For a long time, barbiturates, a general class of sedative-hypnotic drugs, were the first-line of treatment for patients who required sedatives or anti-anxiety medications. These drugs were initially used in medicine at the start of the 1900s. They became popular in the 1960s and 1970s as the go-to treatment option for anxiety, insomnia and seizure disorders. From there, they became widely used recreationally. People took them not only to feel high or relaxed, but also to eliminate some of the adverse side effects of other drugs. Overall, the use of barbiturates has gone down a great deal since the 1970s.
Now, doctors prescribe barbiturates in a much more limited manner. In some cases, they are prescribed to control symptoms of seizure disorders. They are also used to sedate patients before procedures and are less frequently prescribed to treat anxiety, insomnia and headaches. For the most part, barbiturates have been replaced with safer medications that carry fewer risks and side effects.
Barbiturate addiction is one of the primary risks associated with this drug class. Physical and psychological dependence are possible and there is a relatively high risk of overdose. Benzodiazepines have now become a preferred treatment option, as well as other sedative sleep aids such as Ambien and Sonata. When someone regularly uses any barbiturate drug, they can quickly become tolerant to it. Tolerance can occur even with one dose of barbiturates. Tolerance can, and often does, lead to dependence. When someone is dependent upon barbiturates and suddenly tries to stop using them, they will go through withdrawal -which can be deadly.
Learn more about What Are Barbiturates and How Do They Work?