Barbiturates, benzodiazepines and hypnotics

Barbiturates, benzodiazepines and hypnotics are prescription central nervous system depressants. They’re often used and misused in search for a sense of relaxation or a desire to “switch off” or forget stress-related thoughts or feelings.

  • Barbiturates. An example is phenobarbital.
  • Benzodiazepines. Examples include sedatives, such as diazepam (Valium), alprazolam (Xanax), lorazepam (Ativan), clonazepam (Klonopin) and chlordiazepoxide (Librium).
  • Hypnotics. Examples include prescription sleeping medicines such as zolpidem (Ambien) and zaleplon (Sonata).


Phenobarbital can be habit-forming, especially when it is taken in larger doses or more frequently than prescribed. Even those who take the medication as prescribed for legitimate medical purposes will experience a certain level of tolerance to its effects over time. When phenobarbital is misused, tolerance develops faster and people may need increasing amounts to feel the same effects.

As is the case with many other prescription drugs, barbiturates such as phenobarbital are potentially dangerous because users may feel that:

  • Phenobarbital does not have the same addiction potential as illicit drugs.
  • The drug is essentially safe for use and will not cause significant negative side effects because it is prescribed.

Phenobarbital is potentially addictive and a person can easily cross the line between a safe therapeutic dose and a fatal dose (Narrow Therapeutic Index). Misuse of phenobarbital, especially in combination with alcohol or other drugs, can:

  • Amplify the effects of both substances.
  • Send levels of phenobarbital in the blood into toxic territory.

Signs and Symptoms of Phenobarbital Abuse

Phenobarbital creates a dulling effect on the central nervous system and can produce the following adverse effects:

  • Blisters and lesions on the skin.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Double vision.
  • Ataxia, or loss of muscular coordination.
  • Altered consciousness and behavior.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Liver damage.

It’s important to note that these signs don’t necessarily point to abuse, since phenobarbital is a commonly used anti-convulsant and levels can be difficult to stabilize. However, when these effects occur together with more acute signs of toxicity such as hallucinations and true delirium, it is an indication that the person needs immediate medical treatment and assessment for possible addiction. It should be noted that the profound central nervous system depressant effects of any barbiturate medication could result in coma and death if barbiturates are taken in excess.

Phenobarbital Side Effects

In addition to the physical adverse side effects mentioned above, abuse of phenobarbital—like that of any drug—will typically manifest in other ways, as well.

If you are concerned about the potential for phenobarbital abuse in yourself or someone you care about, it’s important to look for the mental and social effects of phenobarbital abuse:

  • Memory loss.
  • Impaired attention span.
  • Agitation.
  • Depression.
  • Interpersonal difficulties, such as increased tendency to begin arguments.
  • Negative changes in performance in school or at work.

Phenobarbital Abuse Treatment

Rehab programs approach addiction from multiple angles using a wide array of treatment types. The severity of a person’s addiction tends to dictate which type of treatment is best. It’s also important to note that phenobarbital can have life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, so it’s essential to detox under the supervision of a qualified medical professional or in a rehabilitation setting.

Once you’ve detoxed safety, you may consider:

If addiction has taken hold of you or someone you love, please call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at 


or get a text to speak with an addiction treatment support specialist and discover some of the options for recovery available to you.

Phenobarbital Statistics

Barbiturates have recently been cast aside in favor of newer medications, despite their efficacy in treating epilepsy. The risks of barbiturate use outweigh the benefits in most cases. In fact:

  • According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 52 million people over age 12 in the U.S. have taken prescription medication non-medically at some point.
  • Tranquilizers, which include barbiturates such as phenobarbital, fall in the top 3 classes of most abused prescription drugs, according to a University of Texas study.
  • Per SAMHSA, in 2011, 18,282 Emergency Department visits involved the non-medical use of barbiturates.

Teen Phenobarbital Abuse

9% of adolescents have used barbiturates recreationally. Phenobarbital is carefully dose-adjusted according to weight and metabolism. The difference between a safe dosage and a dangerous dosage is small, which puts teens at high risk.

Commonly referred to as “feenies” on the street, phenobarbital may be sought out on an illicit basis by teens because they can produce a similar effect to that of alcohol, which can as last for up to 12 hours.

