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Barbiturates vs Benzodiazepines: How These Addictive Substances are The Same and Different

Drugs & Alcohol

Many people confuse barbiturates with benzodiazepines. It’s no wonder.

Barbiturates And Benzodiazepines Are Commonly Mistaken For One Another

They both start with the letter “b.” They are both hard to spell and they’re both difficult to pronounce. Plus, they are both in the same drug classification and are very similar when it comes to how they affect the human body. But, getting these two confused is a mistake – and, if you don’t know the difference between the two, this blunder could be a deadly one.

barbiturates and benzodiazepine

In this article, we will explain the difference between barbiturates and benzodiazepines and explain what these two drugs have in common.


Barbiturates – These Once Popular Sedatives Are No Longer Common Place

Barbiturates are classified as sedative-hypnotic drugs and central nervous depressants. They are supposed to be prescribed by a doctor, although they can be purchased illegally on the streets – if you can find them.

Commonly referred to as “barbs,” barbiturates first came on scene in the United States in the early 1900’s. They became a popular prescription drug offered by doctors in the 1960’s and 70’s for anxiety, sleep disturbances, and seizure disorders.

At the height of their popularity in modern medicine, like every other prescription drug that causes users to get high, barbs got a reputation for the “buzz” they generated. As a result, they quickly became a popular recreational street drug. However; since the advent of benzodiazepines (also called “benzos”), barbs have almost completely disappeared from the black market.

Doctors almost never prescribe barbs anymore and prescribe benzos instead. Today, barbiturates are usually only used for surgical procedures and are almost always administered by a medical professional in a clinical setting.

What Are The Effects of Barbiturates?

Barbs create a sleepy, relaxed feeling because they reduce stress and sedate the brain. They produce a warm, full-body calming sensation that causes the user to feel carefree. This is why barbiturates are prescribed for people who have anxiety disorders and sleep problems. Sometimes, barbiturates are given to people who have seizure disorders like epilepsy because the medication diminishes the brain’s inclination toward seizure activity.

Many barbiturates come in liquid form and can be injected into the veins for an almost immediate effect. Other barbiturates come in pill form.

Generally, most barbiturates are fast-acting and the effects are experienced rather quickly. Some barbs last only a few minutes – these are the kind that are given for surgical procedures. Have you ever been “put under” and then woken up wondering what happened? You were probably given a barbiturate. The doctor is able to administer the barb through an IV and then stop the drip when you need to wake up. Some barbs are metabolized more slowly and can leave the user feeling dreamy for up to two days.

Examples of Barbiturates

What Are Some Examples of Barbiturates?

Here are a few of the most popular barbiturates:

  • Amobarbital
  • Pentobarbital
  • Phenobarbital
  • Secobarbital
  • Tuinal

Barbs Were Replaced With Benzos

Why Barbs Were Replaced With Benzos – Barbiturates Are Highly Addictive and Very Deadly

Medical experts identified a need for benzodiazepines when they came to understand that barbiturates were extremely addictive and highly dangerous substances. These powerful drugs caused countless fatal overdoses because determining the correct dosage was difficult. Celebrities Marilyn Monroe and Judy Garland are both said to have died from a barbiturate overdose. Barbs were also a common drug used in suicides back in the day because they got a reputation as a death drug.

Barbiturates also created overwhelming addiction problems in the 70’s and 80’s because this substance is extremely addictive, much like the opioids of today. An untold number of people became dependent on the medication during a time when little was known about how prescription medication unleashed the addictive cycle in the brain.

This created a demand for a newer, more improved prescription medication that could treat the problems barbs were being prescribed for. With that, let’s talk about benzodiazepines.


Benzodiazepines – The Anti-Anxiety Sedatives of The Modern Era

Benzos were discovered in 1955 and introduced to the world in 1963 in the form of Valium. Would it surprise you to learn that by 1977 reports indicate Valium was the most commonly prescribed drug in the entire world?

