Barbiturates vs Benzodiazepines

Barbiturates and benzodiazepines belong to a class of drugs we describe as depressants. They act on the central nervous system to make the user feel calmer, relaxed, sedated, or sleepy. People use these drugs as part of a prescription, but many people also abuse them or use them illicitly.

In the past, doctors used barbiturates for a wide range of treatments. Today, the medical establishment has transitioned to using benzodiazepines in many cases due to their lower toxicity and potential for addiction.

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a drug class derived from barbituric acid. They found use in the 1900s for many applications, namely: anesthetics, sedatives, anticonvulsants, and hypnotics. People still use them today, but in many cases illicitly. Benzodiazepines have largely replaced barbiturates in medical settings because of their reduced toxicity and lesser addictive qualities.

Barbiturates are available in four mechanisms: ultra-short acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting. Doctors administer them as prescription drugs, although they aren’t used as commonly as in the past. Prescribed drug names include:

  • Amytal
  • Seconal
  • Butisol
  • Nembutal

You may also see these names people commonly use to refer to barbiturates:

  • phenobarbital
  • amobarbital
  • secobarbital
  • butabarbital
  • pentobarbital

According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, barbiturates belong to three different drug classes under the Controlled Substances Act: Schedule II, III, and IV. This means they have a potential for dependence, addiction, and abuse and are more tightly controlled.

Why Do People Use Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are all central nervous system depressants, similar to alcohol and opioids (although they function slightly differently). Doctors have prescribed them for a range of medical uses, including:

  • headaches
  • insomnia
  • seizures (epilepsy)
  • anxiety disorders
  • sedative-hypnotics
  • inducing anesthesia
  • euthanasia (lethal injection or capital punishment)

Currently, many medical uses of barbiturates have been phased out in favor of other drugs. Barbiturates can be extremely dangerous when used outside of medical supervision because of their overdose potential and lethality. If you or a loved one is abusing any form of barbiturates, please contact a professional to seek treatment. You may see nicknames or ‘street names’ associated with the illicit forms, such as:

  • Barbs
  • Block Busters
  • Christmas Trees
  • Goof Balls
  • Pinks
  • Red Devils
  • Reds and Blues
  • Yellow Jackets

Don’t hesitate to call a specialist if you’ve noticed drug abuse occurring. It is important to seek addiction treatment in these cases.

What Are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines, better known as ‘benzos’, are a class of drugs that scientists accidentally discovered in the 1950s. Since their discovery, clinicians have prescribed them for many situations ranging from anxiety disorders to sedation for medical procedures.

Professionals consider benzos to be safer than their predecessor barbiturates because they result in fewer overdoses and demonstrate less toxicity when taken by themselves.

Prescribed drugs include:

  • Valium®
  • Xanax®
  • Restoril®
  • Ativan®
  • Klonopin®

You may also see these names of common benzodiazepines:

  • alprazolam
  • clonazepam
  • chlordiazepoxide
  • clorazepate
  • diazepam
  • halazepam
  • lorazepam

These have the same drug classification and are listed as Schedule IV controlled substances.

Why Do People Use Benzodiazepines?

Doctors prescribe drugs like Valium and Xanax for anxiety disorders and insomnia. While these are common uses, benzodiazepines have a wide range of uses clinically, including the treatment of:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety
  • panic disorders
  • agitation
  • muscle spasms
  • alcohol withdrawal
  • seizures

Doctors also use them as a central nervous system sedative for medical or dental procedures. Although safer than barbiturates, they unfortunately still have a chemical structure that can lead to tolerance, dependence, and addiction. Many people use them illicitly or purchase them illegally. Some other names for benzodiazepines you may see are:

  • benzos
  • downers
  • nerve pills
  • tranks

The Difference Between Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines

The key difference between the two is that benzodiazepines are typically much safer than barbiturates, whether taken as part of a prescription or illicitly. Although someone who overdoses on benzodiazepines may experience different symptoms than a normal dosage, overdoses are rarely fatal compared to other drugs (when taken in isolation). There are also reversal drugs available to stop an overdose from getting worse, namely flumazenil.

In contrast, barbiturates are much more toxic than benzodiazepines. Overdosing results in much worse complications, and the perfect reversal drug doesn’t exist like in the case of benzodiazepines (flumazenil) and opioids (naloxone). The withdrawal symptoms of barbiturates are also serious and can be deadly if not treated properly.

If you’re addicted to barbiturates, you should seek addiction treatment to safely cope with the withdrawal under supervised medical care.

Similarities

Despite their chemical and safety differences, barbiturates and benzodiazepines treat a host of the same health concerns. Doctors prescribe them to treat anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal, and as sleeping pills to fight insomnia.

They both have the same effect on the human body, depressing the central nervous system and causing a mild sedated physical experience. People use them as a muscle relaxant, and those who suffer epilepsy take them to prevent seizures.

