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Is Xanax a Barbiturate?

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Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

October 25, 2023

Table of Contents

Xanax is not a barbiturate, it is a benzodiazepine. Benzos are similar to barbiturates and were introduced as a supposedly less addictive alternative. This is a claim that proved inaccurate.

Today, we’ll address these issues:

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  • Are benzodiazepines barbiturates?
  • What drugs are barbiturates?
  • Are barbiturates and Xanax dangerous?

You can also discover how to connect with treatment for addiction to prescription medications like Xanax, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines.

Are Xanax Barbiturates?

Many people who are prescribed Xanax (alprazolam) ask, “Is Xanax a barbiturate?”. 

Xanax is not a barbiturates drug, but a potent benzodiazepine that is prescribed to treat the symptoms of GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), panic disorders, and insomnia.

Benzodiazepines are a class of psychoactive drugs widely used for their sedative, hypnotic, anxiolytic (anti-anxiety), muscle relaxant, and anticonvulsant properties. These drugs function by enhancing the way that GABA binds to its receptor. GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a neurotransmitter known which inhibits the activity of certain neurons in the brain.

Benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), alprazolam (Xanax), and clonazepam (Klonopin), are Schedule IV controlled substances and available only through prescription. Benzos are commonly used to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, insomnia, seizures, and alcohol withdrawal.

That said, prolonged use or high doses of benzodiazepines can lead to the development of dependence, characterized by the presentation of withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. Physical dependence often but not always leads to addiction. Benzos may also produce side effects such as drowsiness, dizziness, confusion, impaired coordination, and they may also interact with other medications. This means that you should use benzodiazepines only under medical supervision and in accordance with the prescribed dosage and duration.

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What Types of Drugs are Barbiturates?

Barbiturate drugs, classified as central nervous system depressants, were used in the past to treat anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. Like benzos, barbiturates function by stimulating GABA production. This inhibits nerve cell activity in the brain and leads to a decrease in nerve cell activity, resulting in a sedative effect that induces relaxation and drowsiness.

Examples of drugs that are barbiturates include:

  • Amobarbital: short-term treatment for insomnia and assists in neurological testing. 
  • Butalbital: Included in many medication ingredient lists, including acetaminophen, aspirin, caffeine, and codeine. Often used in combination with other ingredients to treat migraine headaches. 
  • Methohexital. Used as anesthesia in medical procedures. 
  • Pentobarbital. Useful for pre-anesthesia and to stop seizures. 
  • Phenobarbital. Useful for both preventing and stopping a seizure. 
  • Primidone. Prevents convulsions and useful for preventing seizures. 
  • Secobarbital. Treats insomnia, but is often avoided my medical professionals as prescribing it can occasionally lead to accidental overdose. 

The addictive nature and high risk of overdose associated with barbiturates means that this class of drugs is less commonly used today. 

Benzodiazepines are now the preferred treatment option for anxiety, seizures, and insomnia. Barbiturates are still used as backup treatments in cases where other medications do not work effectively.

Are Barbiturates Depressants?

Yes, barbiturates are classified as depressants because they depress or slow down the activity of the central nervous system. They act on GABA receptors in the brain, increasing the inhibitory effect of GABA and leading to a decrease in neural activity. This results in sedation, relaxation, and reduced anxiety.

Barbiturates were widely used as sedatives, hypnotics, and anticonvulsants before the introduction of benzodiazepines. That said, they have a narrow therapeutic index, meaning that the difference between a therapeutic dose and a toxic dose is small. This makes them more dangerous than benzodiazepines and increases the risk of overdose and death.

In addition, barbiturate use can lead to physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe and life-threatening. Withdrawal from barbiturates can cause seizures and hallucinations.

Due to their potential for abuse, dependence, and overdose, barbiturates are now less commonly used as sedatives and hypnotics. They are primarily used as anticonvulsants in the treatment of epilepsy and as anesthetic agents in surgical procedures.

Barbiturate FAQs

Is Alprazolam a Barbiturate?

No, alprazolam (Xanax) is not a barbiturate. It is a benzodiazepine, which means that it works by intensifying the activity of the neurotransmitter GABA in the brain. Alprazolam is commonly used to treat anxiety disorders and panic attacks, and it has a faster onset of action and a shorter duration of effect than most barbiturates. However, like barbiturates, alprazolam can be habit-forming and can cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms if used for extended periods or in high doses.

Is Klonopin a Barbiturate?

No, clonazepam (Klonopin) is not a barbiturate. It is also a benzodiazepine, and it is primarily used as an anticonvulsant and to treat panic disorder and certain types of anxiety disorders. Like other benzodiazepines, clonazepam can cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms if used for extended periods or in high doses, but it has a lower risk of overdose than barbiturates.

Is Ativan a Barbiturate?

No, lorazepam (Ativan) is not a barbiturate. It is another benzodiazepine that is frequently used to treat anxiety disorders, insomnia, and seizure disorders. Ativan has a relatively rapid onset of action and a shorter duration of effect than most barbiturates, but it can still cause dependence and withdrawal symptoms if used for extended periods or in high doses.

Is Valium a Barbiturate?

No, diazepam (Valium) is not a barbiturate. It is a benzodiazepine that is often used to treat anxiety disorders, muscle spasms, and seizures. Valium has a longer duration of effect than many other benzodiazepines, but it is still less likely to cause dependence and overdose than barbiturates. However, it can still cause physical dependence and withdrawal symptoms if used for extended periods or in high doses, and it should only be used under the guidance of a healthcare provider.

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Get Barbiturate Addiction Treatment at Renaissance Recovery

If you have developed an addiction to prescription drugs like Xanax, begin your recovery journey at Renaissance Recovery rehab near Huntington Beach, California. We specialize in treating addictions, mental health conditions, and co-occurring disorders in an outpatient setting.

If you need help with barbiturate withdrawal, we can connect you with accredited medical detox centers throughout Southern California. You can then choose from the following programs for prescription drug addiction treatment at Renaissance Recovery:

  • PHPs (partial hospitalization programs)
  • IOPs (intensive outpatient programs)
  • Dual diagnosis treatment programs (for addictions with co-occurring mental health disorders)

All programs provide access to personalized addiction treatment that combines holistic and evidence-based interventions, such as:

Whether you have become addicted to benzos or barbiturates, take the first step to sustained recovery by calling admissions at 866.330.9449.

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Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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