Barbiturates were once a go-to medication to help people slow down and relax to catch up on much-needed rest. Doctors prescribed the medicines for people who found it hard to relax and get to sleep because of their anxiety or anxiety-related disorders.

These potent sedatives, popular in the 1960s and 1970s, fell out of widespread use because of their addictive nature. Recreational use led to overdose deaths, and the medical community started to phase out the medications for alternatives considered safer for patients to use, such as benzodiazepines.

Still, barbiturates are used today to help people with various conditions. Luminal is one of them, and it is prescribed to help people with epilepsy and other seizure disorders as well as insomnia. 

Luminal used in safe dosages as prescribed usually produces favorable outcomes for people who use it as intended. However, as with any drug, it can become a drug of abuse when it lands in the wrong hands.

Luminal is the Trade Name for Phenobarbital

You may have heard of phenobarbital, the generic name for Luminal. Whether a person takes the generic brand or Luminal, they both are available legally by prescription only.

The medicine is also in the anticonvulsant/hypnotics drug class and can be taken orally in capsule or tablet form. Some people may take it as an elixir, an injectable solution, or a powder. After it is ingested, it can take a half-hour to take effect and last up to eight hours. According to WebMD, the medication controls abnormal electrical activity in the brain during a seizure and depresses the central nervous system, which helps the patient calm down. 

This calming down period is the result of the drug helping the brain produce more of the chemical gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA).

Luminal can be used with other seizure control medications or used by itself, depending on the person taking it. A person can also take Luminal during drug withdrawal treatment. People in medical detox for alcohol and benzodiazepine misuse may be given Luminal to help them manage uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.

Some people who take Luminal may begin to abuse the medication. Abuse includes taking higher doses of the medication than prescribed, taking it more frequently than prescribed, taking it longer than prescribed, and/or taking it in ways that are inconsistent with its intended use. The more Luminal is used, the more the body begins to stop naturally producing GABA because it comes to rely on the drug to do that.

One way to tell if Luminal use has crossed into misuse/abuse territory is how a person feels when they stop using it. When the brain does not receive the dose of Luminal it is used to; a person may start to “crash” and feel the initial symptoms they were treating with greater intensity. The brain and body began to feel overwhelmed, and at that point, a person will likely need to enter an addiction treatment program or risk returning to Luminal use that could become life-threatening.

How Do I Know My Luminal Use is Becoming an Addiction?


As mentioned above, Luminal is a potent sedative whose intended use is generally no more than two weeks. It is not intended for long-term use. Anything longer than two weeks is considered long-term use, which can be habit-forming. Using the drug in higher-than-prescribed doses can also build one’s tolerance faster.

The more a person uses a drug, the higher their tolerance of it is. If you feel like you need higher doses of a drug to feel its effects, then your tolerance is higher. This can happen to people who are taking Luminal as prescribed, too. The key thing to note here is that there is a small window between a therapeutic dose and a deadly one when it comes to barbiturates.

RxList explains why tolerance of barbiturates can be fatal in some patients, sharing, “As tolerance to phenobarbital (Luminal) develops, the amount needed to maintain the same level of intoxication increases; tolerance to a fatal dosage, however, does not increase more than two-fold. As this occurs, the margin between an intoxicating dosage and fatal dosage becomes smaller.”

In short, people who use Luminal carelessly or recklessly are taking chances with their lives. What may be a “usual dose” of abuse could be the last one someone takes.

Signs of Luminal Addiction

It can be challenging to tell when someone’s Luminal use is cause for concern. However, close observation of someone’s habits or behavior can leave some important clues. Since Luminal is a barbiturate, signs of a growing addiction to it fall in line with the addiction signs for barbiturates in general. A growing addiction could be present if you notice:

  • Intoxication that is similar to alcohol
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow, slurred speech
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Coordination loss
  • Memory loss
  • Impaired judgment
  • Chronic tiredness
  • Agitation, irritability
  • Clumsiness
  • Cluttered or unclear thinking
  • Impotence (men)
  • Slow to show emotional reactions

There are also signs that Luminal dependence is underway and that addiction could be forming. A person may be addicted to Luminal if they:

  • Strongly crave Luminal
  • Taking Luminal more frequently or  longer than prescribed
  • Return to after repeated unsuccessful tries to cut down on use or quit it altogether
  • Using Luminal to stave off withdrawal symptoms
  • Keeping drug use hidden from loved ones, colleagues
  • Using Luminal with other substances, such as drugs or alcohol, to get high
  • Continue Luminal use despite adverse life changes, consequences

If you or someone you know has been taking Luminal frequently, do not quit the drug abruptly or on your own. At this point, you could have seizures if you go into severe withdrawal from the drug. The safest way to end frequent use is to detox in a medical detox program overseen by medical staff at an accredited treatment facility. Abruptly ending frequent Luminal use can raise your chances of picking up the drug again to avoid withdrawal symptoms. 

This decision could lead to an overdose if the dose you have been taking is now too potent for you because you took a break from it before picking it up again. Remember, accidental barbiturate overdoses can be fatal as the difference between a therapeutic dose and a deadly one is small.

Luminal Addiction Can Require Professional Treatment

If you or someone you know is addicted to Luminal, it is time to consider enrolling in an addiction treatment program that can help end drug use safely and figure out how to move forward without substance misuse. A reputable addiction treatment program that uses evidence-based treatments that are tailored to meet the unique needs of the person needing treatment is ideal.

The ideal treatment period is 90 days, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says, as it gives a person a better chance of having a favorable outcome from their treatment program. However,  treatment programs can be flexible. They can last longer than three months if needed, but shorter-term options are available. If the addiction is in the mild or early stages, a person may be able to enter an outpatient program, a less-intensive level of addiction treatment that offers more flexibility and fewer barriers when it comes to cost and time commitment.

If you do enter a recovery program from Luminal addiction, you likely will start with medical detoxification. You will undergo an assessment to see where you are and placed under the care of medical professionals who will monitor you as withdrawal from the drug happens. This period varies according to the severity of the situation, but detox can last several days. 

You may be given medications to help you manage your symptoms, which can range from uncomfortable to life-threatening. If any complications or medical emergencies arise during medical detox, it can be reassuring to know there are people who will be there for you who know what to do.

Medical detox is just the beginning of a recovery process from Luminal addiction. This period alone is not enough to move someone away from addiction. Medical and addiction care specialists likely will recommend an addiction treatment program as the next step. 

You or your loved one will likely enter a placement along the continuum of care, as the American Society of Addiction Medicine explains. All of the placements along the continuum are designed to help people find the right program for them and help them get the most out of it.

These programs teach new ways of coping with stress that leads to substance misuse, relapse prevention, life skills, and more. Aftercare programs help many people new in recovery find the resources they need to live in sobriety successfully.

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