In the realm of anxiety and sedative medications, two distinct classes frequently discussed are benzodiazepines and barbiturates. Xanax, known by its generic name alprazolam stands out as a commonly prescribed medication for anxiety and panic disorders and has caused uncertainty about whether it belongs to the class of barbiturates.
In this article, you’ll find out if Xanax is a barbiturate, the most common types of barbiturates, how Xanax works, and how benzodiazepines and barbiturates interact.
What is a Barbiturate?
Barbiturates are a class of drugs that suppress the central nervous system, leading to sedation and relaxation. They belong to a group of compounds known as sedative-hypnotics and have historically been used for a variety of medical purposes, such as anesthesia, and the treatment of anxiety and sleep disorders. Barbiturates were widely prescribed in the past, but their use has decreased significantly due to their potential for abuse, overdose, and addiction.
Barbiturates work by enhancing the activity of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) in the brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate and slow down brain activity. Barbiturates bind to specific receptors in the brain, increasing the sedative effects of GABA, which results in a calming and anxiety-reducing effect on the central nervous system.
What Types of Drugs are Barbiturates?
Barbiturates are separated based on their duration of action, which determines how long their effects last in the body. These classifications are ultra-short-acting, short-acting, intermediate-acting, and long-acting barbiturates. Some of the common types of barbiturates include:
- Thiopental Sodium (Pentothal): Thiopental sodium is an ultra-short-acting barbiturate. It is primarily used as an intravenous anesthetic agent to induce anesthesia quickly.
- Secobarbital (Seconal): Secobarbital is a short-acting barbiturate. It has been used to treat insomnia and anxiety, but its medical use has decreased significantly due to its potential for abuse and overdose.
- Pentobarbital (Nembutal): Pentobarbital is a short- to intermediate-acting barbiturate. It has been used for sedation and, in some cases, for euthanasia in veterinary medicine.
- Amobarbital (Amytal): Amobarbital is an intermediate-acting barbiturate. It has been used for sedation and the treatment of anxiety and insomnia.
- Phenobarbital (Luminal): Phenobarbital is a long-acting barbiturate. It is one of the more commonly prescribed barbiturates and is primarily used to treat seizures and epilepsy.
What is Xanax?
Xanax is the brand name for a medication called alprazolam, which belongs to a class of drugs known as benzodiazepines. Like barbiturates, benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants that are commonly prescribed for their anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing), sedative, and muscle-relaxing properties. Xanax, in particular, is primarily prescribed to treat anxiety and panic disorders.
Xanax is available in various forms, including tablets and extended-release capsules, and it is typically prescribed for short-term use due to its potential for dependence and withdrawal when used for extended periods. It is essential to take Xanax only under the guidance of a healthcare professional and to follow the prescribed dosage and treatment plan carefully to prevent experiencing any dangerous side effects.
Side Effects of Xanax Use
While Xanax may be commonly prescribed, it can also produce several side effects, with some more concerning than others. These side effects may vary from each individual. It is also crucial to understand these side effects before combining Xanax and barbiturates, as this may exacerbate the side effects, resulting in life-threatening consequences. Some of the side effects of Xanax use include:
- Memory loss
- Dry mouth
- Nausea or vomiting
Is Xanax a Barbiturate?
While barbiturates and benzodiazepines have similar sedative effects, Xanax is not a barbiturate. Barbiturates and benzodiazepines are both prescribed for their calming effects. However, barbiturates have a higher risk of dependence, overdose, and withdrawal symptoms than benzodiazepines. Because of these risks, benzodiazepines like Xanax have primarily replaced barbiturates in medical use for treating conditions like anxiety and insomnia.
The main differences between the two drugs can be seen in their chemical structure, mechanisms of action, and clinical use.
- Chemical Structure: Xanax and barbiturates belong to distinct drug classes characterized by their different chemical structures. Barbiturates are derived from barbituric acid, with various forms exhibiting different durations of action. In contrast, benzodiazepines like Xanax have unique benzene and diazepine ring structures.
- Mechanism of Action: Both barbiturates and benzodiazepines serve as central nervous system depressants. However, they differ in their mechanisms as barbiturates directly activate GABA-A receptors, resulting in more significant calming effects. Benzodiazepines, like Xanax, enhance GABA activity through increased receptor binding, causing less intense effects.
- Clinical Use: Xanax is primarily used to manage anxiety and panic disorders and is occasionally prescribed for short-term insomnia relief. Barbiturates were historically employed for purposes such as sedation, anesthesia, and addressing anxiety and sleep disorders but have mainly been replaced by safer alternatives in modern medical practice.
How Do Benzodiazepines and Barbiturates Interact?
Benzodiazepines and barbiturates are both central nervous system (CNS) depressants that can have similar effects when taken individually. However, combining these two classes of drugs can be extremely dangerous and is generally not recommended. Some of the effects that may happen when benzodiazepines and barbiturates interact include the following:
- Increased Depression: Benzodiazepines and barbiturates enhance the neurotransmitter GABA’s activity by acting on GABA-A receptors in the brain. Combined, these drugs’ collective impact can severely depress the central nervous system, resulting in excessive sedation, impaired cognitive function, and coordination difficulties. This heightened depression poses a significant risk, potentially leading to decreased alertness and life-threatening consequences.
- Respiratory Problems: Combining benzodiazepines and barbiturates can lead to a significant and potentially life-threatening condition known as respiratory depression. Respiratory depression occurs when the central nervous system’s depressant effects are so pronounced that they significantly slow down an individual’s breathing rate and make it dangerously shallow.
- Cardiovascular Problems: Combining benzodiazepines and barbiturates may result in hypotension, where blood pressure drops significantly, causing dizziness, lightheadedness, fainting, and reduced oxygen supply to vital organs. In other cases, this combination can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure (hypertension), straining the cardiovascular system and raising the risk of heart-related problems.
- Increased Risk of Overdose: Overdosing on this combination of benzodiazepines and barbiturates can result in severe respiratory depression, potentially leading to coma and even fatal outcomes. The effect of these two drug classes can increase the dangers associated with each, emphasizing the importance of avoiding such combinations and using these medications only as prescribed by a healthcare professional to prevent life-threatening overdose situations.
Learn More: Dangers & Risks of Combining Vicodin And Xanax
Xanax & Barbiturate Addiction Treatment in Asheville, NC
As Xanax is widely prescribed, it is common for an individual to wonder about the class of drugs that Xanax may belong to. This can prompt individuals to ask, “Is Xanax a barbiturate?” to fully understand what kind of medication they may be taking. While we know that Xanax is not a barbiturate, it is still possible to become addicted to Xanax, and some individuals may combine Xanax and barbiturate together.
At Oasis Recovery Center, located in Asheville, NC, we provide addiction treatment services to those struggling with drug abuse, such as Xanax addiction. Our addiction treatment programs are dedicated to treating our clients’ entire minds, bodies, and spirits to ensure a life-long recovery. With these treatment programs, we offer various holistic, dynamic, and experiential therapies and healing modalities to ensure every client’s needs are met.
If you or a loved one are suffering from Xanax addiction or other substance use disorders, contact us today to learn more about our programs.