Why? Because Valium makes you feel super duper awesomely fantastic. But, don’t get any ideas.  Valium – just like all other benzos – is highly addictive. It may make you feel good for a while, but before long you’ll be hooked on the stuff and go through horrific withdrawal if you try to stop taking it.

But we’ll get to that.

Benzodiazepine Effects

Today, benzos are very popular and frequently prescribed by docs to address the conditions once treated by barbiturates.

Like barbiturates, benzos are classified as sedative-hypnotic drugs and central nervous depressants. They also treat anxiety, panic disorders, sleep problems, and seizure disorders. Much like barbs, benzodiazepines have a calming effect on the mind and body and produce a head-to-toe relaxed sensation that cause the user to feel a chemically-induced sense of well-being.

Benzos are supposed to be legally prescribed by a doctor, although they are readily available for illegal purchase on today’s black market. They come in various dosages and strengths, which makes some more potent than others. While some benzodiazepines will allow you to take them and function at your daily tasks, others are so strong; you should not operate a motor vehicle while under their influence. They are fast-acting and produce an almost immediate effect because they are supposed to treat the onset of anxiety and panic attacks.

Historically, benzodiazepines are not nearly as powerful as barbiturates. However, they are a force to be reckoned with.

Different Types of Benzos

Examples of Different Types of Benzos

Here are today’s most popular benzos:

  • Ativan
  • Xanax (Alprazolam)
  • Valium (Diazepam)
  • Ambien (Lorazepam)
  • Dalmane (Flurazepam)
  • Klonopin (Clonazepam)

Although these drugs can be intravenously administered, they are typically made available in pill form.

addictive drugs

Benzos and Barbs – Watch Out! You Can Get Hooked Fast

The main difference between barbiturates and benzodiazepines is that barbiturates are much more addictive and much more dangerous than benzodiazepines. This is not to say that benzos are completely safe. Both substances are habit-forming and can cause major problems.

No matter which drug you are taking, you can quickly develop a physical tolerance to either medication. When this happens, you will go through withdrawal if you lower your dosage or stop taking the medication altogether. Withdrawal is the process your body goes through when you remove a substance it has become physically dependent upon.

Withdrawal from benzodiazepines and barbiturates is a very unpleasant experience – and this is putting it mildly.

benzos withdrawal

Here are some of the withdrawal symptoms you can expect when you withdrawal from benzos or barbs:

  • Tremors in the hands or extremities
  • Insomnia
  • Extreme cravings for more benzos or barbs
  • Panic attacks
  • Nightmares
  • Sweating
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Confusion
  • Cognitive difficulties
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Yes – you read that right. You can die from withdrawing from barbiturates or benzodiazepines. This is not a process you should go through alone.

Professional Medical Detox Is The Only Safe Way to Withdrawal From Barbs or Benzos

If you have gotten your hands on barbiturates and you’re hooked – or if you’ve become addicted to benzodiazepines – you should not try to stop using the stuff on your own. Seizures, coma, and death are all very real possibilities when it comes to withdrawing from barbs or benzos.

If you’re ready to give up your addiction to these powerful sedatives, you need to go through a professional medical detoxification process. This happens at a medical facility or an in-patient rehabilitation center. With a detox, you will be given medication to safely and properly get these substances out of your system. And, you will be closely monitored and evaluated.

Talk to your doctor or an addiction specialist and find out what your options are.

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By |2019-10-09T21:56:49+00:00December 1st, 2017|

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  1. Chris Risica October 21, 2018 at 9:46 am

    Seems like this came to an arbitrarily quick ending.

    I was enjoying the article and feel like I missed a page or something.

    • Northpoint Recovery October 22, 2018 at 9:36 pm

      We are glad you enjoyed reading this piece, Chris! Stay tuned for some more in-depth pieces to gobble up! Have a wonderful day.

  2. Mike Woods January 15, 2019 at 4:00 am

    Benzodiazepines have a place in medicine. I feel barbs for pain is overlooked and should be used more. In limited quantities they can get you through a tough headache.

    • Northpoint Recovery January 21, 2019 at 4:42 pm

      Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, Mike!

Comments are closed.



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