What is Barbiturate Overdose?

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Barbiturate overdose (also known as barbiturate poisoning) is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical intervention and a supervised medical detox.

Barbiturates are a prescription drug and central nervous system (CNS) depressant that were widely prescribed for treating anxiety, insomnia, and seizures but have been largely replaced by benzodiazepines. Barbiturate abuse can lead to the development of dependence and addiction, and barbiturate intoxication can be fatal.

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In this blog we will be addressing topics like:

  • What is barbiturate overdose?
  • Acute barbiturate poisoning
  • Symptoms of a barbiturate overdose
  • Accidental barbiturate overdose
  • Barbiturate overdose treatment
  • & more

What is Barbiturate Overdose?

Barbiturate overdose can occur when someone takes a larger amount of the drug than their body can safely process. Immediate medical attention is required for an overdose, as the symptoms can in confusion, low blood pressure, and even death.

Barbiturates are prescription CNS depressants that work by slowing down the activity of the brain and nervous system, triggering a range of effects, including relaxation, sedation, and decreased anxiety. Barbiturates were once widely indicated for treating various conditions, including anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. However, due to their strong potential for abuse and overdose, they are now less frequently prescribed than benzodiazepines.

 If someone takes more barbiturates than their body can process, this can lead to barbiturate toxicity (toxic levels of the substance in their bloodstream) and barbiturate overdose. Overdose can occur accidentally, such as when someone misjudges the appropriate dose or mistakenly takes too much of the medication. Alternatively, overdose can occur intentionally, such as in cases of suicide or substance abuse.

 There are several factors that can increase the risk of barbiturate overdose, one of which is the development of tolerance to the drug. As someone takes a barbiturate over time, their body may become less sensitive to the drug, which can lead to them requiring higher doses to achieve the same effect. This can increase the risk of overdose if they take too much of the medication.

 Another factor that can heighten the risk of barbiturate overdose is taking the medication in combination with other CNS depressants – alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines, for instance. When barbiturates are taken with other substances that also depress the CNS, it can intensify the effects of both drugs and lead to an overdose. 

A woman looks out the window representing barbiturate poisoning and overdose barbiturates

Acute Barbiturate Poisoning

Acute barbiturate poisoning is a severe and life-threatening condition that can occur as a result of barbiturate overdose. This condition is characterized by a range of symptoms that can quickly escalate and lead to significant complications (including barbiturate overdose death) if not treated promptly.

 One of the primary dangers of acute barbiturate poisoning is respiratory depression, which can lead to breathing difficulties and, in severe cases, complete respiratory failure. Barbiturates have the ability to depress the CNS and slow down the activity of the brain, including the part of the brain that controls breathing. This can cause breathing to become shallow or stop altogether, leading to dangerously low levels of oxygen in the body.

 Another significant complication of acute barbiturate poisoning is seizures. As the levels of barbiturates in the bloodstream increase, they can trigger seizures that range in severity and duration. These seizures can further inflame respiratory depression, leading to a potentially fatal outcome if not treated promptly.

 Cardiovascular collapse is another potential complication of acute barbiturate poisoning. Barbiturates can cause a drop in blood pressure and heart rate, decreasing cardiac output and, in severe cases triggering cardiac arrest. The cardiovascular system is an essential component of the body, and its proper functioning is vital for survival. Any disruption to its normal functioning can quickly become life-threatening.

 In addition to these severe symptoms, acute barbiturate poisoning can also cause a range of other physical and psychological effects. These can include:

  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Delirium
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors

So what are some symptoms of barbiturate overdose?

Symptoms of a Barbiturate Overdose

Symptoms of barbiturate overdose may vary depending on the severity of the overdose and the specific barbiturate involved. Common overdose symptoms include:

  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Hypothermia (low body temperature)

Accidental Barbiturate Overdose

Accidental barbiturate overdose can occur for several reasons. One common reason is due to the development of tolerance to the drug, where the effects of the medication diminish, often prompting increasingly larger doses to achieve the initial effects. In some cases, people may mistakenly take more of the medication than intended due to confusion or forgetfulness.

It’s important to get someone experiencing an accidental barbiturate overdose to the hospital, as the symptoms can be life-threatening if not properly treated in a timely manner. If you think you or a loved one might be experiencing an accidental overdose, call 911 immediately to get help.

What is Barbiturate Level 45?

A dangerous aspect of barbiturates is their tendency to become lethal when present in high concentrations within the bloodstream. Specifically, a barbiturate level ranging from 40 mcg/mL to 80 mcg/mL is considered to be a typical lethal range. This implies that even a moderate level of 45 mcg/mL – barbiturate level 45 – may pose a serious threat to life. Always follow the prescribed dosage of barbiturates to avoid reaching such dangerous levels and risking a potentially fatal outcome.

