Phenobarbital Abuse And Addiction Risk Groups

Last Updated: July 6, 2021

Authored by Roger Weiss, MD

One of the most common barbiturates that can lead to dependency is the seizure medication phenobarbital. Many people often ask; is phenobarbital addictive? To answer this question, it is crucial to understand that phenobarbital is in a class of drugs known as barbiturates, which tend to be addictive. These drugs act as depressants in the central nervous system and are less widely used today.

Let’s take a look at the Luminal drug, its effects, and applications.

What Is Phenobarb?

Individuals with long term medical condition of chronic anxiety, epilepsy, and insomnia may be familiar with the phenobarbital luminal nomenclature. So, what is phenobarbital? One can define phenobarbital as a medication that is often recommended for various central nervous system issues such as those above. The drug belongs to a class of barbiturates commonly referred to as anticonvulsants/hypnotics.
What is Luminal? The term Luminal is a phenobarbital brand name, as well as Phenobarb and Phenobarbitone. Luminal is a brand name that is popular in the U.S. In other regions like Canada, Solfoton is a common brand name for the drug.
The Luminal medication is also a cytochrome P450 inducer, which is sufficient for reducing the toxicity of certain drugs as well as an aid for benzodiazepine withdrawal.

Phenobarb Addiction

Addictions to phenobarbital medication can be developed in many ways. Since phenobarbital pills are used to control CNS activity and is used to prevent withdrawal symptoms caused by using other barbiturates, there is a tendency to develop a dependency to the drug because of its calming and relaxing effect. Luminal medication, however, is highly addictive and should not be administered without the recommendation of a medical professional.

Is it physically addictive?

The phenobarb drug comes in the form of pills, tablets, liquid form, and it can be administered intravenously. The drug is physically addictive and is widely used illegally among young adults for recreation. Can phenobarbital get one high? Yes, users reported experiences of euphoria and a feeling of calmness. Its effects closely resemble that of alcohol, making it physically addictive. However, phenobarbital side effects can be quite disturbing.

Is it psychologically addictive?

The half-life of phenobarbital is just as short as that of alcohol, and tolerance is built quickly.

The individual may find themselves between altered consciousness and a desire to increase phenobarbital dosage.

young woman taking phenobarbital

Phenobarb Abuse Risk Groups

Phenobarbital abuse leads to addiction and changes in behavior, which is mainly physical and psychological. Addiction can be caused by misuse and overindulgence in the medication, and the luminal drug is very popular with the age range of 12 years and older. However, the risk groups of Luminal is specifically individuals of the age range 18 to 25. Addiction and abuse are mostly observed with young adults of this age range. Individuals of this category mostly attempt phenobarbital withdrawal the wrong way, which often leads to complications.

Phenobarbital addiction risk groups often get into the use of Luminal through peer pressure, curiosity, and the need to experience the euphoric effect of the drug. Addicts are referred to institutions where Phenobarbital nursing implications are extensive and tailored to individual needs.

Phenobarbital overdose is common with addicts who have built a tolerance to the medication. It should be noted that no particular age group is free of the risk of addiction or overdose to this drug.

Signs And Symptoms Of Phenobarbitone Abuse

How does one know if a friend or a loved one abuses phenobarbital (Luminal)? There are a few obvious signs of Luminal abuse, which may include:

  • Erratic behavior and extreme changes in mood
  • Inexplicable anxiety and the inability to focus
  • Self-isolation
  • Booking several appointments with different doctors for a fix
  • Prescription forgery
  • Lack of coordination
  • Depression and memory loss episodes
  • Lesions and blisters on the skin
  • Alterations in consciousness and short attention span
  • Aggressiveness, agitation, and antisocial behavior
  • Wide pupils
  • Slurred speech

Statistics On Phenobarb

Research in Mali reported the effectiveness of Phenobarb medication in about 80% of patients suffering from seizures.

