

Attempting to quit or reduce barbiturate use after becoming dependent can result in severe withdrawal symptoms. These may include anxiety, tremors, hallucinations, and life-threatening seizures.


Barbiturate overdose can occur when someone takes too much of the drug. Symptoms of overdose may include extreme drowsiness, confusion, slowed or irregular breathing, and loss of consciousness. Severe cases can be fatal.


Over time, the body may develop tolerance to barbiturates, requiring higher doses to achieve the same effects. This tolerance can increase the risk of overdose.

Cognitive impairment

Barbiturate use can impair cognitive function, leading to memory problems, difficulties with concentration, and impaired decision-making.

Respiratory depression

High doses or misuse of barbiturates can significantly slow down and suppress the respiratory system, resulting in shallow or stopped breathing. Respiratory depression can be life-threatening.

Liver and kidney damage

Prolonged use of barbiturates can damage the liver and kidneys, potentially causing organ dysfunction.

Mood changes

Barbiturate misuse can lead to mood swings, depression, and irritability, exacerbating existing mental health conditions.

Interactions with other substances

Barbiturates can interact with various medications, alcohol, and other drugs, potentially increasing their effects or causing harmful interactions.

Risk of accidents

Due to their sedative properties, barbiturates can impair coordination and reaction times, increasing the risk of accidents, falls, and injuries.

Misuse of barbiturates can lead to legal consequences, as they are controlled substances. Additionally, it can strain relationships and have a negative impact on social and professional life.

Given the potential for adverse effects, addiction, and overdose, healthcare providers typically prescribe barbiturates with caution and for specific medical conditions when safer alternatives are not available or poorly tolerated. Use these medications strictly as prescribed and seek help if you believe that you are developing dependence or experiencing adverse effects.

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Barbiturate Addiction Treatment at Gratitude Lodge

If you have developed an addiction to barbiturates, the condition is treatable. Begin your recovery at Gratitude Lodge in Newport Beach or Long Beach, CA.

For those who are dependent on barbiturates, supervised medical detox at our pet-friendly treatment centers provides access to medications alongside continuous clinical and emotional care. Detox acts as a bridge to ongoing inpatient treatment.

All Gratitude Lodge treatment programs combine holistic and science-backed barbiturate addiction treatments that include:

  • MAT (medication-assisted treatment)
  • Psychotherapy (CBT and DBT)
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Individual therapy
  • Holistic therapy
  • Aftercare and support

When you are ready to move beyond barbiturate addiction, call 800-994-2184.

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Jenni Busse MS, LPCC

Jenni Busse MS, LPSS is the Clinical Director at Gratitude Lodge. Jenni oversees the clinical program and the clinical team at Gratitude Lodge as a whole. Jenni has worked in treatment for almost 14 years. Her background as a licensed therapist and her passion for helping others intersected with addiction recovery when she started working primarily in detox residential treatment.

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Drug detox can vary according to the patient’s addiction factors, including the substance abused, how long the addiction has lasted, the patient’s medical condition, if any other disorders are present, and more. Our skilled and credentialed team at Gratitude Lodge work closely with every patient going through drug detox.

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Many patients don’t realize the toxicity of prolonged alcohol abuse and how it affects the body. Alcohol detox at the luxurious rehab addiction centers at Gratitude Lodge leeches your body of these toxins in preparation for successful treatment for drugs and alcohol abuse.
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An essential part of your treatment experience, we offer individual (CBT and DBT talk therapy) and group addiction treatment counseling to help you explore and address the emotional component of addiction, providing you with the tools, self-awareness, and empowerment you need to maintain recovery.
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Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been working in the addiction industry for half a decade and has been writing about addiction and substance abuse treatment during that time. He has experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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