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Phenobarbital Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, Effects, and Treatment

Phenobarbital is a prescription drug used to treat seizures and anxiety, as well as to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms from other prescription barbiturates and, rarely, alcohol.1 It belongs to a class of prescription drugs called barbiturates, which are known for their sedating effects.

Users who develop tolerance may require increasing amounts of the drug to experience its relaxing effects, which can lead to physical dependence and addiction.

Is Phenobarbital Addictive?

Yes. Phenobarbital can be addictive for people who have prescribed the drug and also for those who use it recreationally. 1, 2

It is addictive for a number of reasons, including:

  • Tolerance – Phenobarbital tolerance occurs when a person experiences less of an effect with the same amount of the drug over time, or a person requires more of the drug to achieve the same effect.
  • Withdrawal – If phenobarbital is stopped, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, muscle twitching, shaking, fatigue, dizziness, difficulty concentrating, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, fainting, and/or seizures. Users may continue taking the drug to avoid these symptoms. Withdrawal from phenobarbital can be life-threatening and should always be done under the supervision of a medical professional.
  • Changes in the brain – Phenobarbital enhances the inhibitory actions of the neurotransmitter GABA throughout the brain, which produces feelings of relaxation and reduced anxiety. This effect can be highly pleasurable and can lead users to crave more of the drug.

How to Tell If You or a Loved One Is Addicted

Determining whether you or a loved one is addicted to phenobarbital can be difficult since many addicted people try to hide their addiction and claim that there is not a problem.

Addiction professionals diagnose a substance use disorder, a diagnostic term for addiction, when a person meets specific criteria or exhibits certain signs. Some of the signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder include: 4

  • Taking the drug in larger amounts over time.
  • Inability to cut down on use.
  • Spending a lot of time acquiring or recovering from the drug.
  • Strong urges to use.
  • Inability to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school because of the drug.
  • Continued use despite relationship problems.
  • Giving up important activities because of the drug.
  • Using the drug in dangerous situations.
  • Continued use despite knowledge of a physical or a mental problem caused by the drug.
  • Need for larger amounts to achieve the desired effect or a decreased effect with the same amount.
  • Presence of a withdrawal syndrome.

You might also notice the following physical signs when a person is under the influence of phenobarbital: 3
  • Poor judgment.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Poor coordination.
  • Slowed breathing.

Paying for Treatment

Paying for treatment is a concern for many people. But fortunately, options are available to help reduce or eliminate the costs. Knowing your budget and the resources that are available can help you make an informed decision. The exact cost of treatment will depend on:
  • The type of program – Inpatient programs are often more expensive than outpatient programs because they offer more therapy and also provide housing. Detox programs may also be costlier because they are staffed with medical professionals, including doctors and nurses, who closely monitor a person’s withdrawal symptoms.
  • Length of stay -Longer treatment stays are generally more expensive than shorter stays.
  • Location of the facility – Treatment facilities located in desirable areas, such as close to the beach, may be more expensive.
  • Type of facility – Luxury and high-end facilities often have higher price tags than programs catered to people looking for affordable treatment, such as public and government-funded programs.

There are several different ways to fund addiction treatment. You might consider one or more of the following:

  • Health insurance -Many treatment programs accept health insurance, including private insurance and Medicare and Medicaid. But your exact coverage will depend on your plan.
  • Credit cards -Health care credit cards are one way to finance addiction treatment at lower interest rates. Other credit cards can also be used for all or a portion of the costs.
  • Loans -Bank loans or personal loans can help fund some or all of the costs of treatment.
  • Borrowing – Borrowing money from family, friends, or from your savings account or 401(k) can cover the costs of treatment.

If you do not have health insurance and need assistance finding a treatment program or support group, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline at 1-800-663-HELP (4357).

Some treatment programs may offer a sliding scale based on income, or offer scholarships or grants to cover the costs. You can ask a program directly about whether it offers any of these options.

