Barbiturate withdrawal occurs when a person stops taking barbiturate medication without tapering the dose down first. Regular barbiturate use, whether prescribed or through illegal means, can cause psychological and physical dependence on the drug. Due to the euphoric mental state that large amounts of barbiturates can cause, it does not take long for psychological addiction to occur. Severe withdrawal can induce life-threatening symptoms and death.
Medical use for barbiturates includes sedation and seizure prevention. Patients who take more than 500 mg of barbiturates daily for more than five months are at risk for serious withdrawal symptoms once the drug is stopped. Experts recommend patients presenting with symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal, such as hyperactivity and anxiety, be admitted to the hospital. It can be dangerous to treat withdrawal from barbiturates on an outpatient basis.
In addition to anxiety and hyperactivity, early barbiturate withdrawal symptoms can include sweating and a rapid heart rate. Inability to sleep, dizziness, and weakness are also clear indicators that a person is entering withdrawal. As the withdrawal continues, more serious symptoms appear. Tremors, hallucinations, and fatal seizures can occur during a non-medically monitored withdrawal process. There is a significantly high mortality rate associated with unmonitored barbiturate withdrawal.
A primary problem with prescribed barbiturate use is that over time, the body develops a tolerance to the drug. If the drug is used for legitimate medical purposes, such tolerance issues are usually addressed by the physician prescribing higher doses over time. This practice can lead to dependence, however. Severe withdrawal symptoms have also been reported at therapeutic dosages.
Acute symptoms of barbiturate withdrawal become evident eight to 16 hours after the last dose is taken. Physical withdrawal can take two weeks to complete. The psychological factor can last months.
Treatment for barbiturate withdrawal includes medical monitoring, medications, and a recommendation for outpatient addiction meetings. During withdrawal, barbiturates are continued, and the dosage is slowly cut down until the patient can safely stop them. Blood tests are taken to determine when each dosage reduction should occur. Some patients receive dosages of a medication that block the withdrawal symptoms.