Are They Addictive?

Using either drug can build up a tolerance, create dependence, or lead to addiction and substance abuse. Both drugs have the potential to lose their positive effects over a longer term and require a higher dosage to experience the same effects. You may even form a physical dependence after two weeks.

If you’re currently taking a form of either drug or know someone who is, realize they can be habit-forming and addicting. Keep an eye out for the following signs and symptoms.

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

The following are signs and symptoms you should look for if you suspect you or someone you know has an addiction or abuse problem:

  • muscle weakness
  • blurred vision
  • excessive tiredness or drowsiness
  • Poor judgment or thinking
  • pharmacy and doctor shopping
  • Asking someone else for their pills
  • wanting or saying you’ll cut back but not doing it
  • changes in mood or behavior
  • using combinations of benzodiazepines and other substances

Withdrawal Symptoms

If you’ve developed a dependence or even just taken these drugs a short time, you will likely experience at least mild withdrawal symptoms when you stop treatment. It’s extremely important to manage your treatment routine with your doctor, especially with barbiturates. Stopping using these without tapering, or trying to go ‘cold turkey’, can result in death.

Barbiturate withdrawal isn’t easy. It can be painful, and if you don’t manage it properly you can die from it. It doesn’t matter if you’re taking barbiturates as part of a prescription, or illicitly; please don’t quit them cold turkey.

Mild to moderate symptoms of a barbiturate withdrawal include:

  • anxiety and restlessness
  • insomnia
  • dizziness

More severe symptoms include:

  • seizures
  • psychosis
  • respiratory and circulatory failure
  • coma
  • death

Benzodiazepines are advantageous because like the relatively low risk of an overdose death, the withdrawal symptoms tend to be milder. Even so, please discuss how to taper off your dosage with a medical professional. Do not suddenly stop taking benzodiazepines.

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines (including Xanax and Valium) include:

  • Sleep loss or disturbed sleep patterns
  • general irritability
  • tension
  • anxiety and panic attacks
  • hand tremors
  • sweating
  • difficulty concentrating
  • nausea and dry-heaving
  • weight loss
  • heart palpitations
  • headaches
  • muscle pain or stiffness

In rare cases, people experience more severe symptoms such as seizures and psychotic reactions.

We recommend seeking professional help if you are trying to quit taking barbiturates or benzodiazepines. In the case of barbiturates, it can save your life. Please call a medical specialist and let them walk you through the best way to manage a withdrawal.

Can You Overdose on Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines?

The short answer is yes. Both drugs present a potential for overdose but the severity of the overdose differs greatly between the two. Benzodiazepines are much safer than barbiturates.

The greatest risk for overdose comes from other drug interactions, specifically other central nervous system depressants like alcohol and opioids.

If you are using other prescription medications or have a substance abuse problem, it’s extremely important to talk to your doctor before starting treatment with benzodiazepine or barbiturate drugs.

Signs and Symptoms of an Overdose

Overdoses occur based on a number of factors, the main one being the amount and dosage someone ingests. Other factors play a role such as age, health, and underlying genetics, but one of the primary causes of an overdose is when people take other substances at the same time.

People rarely experience fatal overdoses with benzodiazepine use. In cases where an overdose does occur, and no other drugs were taken, you may notice:

  • mild drowsiness to excessive sedation
  • normal or almost-normal vital signs
  • slurred speech
  • minor or no central nervous system depression

Barbiturates are prone to causing an overdose, which is one reason why professionals have tried to phase them out. When someone takes other substances at the same time, they can intensify and multiply overdose symptoms of both drugs. If you notice these symptoms, it’s important to call a medical professional:

  • difficulty breathing
  • excessive drowsiness or fatigue
  • trouble walking, speaking, and swallowing
  • amnesia
  • lack of coordination
  • blurry vision
  • unresponsiveness
  • hallucinations
  • low blood pressure
  • deep unconsciousness or coma

Anytime you notice any of these signs, you should be sure you or the affected person didn’t take other drugs. They will increase the risk of an overdose significantly. Call a medical professional immediately as overdoses can result in respiratory problems.

Overdosing is typically a sign someone is abusing benzodiazepines and barbiturates, or other substances as well.

Treatment Options

If you’re struggling with benzodiazepines and barbiturates you should talk to your doctor or consider a treatment center like NP Addiction Clinic. Quitting isn’t something you need to do alone; in fact, you shouldn’t do it alone, especially in the case of barbiturates.

You will feel extremely at home with our compassionate treatment professionals and around-the-clock support systems. Not only do we focus on managing your initial withdrawal, but we also provide support and counseling to arm you with the tools to continue fighting long after your withdrawal is over. We also offer specialized treatment in cases of pregnancy or PTSD.

Call one of our specialists today at (888) 574-3506. We’re ready to listen.

