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How Long Do Barbiturates Stay in Your System?

Learn more about barbiturates, the different types of barbiturates, and how to seek help for barbiturate addiction at San Diego Detox.

Understanding Barbiturates

Barbiturates drugs are a class of drugs that have been used for decades to treat anxiety and insomnia. They act on the brain's GABA receptors, which help regulate feelings of sleep and calmness. While barbiturates can be used to treat certain conditions, they are addictive and can cause dangerous side effects in high doses.1

What Are Barbiturates?

Barbiturates are a class of drugs that depress the central nervous system. Initially synthesized in 1864, they were used as sedatives and hypnotics until they fell out of favor for medical use because of their addictive nature and potential for abuse.2

Some barbiturates examples are Amobarbital (Amytal), Butabarbital (Butisol), Methohexital (Brevital), Pentobarbital (Nembutal), and Secobarbital (Seconal).

Barbiturates Uses 

Today, barbiturates drugs are prescribed to treat insomnia and anxiety disorders. They're also often used as a form of anesthesia for surgical procedures. In addition, many people use barbiturates for recreational purposes because of their relaxing effects on the mind and body. They can feel like heroin or alcohol, but they're much more dangerous if taken in large doses or with other substances, even prescription drugs like benzodiazepines. 


Barbiturates vs. Benzodiazepines

There are some differences between barbiturates and benzodiazepines. These distinguishing factors will be detailed below.


Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are both sedative-hypnotics, which means they can cause sleepiness. Both drugs treat insomnia, anxiety, seizures, and muscle spasms. The main difference is that barbiturates are more likely to cause withdrawal symptoms than benzodiazepines.

Substance dependence develops when an individual takes barbiturates every day for an extended period. When drug intake is abruptly stopped or the dosage is reduced too quickly, this dependence can result in withdrawal symptoms. For example, a person who takes a barbiturate for a prolonged period may experience withdrawal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, sweating, tremors, and seizures.

Types of Barbiturates

There are two barbiturates classifications, short-acting and long-acting.3


Short-acting barbiturates drugs begin to take effect within 30 minutes and last for four to six hours. Short-acting barbiturates are used to induce sleep and include amobarbital (Amytal), butabarbital (Butisol), and butalbital (Fioricet). 


Long-acting barbiturates drugs take longer to start working (two hours) but last 12 to 24 hours. Long-acting barbiturates include phenobarbital, pentobarbital, and secobarbital, used for general anesthesia and sedation. 


Benzodiazepines do not have this risk of causing heightened withdrawal symptoms compared to barbiturates. Benzodiazepines do not affect GABA receptors in the brain quite like barbiturates. Instead, benzodiazepines work by binding to GABA receptors temporarily and allowing them to function normally again after being blocked by drugs like alcohol or opioids.

How Long Do Barbiturates Stay in Your System?

The barbiturates’ half-life and total systemic clearance depend on how long it takes for the body to metabolize the drug into its inactive form. A general rule of thumb is that the half-life increases with each additional carbon atom added to the molecule (i.e., pentobarbital has a longer half-life than secobarbital). Likewise, the barbiturate's half-life increases as more water molecules are added to the molecule (i.e., pentobarbital has a longer half-life than phenobarbital).

Barbiturates drugs stay in the system longer than other drugs because they're fat-soluble. This means that they bind with fats in the body, making them harder to flush out than other drugs like heroin or cocaine, which are water-soluble. 

Factors That Determine Half-Life

Three main factors determine how long barbiturates stay in the body:

  • How long they have been taken
  • How much is taken each time
  • What barbiturate is used

Half-Life of Barbiturates Throughout the Body

There are varying results based on the length of time barbiturates stay in the body during biological sample analysis. 


Barbiturates generally stay in urine for about three days. However, if large doses are consumed for an extended period, they may remain in the urine for seven days.


A barbiturates drug test can detect it in blood for about a day or two after use.


Barbiturates are detectable in saliva for up to 3 days after use. 


Barbiturates can be detected in hair for up to 90 days after use.

Barbiturates Abuse and Addiction: Are Barbiturates Addictive?

Barbiturates are addictive because they change how the brain works and make it hard to feel happy without them. As individuals ingest barbiturates constantly, substance dependence and tolerance slowly set in. substance dependence marks the start of an addiction. Drug dependence due to barbiturate use involves psychological or physiological dependence on barbiturate use with the precipitation of adverse withdrawal symptoms when barbiturate use is stopped. 

