Barbiturates - Drug Addiction

Barbiturates are drugs which are prescribed for medical conditions such as insomnia, anxiety and depression. However, they are very rarely prescribed now due to the fact that there is a tiny difference between a normal dosage and an overdose.

There have been cases were people have died because they mistook the dosage or deliberately did so in order to commit suicide.

As a result of that they tend to be used to treat cases of chronic insomnia or epilepsy.

At one time they were often seen on the drugs scene but they are hardly used today.

What are ‘barbiturates?’ 

They are a synthetic group of drugs which can only be obtained on prescription. They were originally produced in order to treat anxiety, depression and insomnia but the high number of cases of overdose - both accidental and deliberate, led to their decrease in popularity.

They are a type of sedative in that they slow down the body’s reactions in much the same way as alcohol. They are used to relieve anxiety and enable someone to feel more relaxed and settled within themselves.

They are usually taken orally although they can be injected into the vein.

What is its street name?

They are known by a multitude of names such as:

  • Barbies
  • Blue bullets
  • Red devils
  • Sleepers
  • Nembies

Who uses barbiturates?

You are unlikely to see these now. At one time they were a major feature of the UK’s drug scene but that’s not the anymore.

More women than men were prescribed these drugs, usually for anxiety and/or depression but other drugs have replaced them for these conditions.

What are the effects of barbiturates?

Small, controlled doses will produce a calm, relaxed feeling and enable someone to feel able to socialise and comfortable in a social situation. They are also cause drowsiness which aids rest and sleep.

But large doses will cause problems such as slurred speech, lack of co-ordination, anger and difficulty remaining awake.

However dependence can occur over time. If the drug is removed then it causes withdrawal symptoms which include irritability, anxiety, inability to sleep, nausea and twitchiness. Severe forms of this can result in low blood pressure and hallucinations.

Barbiturates can suppress the ability to cough which increases the risk of respiratory conditions such as bronchitis and pneumonia.

Is it easy to become addicted to barbiturates?

Yes. Using these on a regular basis will result in dependence which is difficult to break. The main danger is with the fact that there is a fine line between the correct dose and an overdose. So taking a bigger dose than usual could be fatal as is to suddenly stop taking them.

What are the risks of barbiturates?

These include:

  • Poor balance and co-ordination
  • Slurring of the speech
  • An inability to stay awake
  • Skin abscesses
  • Increased risk of HIV/AIDS and hepatitis if injected
  • Overdose
  • Gangrene
  • Withdrawal symptoms in newborn babies if the mother is a regular user
  • Increases risks if they are combined with other substances such as alcohol or heroin
  • Death

Barbiturates are a Class B drug (Class A if injected).


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