Be suspicious if you notice drunkenness in your teen but know that he or she has consumed little-to-no alcohol.

Preventing Teen Phenobarbital Abuse

You can take certain steps to prevent drug abuse in your teen:


Valium is an addictive Benzodiazepine with longer-lasting effects than other drugs in its class. An addiction to Valium can progress quickly if the drug is used in a way not directed by a doctor. Over time, it is harder for a Valium abuser’s brain to function normally without the drug. Yet some people addicted to Valium may not even realize they have a problem.

Taking Valium for longer than 4-6 weeks, even with a prescription from a doctor, increases the likelihood of becoming addicted.

One of the telltale symptoms of a Valium addiction is needing larger doses to feel the drug’s effects. Other signs of an addiction to Valium include:

  • Strong cravings for the drug.
  • Isolation from family and friends.
  • Continued use despite problems caused by the drug.
  • Loss of interest in once enjoyable activities.
  • Ignoring obligations.

Once a user has a tolerance to Valium’s effects, they could also have withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking it. Valium withdrawal can be dangerous and uncomfortable, which makes it hard to for addicted people to quit on their own. The symptoms of withdrawal are intense, and many people addicted to Valium need the drug to feel normal.

“I was taking so many pills that I wasn’t even taking them to get high anymore. I was taking them to feel normal. Not that I didn’t get high. I just had to take a ridiculous amount. I want to say in a day I could consume anywhere from 40 to 60 Valium.” – Rapper Eminem (Marshall Mathers), Rolling Stone, 2011

Reasons For Valium Addiction

Valium is most often used by people who need help dealing with the stress of daily life. These people are also the ones most likely to abuse it. While there are several reasons for Valium abuse, many of those abusing the drug don’t take it to get high. They take it to feel normal — to relieve stress and anxiety. People also abuse Valium because it helps them sleep. Valium produces a sense of intense calm and euphoria, especially in higher doses.

Valium makes it so you have no problem. I mean the house could burn down and you’d just sit there saying, OK, this is all right.- Former Valium addict Sayra Small, NPR, 2014

Many people mistakenly think that because it is legal, Valium must be safe and less addictive than street drugs like Heroin or Cocaine. Due in part to these misconceptions, many people have accidentally overdosed.

Some signs of a Valium overdose include:

  • Bluish lips
  • Double vision
  • Drowsiness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Weakness
  • Uncoordinated movement


Xanax is a powerful Benzodiazepine that is often prescribed to treat Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), panic disorders, and insomnia. It is extremely addictive when used long-term, making Xanax addiction and abuse a serious concern. Xanax is the number one prescribed psychiatric medication in the United States. 70% of teens with a Xanax addiction get the drug from their family’s medicine cabinet.

Tolerance to Xanax develops quickly, requiring the user to take more of the drug to achieve the desired effects. Someone with a Xanax addiction may take up to 20 or 30 pills per day. If the user decides to stop taking Xanax, they may experience withdrawal effects such as anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, and tremors. The onset of withdrawal symptoms is a sign that a physical dependence has developed. The development of tolerance and withdrawal are indications of addiction.

Once a Xanax addiction has taken hold, daily responsibilities such as school, work, or family are ignored as energy is redirected toward drug-seeking behavior.

Other behavioral signs of Xanax addiction include:

  • Continued use of Xanax even though it is contributing to personal difficulties.
  • Inability to stop using Xanax despite the desire to.
  • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed.
  • Obsessing about obtaining and using Xanax.
  • Loss of control over the amount of Xanax being consumed.
  • Legal problems that are the result of using Xanax.
  • Risk-taking behaviors, such as driving while under the influence of Xanax.

If a user wishes to stop taking Xanax after dependence on the drug has formed, it is not recommended to quit “cold turkey” or without medical supervision. The symptoms of Xanax withdrawal are similar to those of alcohol or Barbiturate withdrawal, and the severity of the symptoms can vary. If convulsions occur, withdrawal from Xanax can be deadly.

Normally, the withdrawal process involves slowly reducing the dosage of Xanax and eventually switching the user to a long-acting form of the drug for a period of time. The gradual taper of this drug helps to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Xanax Effects And Abuse

Taking more than the prescribed dosage or using Xanax without a prescription is considered abuse of the drug. However, even those who follow a prescription can fall victim to Xanax addiction and abuse.