Unfortunately, certain individuals develop a barbiturate addiction without realizing it because they take them as prescription medication and then have issues halting drug use after treatment should have ended. 

What Causes Barbiturate Abuse?

Barbiturates are abused because they can quickly induce feelings of euphoria and relaxation when ingested. These effects make barbiturates addictions easy to develop in individuals who want to get high or feel good while feeling down or stressed out.

Improper medication prescription may also cause barbiturate abuse, with doctors putting patients on barbiturates for longer than is required. Poor medication compliance and lack of understanding of the drug regimen may also cause barbiturate abuse unknowingly in clinical settings.  

Barbiturates Side Effects and Risks

Barbiturates function by slowing down the central nervous system's activities (the brain and spinal cord). This induces drowsiness and relaxation, so they're sometimes used as sleeping pills. However, barbiturates can cause serious side effects and risks, resulting in addiction or overdose.

Common Side Effects of Barbiturates

Here are some common barbiturates side effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Loss of coordination (ataxia)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Short-term memory loss

Serious Side Effects of Barbiturates

Long-term use of barbiturates can also lead to more severe side effects, including the following:

  • Confusion or disorientation (psychosis)
  • Hallucinations or delusions (paranoia)
  • Respiratory depression (slowed breathing rate) and respiratory arrest (no breathing at all)

Rare Side Effects of Barbiturates

Here are some rare barbiturates side effects:


Consuming barbiturates in high doses can lead to a coma, resulting in death if not treated immediately. 

Liver Damage

Barbiturates cause liver damage, leading to death if not treated immediately. 

Kidney Failure

Long-term barbiturates use may cause kidney failure, leading to death if not treated immediately. 

Barbiturates Risks

The main risk of barbiturates is that they can be fatal if too much is taken or mixed with other drugs or alcohol. 

Barbiturates Overdose

It is very easy to overdose on barbiturates. Barbiturates overdose can be deadly, with about 10% of barbiturate overdose victims dying.4


Withdrawal symptoms may also be experienced when barbiturates are no longer taken regularly after barbiturate drug dependence has been developed. These include the following: 

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Sweating or fever

Pregnancy and Location 

Taking barbiturates while pregnant or breastfeeding can also cause harm to the baby. A baby exposed to barbiturates while in utero may have breathing problems at birth and have issues with growth throughout infancy. Babies who are breastfed by mothers who took barbiturates may have withdrawal symptoms after birth, such as difficulty feeding and irritability. 

Drug Interactions

Barbiturates also interact with many other medications and substances. These interactions can cause varying degrees of morbidity and mortality.  

Before taking any medication, it is essential to research its side effects, interactions, and warnings. In addition, patients should consult a doctor before barbiturate use is initiated, along with any other medication. 

Treatment for Barbiturates Abuse and Addiction

Treatment for barbiturate abuse and addiction includes detoxification and rehabilitation programs that focus on psychological counseling and medical care to help manage withdrawal symptoms. In addition, some patients may benefit from medications such as methadone or buprenorphine to help manage cravings.

Barbiturates Rehab Options

The first step to recovery is getting professional help. A therapist or physician will work with patients to determine the best course of action for their specific situation.

Rehab options revolve around inpatient or outpatient rehab. In outpatient rehab, patients are free to check-in and leave rehab while still going to work or continuing school. Although, in inpatient rehab, patients need extra care and supervision and must stay in rehab while receiving treatment. The options for treatment include:


In barbiturate addiction treatment, medications can play an essential role in helping people recover from their addiction. Medications like naltrexone block the effects of opioids and reduce cravings for drugs that cause euphoria or produce an altered state of consciousness.5

The FDA disapproves of naltrexone for treating barbiturate addiction, but studies show it can help some people recover from their dependency on these drugs. Other medications used in treating substance addictions include acamprosate (Campral), buprenorphine (Suboxone), methadone, and naloxone.6


Therapy is an effective way of addressing substance use and mental health problems. It may include individual counseling sessions, group therapy sessions, family therapy sessions, or couples counseling sessions. This depends on what's best suited for the patient's needs and any other conditions that might be present.

Get Help at San Diego Detox

We've got some good news if you or someone you love is struggling with barbiturate addiction. San Diego Detox provides various programs to help you get back on track and live life to the fullest. However, we recognize that not everyone has the same experience, needs, and expectations, and that's why we offer customized treatment plans for each patient.

San Diego Detox Treatment Opportunities

Our expert staff will work with you to develop a personalized plan that addresses your specific needs, including:

For more information on barbiturates and how they affect your system, please reach out to us at San Diego Detox today.