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Samantha Kelly​

Director of National Business Development & Admissions Coordinator

I am a dedicated and passionate professional with extensive experience in business development Admissions and marketing. I have an incredible passion for showing others that there is a light at the end of this dark tunnel if someone truly wants it.
Being in recovery myself I understand the struggles of addiction and alcoholism. I Started this Career path in 2009. With multiple years of experience, I bring a multi-faceted approach and am always seeking new ways to make a difference in the lives of those I work with.

Kim L. Buckner

Facilitator

As a Substance Abuse Motivational Speaker, Pastor, Peer Advocate, and Facilitator. Kim helps clients avoid relapse by understanding their triggers. Those people, places and things that can cause craving, as well as internal triggers like feelings, thoughts, or emotions. Kim also clients with identifying and building healthy relationships now that they’re clean and sober.

Kim’s background includes extensive experience as a motivational speaker and work in faith-based organizations helping youth and adults alike. He says he is motivated by giving back to the community, understanding, and not judging who she comes into contact with. Kim’s favorite quote is by Dr. Raymond Johnson: “The respect given to others rebounds to the giver to deny the scared in the Other is to deny it in oneself.”

Caty Burns

Clinician

Caty graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and minors in Counseling and History. Throughout her undergrad, she worked at the local CASA program, supporting volunteers advocating for children who had experienced abuse and neglect. Caty worked for seven years at a community mental health center (CMHC), partnering with children, adults, and families.

During those seven years, she taught life and coping skills as well as behavior management, provided case management and peer recovery services, and facilitated treatment teams that included the client, family, providers, and community members. I have also worked at an IOP providing group therapy services. She is currently working towards my Master of Social Work.

In her free time, Caty enjoys reading, especially historical fiction, spending time outdoors and having movie nights with her family. Disney World is her happy place, and she dreams of living among the elephants.

Madison Knowles

Mental Health Therapist

My name is Madison Knowles, I am a Mental health therapist at NPAC. I am a single-mother of two and I have a daughter who is globally delayed and has been diagnosed with autism. I have been in this industry since I was 16 years old, as I was fascinated with human behavior. I obtained my masters in applied behavioral analysis and started off working with people with disabilities. I then found my love for counseling when I worked with juveniles who had mental health and substance use issues. I then decided to go back for my mental health therapy license after that and working in a forensic treatment center. I went on to obtain my therapy credentials and since 2017, I have also been working on my PhD in forensic psychology in which I am currently working on my dissertation. I am inspired by change and how resilient people can be. My favorite inspirational quote is “Some will, Some won’t, So what, NEXT!!!” This quote has inspired me to try, try, and try again no matter how hard life gets, someone will give you a chance eventually. As a therapist at NPAC, I have been given the opportunity to work with diverse populations such as in substance use and mental health and I am known for my work with people on the schizophrenic spectrum as well as with other clients with other severe conditions including personality disorders.

Megan Carmona, LMHC

Lead Therapist

Our Lead Therapist, Megan, is a bilingual Licensed Mental Health Counselor who specializes in working with adults who struggle with addiction, anxiety, depression, and trauma. As Lead Therapist, she provides individual, family, and group therapy sessions to our clients.  Megan says “I am very passionate about therapy, especially about supporting my clients in exploring their strengths and identity. My goal is to provide individuals with the tools that can help them achieve independence in coping with their challenges and facilitating personal development.” In her free time, Megan enjoys watching docu-series and playing video games with her family. Her dream is to own acres of land so she can care for vulnerable animals, especially old dogs, cats, and horses. 

Kristen Bensley

Primary Clinician

As Primary Clinician, Kristen works with all aspects of our clinical team, from case management to primary therapy.  She has broad experience working in the mental health field. Prior to joining our team at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic, Kristen was part of the team awarded the Evernorth Behavioral Health Center of Excellence Designation by Cigna. She says her motivation is to help people rediscover who they are and become excited about the future and all the possibilities life offers. Kristen’s favorite quote is: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Ronn Daigle, MSW

Therapist, Utilization Review Clinician

Ronn Daigle services as a Therapist and Utilization Review Clinician at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has been working in the field of substance use disorder treatment since 2011, with experience in all facility-based levels of care. Ronn earned, both an Associate of Arts in Psychology (2013) and Bachelor of Science in Human Services, with an Addiction Studies Concentration (2015) from Indian River State College. 

Ronn additionally earned a Master of Social Work degree in 2021 and is a current Registered Clinical Social Work Intern working toward licensure (LCSW). He describes himself as detail oriented, and solution focused.

Ronn says: “There is nothing more fulfilling than working with someone who doesn’t believe in himself or herself, and being there in the moment with them when the belief begins. We work with individuals who come to us at a point and time in their respective lives where they do not believe that change for others is possible; let alone for themselves…throughout the process they eventually come to a point where they realize that change is not only possible, but achievable.”

