Xanax (generic alprazolam) is not a barbiturate. Instead, Xanax is in a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines (benzos). Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are similar-acting CNS (central nervous system) depressants—they both produce drowsiness and have been traditionally used to treat insomnia and seizures.
Both medications affect GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), a neurochemical that nerves use to communicate with each other. GABA also works to manage stress response and lessen activity in the CNS.
Benzodiazepines vs. Barbiturates
In addition to seizures and insomnia, benzos are commonly prescribed to treat anxiety and panic attacks, nervousness, muscle spasms, and alcohol withdrawal. They may also be used to help with sedation during surgery.
Common benzos include alprazola lorazepam (Ativan), (Xanax), diazepam (Valium), and clonazepam (Klonopin). Common barbiturates include secobarbital (Seconal) and pentobarbital (Nembutal).
Side effects specific to benzo use can include changes in appetite, constipation, unexpected weight gain, dry mouth, decreased interest in sex, and fatigue. Side effects may include dizziness, headache, and abdominal pain. Side effects common to both benzos and barbiturates include confusion, lightheadedness, drowsiness, impaired coordination and memory, nausea, and vomiting.
Withdrawal symptoms can manifest when an individual abruptly stops using benzos or barbiturates.
Common withdrawal symptoms for benzos may include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbances
- Panic attacks
- Nausea and vomiting
- Heart palpitations
- Muscle pain and stiffness
Common withdrawal symptoms for barbiturates may include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
Substances That May Interact with Benzos or Barbiturates
Combining the use of alcohol with a benzo or barbiturate is very risky. Individuals who consume alcohol while taking these medications will feel the effects of all substances more intensely.
Moreover, it’s never safe to consume alcohol or use other depressant drugs that have similar effects on the CNS in combination with benzos or barbiturates. This is because these substances can compound the effects of one another and result in life-threatening respiratory depression.
Opioids, such as heroin, fentanyl, and oxycodone, induce depressant effects that can increase the risk of life-threatening respiratory depression when used with benzos or barbiturates. Respiratory depression can result in slow, shallow, or difficult breathing that is inadequate for supplying oxygen to the brain and body, which can result in death.
Death from overdose is among the highest risks associated with the use of both barbiturates or benzos.
Symptoms of an overdose can include the following:
- Impaired coordination
- Slurred speech
- Difficulty thinking
- Impaired judgment
- Shallow breathing
- Coma and death
The risk of overdose is considered to be much higher for barbiturates than for benzos. Still, heavy use of either type of drug, especially when mixed with other CNS depressants, can result in severe complications that can be life-threatening.
Benzo and Barbiturate Addiction
Both benzos and barbiturates can be habit-forming and have the potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. If these substances are used for an extended period, tolerance can develop. As tolerance develops, the individual will need increasingly higher doses of a drug to achieve the sought-after effects.
Often, people abuse drugs such as benzodiazepines to experience a “high.” They are commonly abused by teens and young adults who crush the pills and snort the residual powder. Benzos are also sometimes abused by older adults who are more likely to receive a legitimate prescription and develop a dependence on the drug over time.
Abuse of these medications has been associated with sleep disturbances and nightmares, fatigue, irritability, hostility, memory impairment, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, and muscle and bone aches and pains.
It can be very challenging to recover from an addiction to benzos or barbiturates because both of these types of drugs alter brain chemistry in a way that makes them addicting. Quitting suddenly, or “cold turkey,” is not recommended as it can cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms similar to those of alcohol.
Physicians and other health providers who treat addiction can design a tapering schedule to wean a person off the medication gradually. Likewise, they can lessen the severity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings during the detox process and subsequent treatment.
Treatment for Addiction to Benzos or Barbiturates
Just Believe Recovery is a specialized rehab center that offers a comprehensive, individualized approach to drug and alcohol abuse. We employ a variety of evidence-based treatments, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, psychoeducation, counseling, and peer group support. Our caring, highly-skilled staff are dedicated to providing each individual with the knowledge, tools, and support they require to become abstinent and maintain sobriety and wellness.
If you or a loved one is suffering from addiction to Xanax, other benzos, or barbiturates, contact us today! We help people free themselves from the cycle of addiction so they can reclaim the healthy and fulfilling lives they deserve!