Barbiturate Overdose Treatment

A Barbiturate overdose should be considered a medical emergency and requires immediate attention. The primary goal of barbiturate overdose treatment is to prevent further absorption of the drug and support vital functions, such as breathing and circulation. Overdoses can be life-threatening, and prompt medical intervention can minimize the risk of complications and improve outcomes.

 Although there is no barbiturates antidote, there are some treatments that can be administered to help mitigate the symptoms of overdose and potentially save someone’s life.

Activated charcoal: A common treatment used in cases of barbiturate overdose. Activated charcoal is typically given orally, mixed with water or another liquid, within one hour of ingestion. It can reduce the amount of the drug that enters the body and limit the severity of the overdose.

Gastric lavage: Also known as stomach pumping. May also be used to remove any remaining drug in the stomach. This involves passing a tube through the nose or mouth into the stomach and flushing it with water or saline solution to remove any remaining drug. Gastric lavage is typically reserved for severe cases of overdose or when other treatments have been ineffective.

Intravenous fluids: often used to maintain hydration and prevent dehydration, which can result from vomiting or diarrhea associated with barbiturate overdose. This can also help support blood pressure and circulation, which can be affected by the overdose. Oxygen therapy may be necessary to assist with breathing and prevent respiratory failure. Mechanical ventilation – a breathing machine – may be used to support respiratory function in severe cases of respiratory depression.

Anticonvulsant medications: Seizures are a common complication of barbiturate overdose and may need treatment with anticonvulsant meds such as benzodiazepines. These medications work by slowing down the activity in the brain and preventing seizures from occurring. Benzodiazepines may also be used to help manage anxiety and agitation, which are common symptoms of barbiturate overdose.

Naloxone (Narcan): If opioids are also present, naloxone (Narcan) may be administered to reverse their effects. Opioids and barbiturates can have addictive effects on the central nervous system, leading to increased respiratory depression and the potential for respiratory failure. Naloxone works by blocking the effects of opioids on the brain and reversing their respiratory depressant effects.

CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation): In severe cases of respiratory or cardiac arrest, this procedure may be necessary to support the individual’s vital functions. This involves providing chest compressions and rescue breaths to restore blood flow and oxygen to the body.

 In addition to medical treatment, individuals who overdose on barbiturates may benefit from supportive care and counseling. This may include emotional support, such as talking to a mental health professional or joining a support group, to address the underlying issues that may have contributed to the overdose. 

 Treatment for barbiturate overdose requires prompt medical attention and careful management. If an overdose is suspected, it is essential to seek medical help immediately and follow all instructions provided by healthcare providers. Prevention is also crucial, and individuals should only take barbiturates as prescribed by a healthcare provider to avoid the risk of fatal overdose.

An image of California Detox, representing barbiturate overdose symptoms

Get Treatment for Barbiturate Addiction at California Detox

Overcoming addiction to barbiturates can be a challenging and potentially life-threatening journey due to how long barbiturates stay in the system, but it is possible with the right support and resources. At California Detox in Laguna Beach, we offer a range of evidence-based treatment programs to help you overcome your addiction to barbiturates and achieve lasting recovery.

 Our supervised medical detox program provides a safe and comfortable environment to manage the physical symptoms of withdrawal, allowing you to transition to one of our treatment programs with minimal discomfort. We offer detox and inpatient, and can refer you to aftercare programs that offer intensive outpatient, outpatient, virtual IOP, and dual diagnosis treatment, all of which are tailored to your individual needs and preferences.

Our treatment programs combine evidence-based interventions with holistic therapies, such as medication-assisted treatment, group therapy, individual therapy, psychotherapy, family therapy, and holistic therapy. We provide a whole-body approach to addiction recovery, addressing not only the physical aspects of addiction but also the psychological, emotional, and spiritual components.

 When you complete your treatment program at California Detox, you will have an aftercare plan that includes relapse prevention techniques to help you maintain your sobriety and achieve long-term recovery. Our goal is to provide you with the tools and support you need to achieve lasting recovery and lead a fulfilling life free from addiction.

 If you or a loved one is struggling with addiction to barbiturates or any other substance, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Call our admissions team at 949.694.8305 for immediate assistance. We are here to help you every step of the way.


Barbiturate overdose refers to the consumption of excessive amounts of barbiturates that can result in serious health consequences or death.
Barbiturate level 45 refers to a potentially life-threatening blood concentration of barbiturates that can result from an overdose.


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