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI

Assistant Clinical Director

Erika Melecio, LMHC, MCAP, CEI is the Assistant Clinical Director at Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic who specializes in the treatment of LGBTQ, addiction, as well as mental health disorders ranging from depression and anxiety, to Bipolar Disorder, trauma, personality disorders, psychotic disorders, and eating disorders. Erika utilizes a number of modalities including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution Focused Therapy, Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, and Mindfulness amongst others. Erika has been in practice for close to a decade and has earned her license in Mental Health Counseling, as well as being a Master’s Certified Addiction Professional. Erika has worked with many individuals including couples counseling and family therapy, and is fluent in Spanish.
 
Throughout my years of practice, one of the things I enjoy helping people find is inner peace. Whether you are in the deepest parts of depression, overrun by your anxiety, controlled by your addiction, or there are certain issues in your life that are negatively impacting your ability to function, and have a happy, healthy life, maybe now is the time to talk about it. I am a big believer in empowerment, working hard in therapy, and utilizing different techniques to help you regain that inner peace that may have been lost along the way. I want to work with you as a team because with two people, absolutely everything is possible. I want to be there as a therapist, to help build you up, support you, but also help you be honest with yourself and accountable. At the end of the day, when all is said and done, my biggest goal for you is going to be simple….for you to no longer need my services. Why? Because if you no longer need my services, it means that you have regained your peace, you have regained your strength, you have regained your confidence. It means that you now have the tools to address any issues that try to derail you, and best of all, you will have the insight to overcome and thrive. So let’s begin this journey together, and get you to the place you want to be, emotionally, mentally, psychologically, and in your sobriety.

Aurelio Ayuso, MSW, LCSW, CAP, ICADC

Clinical Director

Aurelio has worked with those that suffer from the disease of addiction in adults and juveniles alike for over 10 years, beginning in the United States Navy where he proudly served for 20 years, working with those that were succumbed by addiction due to trauma and continuing his passion for helping those in need locally in Central Florida.

He specializes in both Addictions and Trauma, he has worked first as a therapist then as the clinical supervisor to both the Juvenile and Adult Drug Court programs in Brevard County. Aurelio has been instrumental in developing substance abuse treatment programs directly tailored to help those that also suffer from complex trauma due to their addiction. He has been recognized by several organizations for his forward thinking and ability to tailor treatment to individuals in the most restrictive environments.

Mr. Ayuso received his Graduate Degree in Clinical Social Work from the University of Central Florida in Orlando. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker as well as Certified Addictions Professional in the State of Florida, and Internationally Certified Alcohol & Drug Counselor. Aurelio specializes in the treatment of Addiction, Trauma, and Abandonment using strength based strategies deeply rooted in Solution Focused, and Mindfulness Therapies. At the Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic he passionately develops holistic curriculums that foster the belief that through addressing the mind, body, and spirit together, the Disease of Addiction can be addressed successfully.

Robert Lehmann, MHSA

Chief Operating Officer

Bob Lehmann is the Chief Operating Officer at the Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic. He has a Master’s Degree in Human Services Administration with a concentration in Mental Health Administration and over twenty-five years of experience as a senior executive at addiction and mental health treatment facilities.

One of the reasons for his commitment to excellence in addiction treatment was his experience related to family members who suffered from the disease of addiction. Bob has been actively involved in community organizations throughout his career. Recently he was one of the founders of the Florida Addiction Treatment Coalition (FATC) and is its present Vice President. FATC was designed to bring together treatment executives in Florida to advocate on behalf of treatment facilities and the clients they serve adhering to a foundation of integrity and service excellence.

Jose R. Toledo, M.D.

Medical Director

A well-rounded and accomplished individual, Jose R. Toledo, M.D., is the Medical Director of Neuro Psychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a neurologist with 25 years of experience and has been in private practice since 1991 on the Treasure Coast of Florida. He completed his neurology training at the State University of New York and his Fellowship training at the University of Pittsburgh in Epilepsy and Clinical Neurophysiology.

He also completed 24 months of acute inpatient psychiatry at the Western Missouri Mental Health Center, University of Missouri in Kansas City. In 2008, Dr. Toledo participated in and was certified in the continuing medical education activity entitled “Buprenorphine and Office-Based Treatment of Opioid Dependence” from The Medical University of South Carolina during which began his quest to found and head Neuropsychiatric Addiction Clinic.

Dr. Toledo is a brain specialist with particular competence in addiction medicine and out-patient detoxification treatment and integrates the fields seamlessly. He is certified to prescribe Buprenorphine (Suboxone). He incorporates his background in neurology into the addiction field. Dr. Toledo is member/fellow of The American Medical Association, The Florida Medical Association and The American Society of Addiction Medicine