Xanax may be abused in several ways, including:

  • Taking multiple pills
  • Injecting it
  • Snorting it
  • Taking it via blotter paper
  • Taking it with other drugs or alcohol

Xanax is typically abused because of the sense of calm and relaxation it causes in the user. Some people abuse Xanax by taking it in higher doses or combining it with other drugs or alcohol in order to achieve the desired high.

Overdose from Xanax

An overdose on Xanax can be fatal, especially if the substance is taken with alcohol or other drugs. Overdose can also occur if the pills are crushed or chewed, as the drug is designed to be time-released into the system. Xanax overdose symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fainting
  • Loss of balance
  • Muscle weakness
  • Coma

Treatment for a Xanax overdose will depend on how much of the drug was taken and whether other drugs or alcohol were also taken. In the event of an overdose, medical providers may pump the stomach to remove as much of the unabsorbed Xanax as possible. Medications such as Flumazenil may also be administered as antidotes. Doctors may insert an IV to provide necessary fluids. It is important for anyone suffering from an overdose to be honest with the emergency medical personnel about exactly what substances were taken and at what amount.


Addiction To Ambien

Ambien is in a class of drugs known as Sedative-Hypnotics. Ambien works by activating the neurotransmitter GABA, which slows down the brain and the central nervous system (CNS). Ambien is used to treat insomnia but is only intended for short-term use. There are two forms of Ambien, a quick release form that is helpful for initiating sleep and an extended release form that is helpful for maintaining sleep. Use of either form can lead to Ambien addiction.

This non-Benzodiazepine “Z-Drug” was designed to have the same medical effectiveness as Benzodiazepines, like Xanax, without the same hazardous and habit-forming properties those drugs are known for. The makers of Ambien designed and marketed the drug as a less addictive alternative to Benzos for people with acute insomnia. However, while it generally takes users longer to develop an addiction to Ambien than to Benzos and withdrawal from Ambien is generally less severe and dangerous than Benzo withdrawal, Ambien is still an addictive substance. In fact, it is now recognized that Ambien has a similar abuse potential to Benzos.

A physical dependence to Ambien can form in as little as two weeks, whether the user is following a prescription or abusing the drug. Ambien dependence is characterized by tolerance, whereby the user requires larger amounts of the substance to feel the same effect, and withdrawal symptoms which appear if the user stops taking the drug or reduces their dosage. Eventually, Ambien dependence may become a full-blown addiction; this is characterized by tolerance, withdrawal symptoms, impaired control over use, compulsive use, continued use despite harm, and cravings. Many people don’t know they have a problem until they stop taking the drug and realize they cannot sleep without it.

Signs of an Ambien addiction include:

  • Refilling prescriptions unusually often.
  • Repeatedly taking larger doses than prescribed.
  • Experiencing cravings for Ambien.
  • Engaging in dangerous situations without any memory of them later.
  • Spending large amounts of money on the drug.
  • Isolating oneself from family and friends.

Most Ambien addictions begin with a simple case of short-term insomnia. Some users underestimate the addictive potential of Ambien because it’s prescribed by a doctor and they only use it to help them sleep. Ambien becomes less and less effective after taking it for more than a couple of weeks. At that point, some users can’t stop taking the drug because their insomnia is even worse; they are now incapable of sleeping without Ambien.

Ambien Effects And Reasons For Abuse

Taking Ambien without a prescription or in any way not directed by a doctor is abuse. Even taking an extra pill for a little help sleeping is considered abuse. Once someone builds a tolerance to Ambien, they need larger doses to fall asleep. This strengthens their dependence on the drug to sleep and causes many users to escalate their doses without medical guidance.

Ambien is meant to be taken immediately before bed, but some people have been known to take the drug hours before going to sleep. This leads to a euphoria that washes away insecurity and self-conscious behavior.

Signs and symptoms of BENZODIAZEPINES & HYPNOTICS use can include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Lack of coordination
  • Irritability or changes in mood
  • Problems concentrating or thinking clearly
  • Memory problems
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Lack of inhibition
  • Slowed breathing and reduced blood pressure
  • Falls or accidents
  • Dizziness