What is Phenobarbital?
Phenobarbital, part of a class of medication called a barbiturate, is prescribed to treat seizures and anxiety. Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotics, prescribed for sedation, anesthesia, treatment of seizures and insomnia. Other barbiturates have similar sedative qualities, and are sometimes referred to as tranquilizers. Trade names for phenobarbital include Luminal and Solfoton.
Misuse of phenobarbital and other prescription barbiturates can result in physical dependency, abuse and addiction.
Long-term use of phenobarbital can be habit forming, which has led to its controversial role in nationwide prescription medication drug abuse and addictions. Reaching for phenobarbital every time you experience anxiety, instead of keeping to your physician’s instructions, can lead to addiction.
Phenobarbital can effectively treat an acute anxiety disorder, but using it as a coping mechanism can create a dangerous relationship with severe health consequences. Phenobarbital’s effects have led to it being sold illicitly, under names such as feenies or phennies.
Phenobarbital side effects and dangers
Like any prescription medication, phenobarbital may cause side effects even when taking it correctly. The following phenobarbital side effects are common:
- Drowsiness (sedation)
- Excitement (especially in children)
- Memory problems
Phenobarbital use crosses the line into abuse and addiction when it is taken in ways other than prescribed. Taking phenobarbital recreationally to feel a high is considered drug abuse.
There are serious risks to phenobarbital misuse. Sharing, giving away or selling phenobarbital is against the law because of its dangerous medical consequences. Prescriptions are filled for specific doses tailored to specific people, and its effects can have adverse reactions in others. Taking an excessive phenobarbital dose, or mixing it with other sedatives such as alcohol, can result in a life-threatening overdose.
Phenobarbital overdose symptoms, which may not appear until several hours after ingestion, include:
- Uncontrollable eye movement
- Loss of control of bodily movements
- Nervous system depression
- Respiratory depression (trouble breathing)
- Low blood pressure
These symptoms can be deadly if not treated immediately.
It is vital to know that drinking alcohol with a normal dose of barbiturates can have deadly reactions.
If a person with a phenobarbital addiction is unable to access the drug, they may look for illegal sources or alternative sedatives. Because this illegal phenobarbital is not controlled by a pharmacy, it frequently contains unknown and harmful ingredients.
Phenobarbital abuse and addiction signs
Any use of phenobarbital outside of a doctor’s instructions is considered drug abuse. This includes tampering with phenobarbital pills by chewing, crushing, cutting or dissolving them in order to ingest, snort or inject a higher dose than prescribed. Even if the phenobarbital pills are not tampered with, taking more pills than prescribed is also considered abuse of the drug.
Phenobarbital addiction signs include:
- Taking more than the prescribed dosage
- “Doctor shopping” for multiple prescriptions
- Tampering with phenobarbital before taking it
- Mixing phenobarbital with other sedative drugs or alcohol
Phenobarbital withdrawal symptoms and treatment
It is possible to develop a physical dependency on phenobarbital, which should be discussed with your doctor. A physical phenobarbital dependency occurs when the body adjusts to the presence of the medication and depends on that medication to function normally. A phenobarbital prescription can include dosing instructions from your doctor to taper off the medication to reduce and eliminate barbiturate withdrawal symptoms. This type of medication management is important for patient safety — those who are physically dependent on phenobarbital will experience barbiturate withdrawal symptoms if they stop their phenobarbital prescription too suddenly. If the withdrawal symptoms are extreme, they could drive the patient to continue using the substance despite significant harm —the definition of addiction.
Phenobarbital withdrawal symptoms can include:
- Tremor of hands and fingers
- Distortion of vision
- Convulsions (seizures)
- Delirium (confusion)
- Progressive weakness (occasional)
These problems vary in severity and duration depending on the specific phenobarbital dose taken and duration of use. Phenobarbital withdrawal can be deadly without medical treatment.
Physical dependency or experiencing withdrawal symptoms does not mean that you are addicted to phenobarbital. Addiction also includes a loss of control, cravings and tolerance for the drug.
There are no medications approved by the FDA specifically to treat phenobarbital addiction. However, certain medicines can be used to help sedative abusers with the significant anxiety with which they often struggle after they have gone through withdrawal. This anxiety is often a great deal more intense than the anxiety symptoms which other types of addicts face. It is critical to help the recovering addict to effectively deal with this anxiety, as many sedative abusers began using these sedative drugs to relieve an anxiety disorder. Once the phenobarbital is removed safely in the detoxification phase of treatment, their original anxiety returns full-blown — and possibly stronger than ever — but they can no longer turn to the medicines they abused for help.
