How Long Do Barbiturates Stay in Your System?

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If you have been prescribed sedative-hypnotic medications, you may have wondered how long do barbiturates stay in your system. Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from this class of drug and what to do if you are struggling with abuse or misuse.

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates, also known as sedative-hypnotics, are CNS depressants.

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Low doses of barbiturates can help induce sleep. These are the medication’s sedative effects. High doses of barbiturates exert hypnotic effects, making them effective for alleviating some symptoms of anxiety.

Typically prescribed for the short-term treatment of anxiety, barbiturates are also used to induce sleep in patients undergoing surgery and in emergency interventions for seizures.

Despite the sedative effects, barbiturates are not normally used as a first-line treatment for insomnia as the medication becomes much less effective after a couple of weeks. Additionally, this class of medication has the potential for abuse and addiction.

What are the Most Used Barbiturates?

The most commonly abused medications in this class include: 

  • Nembutal (pentobarbital)
  • Seconal (secobarbital)
  • Amytal (amobarbital)
  • Tuinal (secobarbital and amobarbital)

The above medications are routinely abused due to the rapid onset of effects after ingestion.

How Quickly Do Barbiturates Take Effect?

Taking barbiturates causes a reduction in activity in the CNS by increasing levels of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid).

High doses of barbiturates trigger the following depressant effects:

  • Euphoria
  • Relaxation
  • Sedation
  • Drowsiness
  • Sleepiness
  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Reduced inhibition
  • Slurred speech
  • Poor coordination
An image of a woman experiencing drowsiness from high dose barbiturate use, researching how long barbiturates stay in your system

The effects of barbiturates begin 30 minutes after ingestion, lasting anywhere from 4 to 16 hours. The duration of side effects depends on the type of barbiturate, for example:

  • Ultra-short acting barbiturates
  • Short-acting barbiturates
  • Intermediate-acting barbiturates
  • Long-acting barbiturates

Variables That Influence How Long Barbiturates Remain in Your System

Many factors influence how long barbiturates stay in your system, such as: 

  • Body weight
  • Metabolism
  • Age
  • Half-life of barbiturate
  • Strength of medication
  • Overall health status

How Long Do Barbiturates Stay in Your System?

If you have been prescribed barbiturates and you need to undergo a toxicology screen, these are the detection windows for barbiturates in the system: 

  • Blood test: 72 hours
  • Saliva test: 3 days
  • Urine test: 6 weeks
  • Hair follicle test: 3 months

Even though barbiturates are no longer as commonly prescribed as newer sedatives like benzos, they are still common drugs of abuse with a strong potential for addiction. If you have developed a dependency on barbiturates, we can help you here at our drug rehab in California.

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Help for Barbiturate Addiction at California Detox

A tapered withdrawal is often effective for barbiturate detox. At our licensed medical detox center in Laguna Beach, your treatment team can administer longer-acting benzodiazepines or barbiturates to help alleviate withdrawal symptoms. Your dosage of barbiturates is then gradually reduced until you are free of sedative-hypnotic drugs. 

Once detoxed, engage with one of our inpatient or outpatient treatment programs to consolidate your ongoing recovery. Call admissions today at 949.390.5377.


The half-life of a medication refers to the length of time it takes for blood alcohol concentration to be reduced by half. It takes roughly 5.5 half-lives for a drug to leave the system completely.  Short-acting barbiturates like secobarbital and pentobarbital have a short half-life of around 4 hours. Intermediate-acting barbiturates like amobarbital and butalbital and longer-acting barbiturates like mephobarbital have correspondingly longer half-lives. 
Barbiturates are class of drugs frequently abused for their rewarding effects, including sedation, deep relaxation, and euphoria. Others abuse barbiturates to help come down from other substances – stimulants like cocaine and meth, for instance.


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