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Concurrent Alcohol and Phenobarbital Abuse

The Problem of Alcohol and Phenobarbital Abuse

Phenobarbital (trade name: Luminal) is a prescription barbiturate that is used primarily as an anticonvulsant to treat patients with seizures. Phenobarbital has been used to treat many different types of seizures for over 100 years. It is also used occasionally for insomnia and anxiety and to treat withdrawal symptoms caused by other drugs such as alcohol.

Like all barbiturates, phenobarbital can produce physical dependence and addiction in some people, and the dangers of addiction and overdose are greatly increased when phenobarbital is combined with alcohol. As a barbiturate, Luminal produces sedative effects, including;

  • Drowsiness.
  • Relaxation.
  • Euphoria.

Because of its potential for abuse, phenobarbital is classified as a Schedule IV controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).

Phenobarbital, like other barbiturates, can produce tolerance and dependence in individuals who take it excessively or for long periods of time. Combining Luminal with alcohol is likely to significantly increase these risks.

Signs and Symptoms

The combination of phenobarbital and alcohol intensifies each drug’s sedative, euphoric effects. Unusual behavior may be an outward indicator that someone is under the influence of Luminal and alcohol. The side effects of both of these substances are similar and include:

  • Drowsiness.
  • Dizziness/vertigo.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Agitation.
  • Irritability.
  • Headache.
  • Depression.
  • Lethargy.
  • Confusion.
  • Sedation.
  • Syncope/loss of consciousness.
  • Death.

*In rare cases, phenobarbital can also cause symptoms including:

  • Slowed breathing or difficulty breathing.
  • Rash or blistering of the skin.
  • Fever.
  • Swelling of the eyes, lips, or cheeks.

Effects of Alcohol and Phenobarbital Abuse

Phenobarbital is a “long-acting” barbiturate, which increases its potential danger for dependence and overdose. This is because the drug’s effects will continue for a longer period of time than the effects of other barbiturates last.

Alcohol greatly increases the danger of a lethal overdose because it enhances the effects of Luminal, which can reduce breathing and brain activity to dangerously low levels.

Learn more about the effects of alcohol use.

Alcohol and Phenobarbital Abuse Treatment

Withdrawal symptoms—which range from merely uncomfortable to life-threatening—have long been known to be experienced by people dependent on both alcohol and phenobarbital. Serious withdrawal symptoms are similar for both substances, as well as their combination, and may include:

  • Nausea.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Tremors.
  • Seizures.
  • Anxiety and panic attacks.

It is highly recommended that withdrawal from Luminal and alcohol be conducted under the supervision of trained medical staff at an inpatient medical or drug rehabilitation facility. The detox process for alcohol addiction can result in seizures and can actually be deadly for long-term alcohol abusers. Supervised medical detox can ensure your safety during withdrawal and involves the administration of certain medications to make the experience more comfortable.

In addition to ensuring the safety and health of addicted individuals during withdrawal, counseling staff at these facilities can recommend sources of assistance and options available to help users confront their disease and recover from addiction. General types of recovery services include:

  • Inpatient and residential treatment facilities that can provide full-time care, supervision, and support.
  • Intensive outpatient programs that offer assistance and support, while also allowing you to remain at home and fulfill work and family obligations.
  • Peer recovery organizations including SMART Recovery, LifeRing Secular Recovery, or 12-Step groups, where people who share the disease of addiction offer their experiences and mutual support in recovery.

Key Statistics

These are some important statistics showing the extent of phenobarbital abuse, both alone and with alcohol:

  • According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and Health (NSDUH), nearly 850,000 people in the U.S. over the age of 12 have used phenobarbital for non-medical reasons at some point in their lives.
  • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that overdosing on barbiturates like phenobarbital, either alone or combined with alcohol, results in death for about 1 in 10 people.
  • A recent study in New York City revealed that 2% of overdose suicides in elderly persons were due to barbiturates.

Teen Alcohol and Phenobarbital Abuse

Although rates of phenobarbital abuse peaked in the 1960s and 1970s and has since declined due to increased legal controls and a trend toward the medical use of non-barbiturate sedatives, a gradual increase in the abuse of this drug has been documented in high school seniors over the last decade.

Among younger users, phenobarbital is known by the following slang terms:

  • Purple hearts.
  • Goofballs.
  • Feenies.
  • Phennies.

Although it is unclear why teen abuse of this drug is rising, young people may be attracted to its use by the fact that by combining Luminal and alcohol, strong effects can be felt. Additionally, the user can feel these effects while using smaller amounts of each substance.

It is also possible that the lack of negative media coverage of phenobarbital compared to that of other prescription drugs—such as oxycodone or codeine—makes this drug seem less dangerous. Unfortunately, when you combine Luminal with alcohol, taking even a small amount more than the suggested dose can be lethal.

Education is the best way to prevent abuse, so it’s extremely important to talk to your teen about the risks of abusing prescription drugs and combining any drug with alcohol.

Learn more about teen drug and alcohol misuse.

Resources, Articles, and More Information

Check out the following articles for more information on alcohol and phenobarbital abuse and recovery:

Professional addiction treatment can start anyone battling a substance use disorder on the path to a happier and healthier life. To learn more about rehab programs and treatment options, contact a caring admissions navigator with American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at .

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