Phenobarbital Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment

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Phenobarbital, classified as a barbiturate, is a depressant of the CNS (central nervous system). It is commonly prescribed as a sedative-hypnotic to manage seizures. Beyond its primary use, phenobarbital is also indicated for treating anxiety and alleviating withdrawal symptoms induced by other medications.

Is Phenobarbital Addictive?

Barbiturates were once the primary medications recommended to treat anxiety disorders, yet they also pose significant risks of abuse. Their role in this context has been largely replaced by benzodiazepines like Valium and Xanax. While benzos were initially perceived to have a lower potential for abuse, they proved to be substances of abuse. Phenobarbital is classified by the DEA (United States Drug Enforcement Administration) as a Schedule IV controlled substance. This designation indicates that prolonged use can trigger the development of physical dependence and acknowledges its potential for abuse.

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Phenobarbital has a heightened potential to trigger dependence when taken in larger doses or more frequently than prescribed. Even individuals using the medication as directed for valid therapeutic reasons may develop a certain level of tolerance to its effects over time. Misuse of phenobarbital accelerates the development of tolerance, prompting many people to seek higher doses to attain the desired effects.

Phenobarbital misuse poses substantial risks, and any assumptions about its safety should be dispelled through accurate information and professional guidance. If you or someone you care about is struggling with phenobarbital misuse, seeking appropriate medical assistance is essential for a thorough assessment and tailored intervention.

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Phenobarbital Addiction Signs

Individuals engaging in the abuse of phenobarbital, especially those who use the drug regularly, may develop tolerance, requiring elevated amounts to achieve its initial effects. Heightened tolerance can progress to physical dependence, where the substance is required to stave off withdrawal symptoms like vomiting, shaking, and seizures. When dependence sets in, the substance is required to ensure normal functioning. Dependence may eventually evolve into phenobarbital addiction, marked by compulsive behaviors compelling continued usage despite adverse outcomes.

People misusing phenobarbital often display symptoms and behaviors similar to alcohol intoxication. Common indicators of phenobarbital abuse include:

  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Impaired attention span
  • Memory loss
  • Drowsiness
  • Slurred speech
  • Slowed breathing
  • Poor coordination
  • Poor judgment
  • Aggressiveness
  • Irritability
  • Lethargy
  • Tolerance
  • Dependence
  • Withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation

Typical behaviors associated with phenobarbital addiction include:

  • Utilizing phenobarbital without a valid medical prescription
  • Exhibiting signs of intoxication without alcohol consumption
  • Deterioration in performance at work or school
  • Escalating phenobarbital consumption over time
  • Inability to discontinue use despite multiple attempts
  • Devoting excessive time to acquiring, using, and recovering from the drug
  • Strong urges to use the drug
  • Diminished interest in once-enjoyed hobbies and activities
  • Continued phenobarbital use despite awareness of potential negative consequences

Phenobarbital Addiction Symptoms

DSM-5-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) list the symptoms of phenobarbital addiction as follows:

  1. Persistence in using a barbiturate despite experiencing adverse personal consequences.
  2. Repeated inability to perform significant functions at work, school, or home due to substance use.
  3. Recurrent use of the substance in physically hazardous situations.
  4. Continued substance use despite recurrent or persistent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by its use.
  5. Manifestation of tolerance, either needing a significantly increased dose for intoxication or the desired effect, or experiencing markedly diminished effects with continued use of the same amount.
  6. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms characteristic of the substance or using the substance to avoid withdrawal.
  7. Using more of the substance or using it for a longer period than initially intended.
  8. Persistent desire to reduce substance use or unsuccessful attempts to control it.
  9. Devoting a substantial amount of time to acquiring, using, or recovering from substance use.
  10. Halting or reducing significant occupational, social, or recreational activities due to substance use.
  11. Experiencing a strong craving to use the substance.

Phenobarbital Addiction Treatment

A person grappling with a substance use disorder stemming from phenobarbital abuse faces a serious mental health condition that requires formal intervention. The withdrawal process from phenobarbital carries the risk of life-threatening seizures. This means that individuals with a history of regular phenobarbital abuse should seek guidance from a licensed physician before discontinuing use of the drug.

The initial phase of recovery from phenobarbital abuse normally involves enrollment in a formal physician-assisted withdrawal management program. This program is designed to assist individuals in safely discontinuing the use of the drug, minimizing potential severe withdrawal symptoms. A physician will prescribe medications, often a benzodiazepine or another barbiturate, gradually tapering down the dosage while closely monitoring the person. This gradual tapering process ensures a safe and controlled withdrawal. Undergoing a withdrawal management program without the supervision of an addiction medicine physician or a psychiatrist specialized in addiction medicine is neither safe nor effective.

Merely completing the withdrawal process is insufficient for recovery from a substance use disorder. The cornerstone of long-term recovery involves active participation in a formal substance use disorder treatment program with therapy as its primary component. Substance use disorder therapy enables individuals to address underlying issues driving their substance abuse, rectify these concerns, acquire positive coping skills, and formulate a long-term relapse prevention plan. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) is the most commonly used talk therapy for substance abuse treatment, administered through individual sessions, group therapy, or a combination of both.

Supplementing therapy, many people in recovery find it beneficial to engage with peer support groups like NA (Narcotics Anonymous) or SMART Recovery, educational or occupational skills programs, and holistic therapies like mindfulness, meditation, music therapy or art therapy. Concurrent treatment for co-occurring psychological disorders or medical conditions is essential for comprehensive care.

The duration of participation in these interventions significantly correlates with successful treatment outcomes. Individuals who continue therapy and remain involved in social support groups post-formal treatment completion demonstrate the highest likelihood of overall success.

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Get Treatment for Phenobarbital Addiction at California Detox

We can help you address prescription drug addiction at California Detox in Laguna Beach, CA.

In most cases, supervised detoxification provides the safest and smoothest pathway to ongoing recovery. Access continuous care and medications approved by the FDA as you withdraw from phenobarbital under close supervision. Following detox, you can move into an ongoing inpatient treatment program for the most immersive recovery experience.

All treatment programs at California Detox deliver personalized therapy that blends science-backed treatments and holistic interventions that include:

Call California Detox today at 949.694.8305 and begin your recovery from phenobarbital addiction tomorrow.


Phenobarbital addiction can develop rapidly, sometimes within a few weeks of regular use. However, individual susceptibility varies, and factors such as dosage, duration of use, and personal health can influence the speed of addiction.
The duration of phenobarbital withdrawal symptoms can vary, with acute symptoms normally peaking within 2 to 3 days after discontinuation. That said, some withdrawal effects like insomnia, anxiety, and cravings may persist for weeks or even months. Professional medical guidance is essential during the withdrawal process to manage symptoms and minimize the risk of complications.


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