How Long Do Barbiturates Stay in Your System?

Barbiturates Vary in How Long They Can Affect You

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Barbiturates are sedative-hypnotic drugs may be prescribed for controlling seizures, acute migraine, and in medical anesthesia. They are very hazardous for interacting with alcohol and opiates while any trace of barbiturates is still in your system. If you are prescribed barbiturates, you need to know how to avoid interactions and overdoses.

Types of Barbiturates

Common types are Amytal (amobarbital), Fiorinal (butalbital), Nembutal (pentobarbital), Donnatal (phenobarbital), and Seconal (Secobarbital). 

Besides appropriate medical uses, they are also diverted as drugs of abuse, either by themselves or mixed with other drugs. Street names for barbiturates include downers, blue heavens, yellow jackets, purple hearts, reds, and rainbows.

You can look up the Medication Guide on the FDA website for the specific drug you are taking to see the precautions for that medication.

How Long Barbiturates Affect You

Because barbiturates come in many different formulations, they vary quite a bit in how long they stay in your system. Barbiturates come in short-acting and intermediate-acting formulations. Amobarbital and butalbital are intermediate-acting while pentobarbital and secobarbital are short-acting. This influences how long they stay in your system. The shorter-acting varieties have a short half-life and are eliminated from the body faster. Discuss the time frames of the specific drug with your doctor.

There are many other medications and substances that can change how barbiturates affect you. You need to have a full list to give to your doctor so your dosage can be adjusted. Don't start taking anything new, or stop taking anything, without discussing it with your doctor. The list is long and includes medications for anxiety, depression, pain, asthma, colds, or allergies, blood thinners, hormone replacement therapy, oral steroids, and any sleeping pills.

Do not drink alcohol while taking barbiturates until your doctor has said it is allowable. There is a large danger of overdose when you drink alcohol while any barbiturates are still in your system.

When taking a prescription of a barbiturate such as phenobarbital, do not suddenly stop taking it or you may go through withdrawal. It is important that you work with your doctor for an appropriate dosing schedule if the medication is going to be discontinued.

Preventing Barbiturate Intoxication or Overdose

Barbiturates work by slowing activity in the brain. They cause relaxation and sleepiness.  Because Barbiturates are depressants, even low doses can cause someone to seem like they are drunk or intoxicated. The risk of overdose is great, especially when combined with alcohol or opiates. Mixing with those substances can result in overdose, coma, and death. If you are prescribed barbiturates, discuss this with your doctor.

Symptoms of barbiturate intoxication and overdose can include:

  • Altered level of consciousness
  • Difficulty in thinking
  • Drowsiness or Coma
  • Faulty judgment
  • Incoordination
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slowness of speech
  • Sluggishness
  • Slurred speech
  • Staggering

If someone you know has taken an overdose and seems extremely tired or has breathing problems, call 9-1-1 or the National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222).

How Long Barbiturates Remain in Your System

If you have been prescribed barbiturates and you will be having a toxicology screen for employment or other purposes, be sure to disclose to the testing authority which medications you are taking. Barbiturates are part of the typical screening panel. By disclosing your prescriptions the lab and pathologist will be able to better interpret the results. Several factors are involved in determining how long barbiturates are detectable in the body, including which kind drug test is being used. Barbiturates can be detected for a shorter time with some tests but can be detected for up six weeks in a urine test and three months in other tests, such as the hair follicle test.

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