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Phenobarbital Abuse Side Effects, Symptoms, and Addiction Treatment

Man looking at pills depressed

What Is Phenobarbital Used For?

Phenobarbital is a barbiturate that depresses the central nervous system. It is used as a sedative-hypnotic often prescribed for the treatment of seizures. Additional uses for this drug include the treatment of anxiety and the relief of withdrawal symptoms caused by other medications.

Phenobarbital Abuse

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:

  • Alcohol combined with medicationPhenobarbital 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.

Woman agitatedIf 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 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

Talking to teen about drugs

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:

  • Lock up your prescriptions.
  • Monitor how much of your prescription has been used and take action if you notice significant changes.
  • Talk to your teen about the dangers of addiction.
  • Explain that prescription medication can be just as addictive as other drugs.

Find Phenobarbital Addiction Treatment Programs

For more information on phenobarbital abuse and addiction, check out the following articles:

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. If you need help with drug abuse or addiction, please contact AAC free at for helpful advice, information, and admissions. You can also contact free drug abuse hotline numbers.

You can speak to others about the problem of addiction by visiting our Forum today.

Phenobarbital Addiction Treatment Levels of Care

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