Getting Treatment and Starting Recovery

Getting into treatment and beginning the recovery process is a significant step. Before committing to a treatment program, you might want to consider the different options available:
  • Inpatient programs offer intensive group, individual, and family therapy along with temporary housing. Therapy is typically offered for several hours a day, with time set aside to reflect on one’s recovery, complete assignments and readings, and attend support groups. Inpatient stays may last a few weeks or more.
  • Outpatient treatment allows people to receive addiction treatment at a center for a few hours per day while living at home. Outpatient programs may offer treatment for 1 to 5 days a week depending on the person’s need.
  • 12-step programs include Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. These programs incorporate spirituality and peer support into their programs. Therapy sessions focus on teaching the 12 steps, helping people admit their powerlessness to drugs, and connecting with other sober individuals.
  • Teen programs are treatment programs tailored to adolescents struggling with addiction. Family therapy is typically a large component of teen programs since many family members are directly affected by their adolescent’s addiction.
  • Dual diagnosis programs specialize in helping people with both addiction and mental health problems. These programs are helpful for people also struggling with anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, and other mental health disorders.

American Addiction Centers has helped thousands recover from addiction and we can help you or your loved one too. Check your insurance to find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies. You can also sign up 24/7 text support for addiction questions at your convenience.

Tips for Choosing a Program

Finding the right program for phenobarbital addiction can be difficult, given the large number of treatment programs available. Consider some of the following factors:

  • Location – Treatment programs are available around the country. You might want to consider how far you are willing to travel for treatment and whether you would like to attend a program in an urban, suburban, or rural area.
  • Cost – Finding a program that fits within your budget is important. Luxury and executive rehabs tend to be more expensive, while non-profit and government-funded programs tend to be more affordable.
  • Staff qualifications – Addiction programs may have medical doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists, and/or counselors on staff. Qualifications can vary widely, so it is important to consider which staff qualifications are important to you.
  • Accreditation – Some but not all treatment programs are accredited by an outside agency, such as the Joint Commission, the National Committee for Quality Assurance, or the Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities (CARF). Accreditation agencies ensure treatment programs provide quality care and have met rigorous standards.
  • Program philosophy – Programs can differ widely in their philosophies and the approach they take to treating addiction. Program philosophies can include 12-step, non-12-step, faith-based, and evidence-based.

Therapies for Phenobarbital Addiction

Specific treatments for barbiturate addiction that have been shown to be effective include: 2

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – CBT focuses on identifying and changing a person’s negative thoughts and increasing coping skills to manage stress.
  • Pharmacological treatments – Doctors often prescribe medications to treat phenobarbital addiction during the detox processor gradually taper or reduce the dosage of the medication. This minimizes the risk of adverse side effects during withdrawal, which may decrease the risk of relapse during detox.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that people addicted to barbiturates such as phenobarbital are also likely to be addicted to other drugs, and treatment should address all addictions concurrently. 2

Short- and Long-Term Side Effects of Phenobarbital Dependency

Barbiturates such as phenobarbital can have serious short- and long-term effects on a person’s health.

Short-term side effects of phenobarbital addiction may include: 3, 5

  • Drowsiness.
  • Fatigue.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Slowed heart rate.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Uncoordinated muscle movements.
  • Nystagmus.
  • Dizziness.
  • Impaired thinking processes.
  • Paradoxical neural excitation.
  • Coma.
  • Overdose.

Long-term side effects of phenobarbital addiction may include: 3, 5
  • Difficulty maintaining alertness.
  • Poor functioning at home, work, or school.
  • Mood disturbances.
  • Irritability.
  • Depression and suicidality.
  • Cognitive decline.
  • Problems with memory consolidation and recall.

In addition to the short- and long-term effects of phenobarbital addiction, phenobarbital may also have a negative impact on other areas of a person’s life, such as:

  • Relationships with family and friends.
  • Mental health and functioning.
  • Ability to enjoy activities and hobbies.

Risk of Overdose

Addiction to barbiturates such as phenobarbital can be dangerous due to the drug’s high risk of overdose . 1 For this reason, barbiturates are prescribed at a much lower rate than other prescription drugs such as benzodiazepines. 2

Signs of a phenobarbital overdose may include:

  • Uncontrollable eye movements.
  • Low body temperature.
  • Bullous lesions (blisters) on the skin.
  • Loss of control of bodily movements.
  • Profound drowsiness.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Respiratory arrest.
  • Coma.

Approximately 1 in 10 phenobarbital overdoses ends in death. 3 If you observe these signs in yourself or a loved one, call 911 immediately.

Find a Treatment Program for Phenobarbital Addiction

If you need help finding a treatment program for phenobarbital addiction, call our helpline at . Our representatives are available to assist you and can help you find a recovery center that accepts your insurance.

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