Because of this sedative’s toxicity to many areas of the brain, sedative abusers also seem to have significant problems with insomnia, especially early in sobriety. Fortunately, there are non-addicting medications that can treat anxiety or insomnia once the withdrawal stabilization process is complete. These include antiseizure/antiepileptic medicines, atypical antipsychotics, antihistamines and antidepressants. At Enterhealth, we specialize in customizing these non-addicting, effective alternative options for each patient’s unique situation.
Phenobarbital withdrawal stabilization, also known as detoxification or detox, is usually done in a similar way as other sedative withdrawal treatment. Sedative withdrawal symptoms are similar to those seen with alcohol withdrawal. Potential symptoms include aches and pains, numbness and tingling, irritability, rapid breathing and heart rate, insomnia, tremors, seizures, and changes in brainwave patterns. There is also the risk of suffering the potentially toxic syndrome of delirium tremens. The withdrawal syndrome for long-acting barbiturates such as phenobarbital may not begin until several days after you stopped using the drug, for it takes a while for these drugs to clear from your body.
With mild barbiturate withdrawal, you typically only see restlessness, anxiety, shakiness, and intermittent weakness–but these can often be accompanied by dizziness upon standing, nausea, cramps, and vomiting. These symptoms may be similar to the anxiety symptoms for which the barbiturate medication was initially prescribed. Oftentimes, the return of significant anxiety during the withdrawal phase causes sedative addicts to relapse early in the process.
The objective of sedative withdrawal is to stabilize the withdrawal symptoms by giving the patient a long-lasting sedative at a selected dose, then gradually lowering the dose in order to “wean” him or her off the medication. This reduces the withdrawal symptoms by making them less severe and more gradual. Which medicine to use and at what dose and for what length of time will be left to your Enterhealth physician’s discretion.
Phenobarbital addiction treatment options
An evidence-based combination of therapeutic and pharmacological addiction treatment can help those with phenobarbital addiction regain a stable and productive life. Research shows that integrating both types of treatment is the most effective approach to restoring a degree of normal function to the brain and addressing underlying issues.
Enterhealth Ranch provides residential medical detox (also known as withdrawal stabilization) services for phenobarbital addiction, which includes science-driven medication therapy and medical staff available daily onsite. Phenobarbital detox is so dangerous that it should always be done at an experienced inpatient facility. The detoxification process is a crucial beginning step to recovery and should only be done under the supervision of a physician with formal training in alcohol and drug addiction treatment. Due to the body’s dependency on the drug, stopping abruptly can be life-threatening, because of both potential seizures and delirium tremens. It is very important to understand that the withdrawal stabilization phase of treatment is not considered treatment. It is only a medically sophisticated protocol to get the alcohol or drugs safely out of the body.
Effective behavioral treatments for phenobarbital addiction can be administered in a residential or outpatient setting after withdrawal stabilization depending on a host of factors for each patient’s life circumstances.
A treatment plan may include:
- Psychiatric assessment and treatment
- Psychological assessment and treatment Intensive individual counseling
- Group therapy
- Individual and group family therapy sessions
- Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
- Wellness, nutritional and stress management treatment services
- Medication management
After the barbiturate withdrawal symptoms are stabilized and detox is complete, Enterhealth Ranch and Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence offer the full continuum of care including residential and outpatient treatment options, both integrated together for the patient’s individual situation. During the residential phase of treatment, patients live at our 43-acre ranch facility while undergoing treatment. Among many other treatments, patients attend addiction recovery therapy sessions that are specialized to each individual’s addiction challenges. Upon completion of the residential rehabilitation phase, the patient can transition to our outpatient facility, where patients receive continued, medically-supervised treatment while living at their own residence or in a sober living environment.
Phenobarbital addiction treatment, however, goes beyond detox and medication treatment. Through therapy and psychiatric oversight, the psychological aspects of dependency can be better understood by the patient and addiction can be completely overcome. Counseling may be individual or group-oriented, and may also include the family. Long-term continuing care programs are also available, as they are essential to provide counseling and continued support over a number of years.
Phenobarbital addiction recovery with Enterhealth
People suffering from barbiturate addiction may feel hopeless, but they are not alone. Enterhealth Ranch and Enterhealth Outpatient Center of Excellence can help you or a loved one begin recovery at our 43-acre residential phenobarbital addiction treatment center just north of Dallas-Fort Worth in Texas, and our outpatient barbiturate addiction treatment center located in the Preston Center area of Dallas, Texas.
At Enterhealth, our goal is to treat the whole person over the course of their lifetime. We offer a better chance to recover through our advanced, evidence-based treatment approach, designed and administered by board-certified addiction psychiatrists, physicians and other experts, that is proven to be more effective than traditional twelve-step approaches.