Reports from rural China stated that 68% out of a total of 1,897 individuals treated with phenobarbital experienced relief from frequent seizures after a 12-month treatment program. 34% of the affected population reported the complete stoppage of seizures.

According to  the UN International Narcotics Control Board publication Psychotropic Substances, Statistics for 2001, from 1997 to 2001, about 90% of barbiturates manufactured were phenobarbs with a record of 1,334 tons from 1996 – 2001

Effects of Luminal Abuse

These days access to phenobarbital drug card as well as fake prescriptions are easy, and this puts a strain on the quality of life of the users. Phenobarbital pills can be purchased through various means without prescription, and these lead to an increase in the number of addicts. So, what are the risks and dangers of phenobarb abuse?

Physical effects

The individual may become aggressive and dangerous to others due to high irritability and mood swings. The individual may also harbor suicidal thoughts which may materialize if surrounded with harmful objects. Early death is also a possibility which can result from either overdose or suicide. Pregnant women who indulge in phenobarbital sodium run a risk of damaging the fetus.

Mental effects

A state of mental depression and cognitive decline is usually prevalent with individuals that abuse phenobarb. In some cases, delusions are experienced by frequent users of this medication.

Social effects

Most often, the relationship between user and friends and families is significantly affected. The user becomes anti-social and unable to confide in their peers. The user experiences financial hardship as most of their income or allowance is spent on getting a fix. There is also a decline in performance at the workplace or school.

teen girl taking phenobarbital

Luminal Abuse In Teens

Sodium phenobarbitone abuse is often reported in teens due to peer pressure and the need to experience the euphoric feeling of the drug. This abuse has a high potential for addiction and overdose due to the quick tolerance built. It is effortless to skip from a safe dose to a fatal dose due to the drug’s addictive nature. Teens often combine this drug with others as well as alcohol, which can be fatal.

Phenobarbital costs in the streets may vary and is easily accessible to teens without prescription. Phenobarbital reviews show that phenobarbital is one of the most abused barbiturates in the market.

The best ways to ensure that a teen does not abuse phenobarb is:

  • Enlighten teens about the dangers of sodium phenobarbital
  • Monitor prescriptions used
  • Keep all barbiturates away from the reach of teens

Function Of Phenobarbitone In Addiction Treatment

Individuals who suffer from withdrawal symptoms of alcohol and drugs such as benzodiazepines can be treated by administering phenobarbital with a sedative. To prevent symptoms such as delirium tremens in alcohol withdrawal and others a trained physician will likely recommend or administer phenobarb instead of Benzodiazepines to avoid the risk of a new addiction. Hence, phenobarb is used in the medical detox process in the treatment of addiction.

How One Can Treat Phenobarb Addiction

The best way to treat addiction to this medication is opting for a drug rehabilitation program which is tailored to meet the needs of inpatients and outpatients depending on the severity of the addiction. A rehab facility provides various treatment programs inclusive of detoxification, medication-assisted therapy, behavioral therapy, counseling, and others, to ensure that the individual attains complete healing and free from drug dependency.

Page Sources

  1. Neshan B Ilangaratne, Nilanka N Mannakkara, Gail S Bell, Josemir W Sander. Phenobarbital: missing in action. Bulletin of the World Health Organization 2012;90:871-871A.
  2. Yun-Chen Tien, Stephanie C. Piekos, Chad Pope,Xiao-bo Zhong. Phenobarbital Treatment at a Neonatal Age Results in Decreased Efficacy of Omeprazole in Adult Mice. Drug Metab Dispos. 2017 Mar; 45(3): 330–335.

Published on: July 3rd, 2019

Updated on: July 6th, 2021

About Author

Roger Weiss, MD

Dr. Roger Weiss is a practicing mental health specialist at the hospital. Dr. Weiss combines his clinical practice and medical writing career since 2009. Apart from these activities, Dr. Weiss also delivers lectures for youth, former addicts, and everyone interested in topics such as substance abuse and treatment.