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The Effects of Phenobarbital Use

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Phenobarbital, marketed under the trade names Luminal and Solfoton, is a barbiturate that is typically prescribed for patients suffering from seizures, tics or repetitive motor disorders, or Tourette’s syndrome. It is sometimes indicated in the adjunct treatment to minimize the threat of severe withdrawal symptoms from alcohol and other sedatives like benzodiazepines.

As a sedative hypnotic, phenobarbital sedates the user by depressing the central nervous system (CNS) and slowing down brain activity.

Is Phenobarbital Harmful?

This barbiturate should not be harmful when taken only as prescribed, but it can lead to dependence and dangerous effects when users:

  • Take more than directed.
  • Take it recreationally without a prescription.
  • Take it for longer periods than advised.
  • Have a history of substance abuse and addiction.

Short-term Effects

Phenobarbital (often called “feenies or “phennies” on the street) produce certain short-term effects that users may consider favorable and which can be addictive to some. These short-term effects, which are very similar to those that arise from alcohol intoxication, include:

  • Euphoric feelings.
  • Reduced inhibition.
  • Feelings of calm/relaxation.
  • Increased ability to sleep.

However, every ” benefit” is counteracted by a slew of drawbacks and side effects, not to mention the potential for addiction.

Side Effects

Effects of phenobarbital abuse include, but are not limited to:

  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Lack of coordination.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Confusion.
  • Fever.
  • Respiratory depression (slow breathing).
  • Swelling of eyes, cheeks, or lips.
  • Anxiety.
  • Headache.
  • Irritability.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Hallucinations.

In addition, phenobarbital may elicit or worsen pre-existing depressive episodes and thoughts of suicide in some users.

Long-term Effects

As for the long-term effect of phenobarbital abuse, addiction as a whole can ultimately be the most destructive. Phenobarbital addiction can ravage a user’s life in a number of ways. Individual signs of long-term abuse of this drug can include:

  • Moodiness/irritability.
  • Confusion.
  • Insomnia.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Memory problems.
  • Increased aggression.
  • Blistering on the extremities.

Those suffering from an addiction to barbiturates (and other drugs, in some cases – barbituates are often abused in combination with alcohol and/or other substances) may also exhibit the following lifestyle changes:

  • Compulsion to seek prescriptions from multiple doctors or on the street.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Financial problems.
  • Decreased performance at work or school.

Phenobarbital Dependency

Phenobarbital addiction does not usually occur within the circle of users who take it under prescription to control seizures. Those who take it without a legitimate need, however, can easily become addicted to the effects it produces.

As with any substance, the longer it is used, the more the body develops a tolerance to it. As this happens, higher doses are required for users to get the same effects they did originally, and as a user takes more, the more they become both physically and psychologically addicted.

Unfortunately, phenobarbital is relatively easy to obtain without a prescription, as phony online pharmacies and the incidence of those diverting their prescriptions for sale to others is all too common.

Phenobarbital Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment

Withdrawal and Detox

Phenobarbital withdrawal symptoms are not pleasant and addicts are not advised to stop “cold turkey” without the help of a medical professional, as the detox process can actually be life-threatening for some users.

Addiction Treatment

Medical professionals often give addicts gradually reduced doses of phenobarbital to enable the body to kick its habit over a period of time, or utilize other sedative medication to moderate the rebound activation or overly excited neural response to abrupt physiologic barbiturate withdrawal. After a period of medically supervised detox, addiction treatment should begin. This may include drug rehab and/or outpatient therapy where you will learn the skills to live a life in recovery.

Once your treatment program ends, you may wish to seek aftercare options which may include living in a sober living house, going to 12-step support groups, or continuing outpatient therapy. These options will offer you continued support as you transition back to your daily life as a sober individual.

To gain support and counsel in ending your addiction to phenobarbital, call to talk to someone about your treatment options. Help is available and you can live a life free from constant phenobarbital use.

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Patrick Condron, M.Sc., M.A.C., is an addiction specialist and drug and alcohol counselor. He is Executive Director of Lazarus House, Inc., a transitional residential program for men and women who continue to work on their recovery towards independent living.
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