People who need medication to control seizures or treat their insomnia or anxiety may use Luminal to help them manage their conditions. It is a barbiturate medication. Barbiturates are not in wide use as they were in the 1960s and 1970s, but they are still around although prescribed infrequently because of their addictive nature. The medication is effective in therapeutic doses, but when it is abused, it can be deadly. Once underway, a Luminal addiction can be difficult to stop on one’s own and may require addiction treatment.

What Is Luminal?

Luminal is the brand name for the prescription medication phenobarbital or phenobarbitone. It belongs to the barbiturate class of medications and comes in the form of a capsule, tablet, or elixir, which can all be taken by mouth. It also can be taken as an injectable solution or compounding powder. The medication, which is classified as anticonvulsant hypnotic, is typically prescribed to treat seizure disorders, insomnia, anxiety, tension, and drug withdrawal. It is a long-acting medication, which means it effects last over a long period. 

In the case of Luminal, it can last between six to eight hours after it is taken. It can take 30 minutes to an hour for the medication to take effect. According to WebMD, the medication can be used alone or with other medicines to control seizures. Luminal also can be used in medical detoxifications for people who are recovering from alcohol and benzodiazepine abuse.

Luminal depresses the body’s central nervous system. It also produces more of the gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) neurotransmitter in the brain to help users feel relaxed, drowsy, and calm. All of these effects are why people find it useful as a sleep aid and an effective anti-anxiety medication. The blocking of this activity in the brain also helps control the irregular electrical movements in the brain that happen during a seizure.

As a barbiturate, Luminal can have similar effects as benzodiazepine medications, but it is chemically different from medications of that kind. Still, abusing the drug will cause the brain to become dependent on it for its GABA supply and stop producing the chemical on its own. This is why it’s especially difficult to withstand the side effects that occur when users stop taking Luminal after a physical dependence and/or psychological dependence have set in. The brain responds to the lack of GABA and experiences something akin to a “crash” as all of the symptoms the drug previously blocked have reappeared.

What are the Signs of Luminal Addiction?

This drug should be taken as prescribed. Long-term Luminal use can be habit-forming. This is possible even at therapeutic doses. It is possible to form a higher tolerance for the drug if it is used excessively or at dosages that are higher than recommended. Barbiturate dependence has been associated with the effects of chronic alcoholism. Barbiturates are commonly abused along with alcohol. Using Luminal in this manner can be deadly. Because Luminal is a barbiturate, addiction signs and symptoms include those that are common in this class of medications. Those include:

  • Intoxication similar to that of alcohol
  • Shallow breathing
  • Slow, slurred speech
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Poor judgment
  • Mood swings
  • Motor control problems
  • Physical coordination problems, such as clumsiness
  • Unclear thinking, thinking difficulties
  • Reduced emotional reactions
  • Impotence (men)

Signs and symptoms of Luminal addiction include having established a dependence and tolerance to the drug. This means more of the drug is needed to achieve the initial effects. Signs of Luminal dependence include:

  • Strong Luminal cravings
  • Taking Luminal for longer periods than prescribed
  • Not using the drug in the manner it was intended
  • Unsuccessful attempts at quitting or cutting down despite being willing to do so
  • Withdrawal from not taking Luminal
  • Taking it to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Hiding drug use from family, friends, colleagues
  • Compulsive desire to obtain Luminal, no matter the method (this includes “doctor shopping,” the practice of obtaining medications from multiple physicians, or buying it off the street)
  • Using Luminal with other drugs or alcohol (polysubstance abuse)
  • Continued Luminal use despite the consequences, such as job loss, strained relationships

Dependency on this drug can build rapidly with excessive use. Chronic Luminal users may be tempted to abruptly stop their use if they want to end their dependence, but that is not advised. Stopping any drug “cold turkey,” as the practice of suddenly stopping is called, after prolonged use likely will lead to a withdrawal, which is uncomfortable and/or painful period for some people. These symptoms can start within 24 hours after the last dose. Convulsions, dizziness, and nausea are all signs of Luminal withdrawal, which can be fatal. Going off a drug suddenly can also lead to relapse or a return to using addictive substances. A Luminal overdose also can be fatal. Accidental overdoses are common with barbiturates such as Luminal because the gap between a safe dose and a deadly dose is narrow.

What is Involved in Luminal Addiction Treatment

Luminal addiction can have serious consequences if left untreated. If you or someone you know cannot stop misusing or abusing the drug on your own, professional treatment at a drug treatment facility is the advised route. Addiction care specialists can help get you or your loved one back on the right path. 

The length of the process to treat dependence on Luminal very much depends on the individual, including the person’s history of use of the drug and/or other substances, including alcohol. Other factors that can affect the recovery process include:

  • Age, sex, health, medical history, and lifestyle
  • Your weight and body fat percentage
  • How often Luminal is consumed
  • Luminal tolerance
  • The manner in which Luminal has been used; and
  • If it has been used with other drugs and substances, such as benzodiazepines, opioids, or alcohol (polysubstance abuse)

Once recovering users enter a drug treatment facility that can help treat their need, they can expect to undergo and complete a medical detoxification, or detox for short. This process removes all traces of the drug from your system safely and under the 24/7 guidance of medical professionals who will monitor your vitals and give you medications, if needed, during a period of three to seven days or longer if needed. 

Clients who complete this process are kept comfortable and given any needed medications or put on a tapering schedule to ensure they are weaned off the drug safely and effectively.

This is a good time to be honest with addiction health care providers about what substances you have been using. If you have been abusing Luminal with alcohol (which commonly happens among barbiturate users) or other drugs, make sure they know that so they can determine how best to help you. Without a professional detox, the process of ending dependence on an addictive substance(s) can be uncomfortable and lead to severe complications. 

Long-time users are advised to enter a drug rehab program and get professional help that can result in substance abuse recovery. 

An evaluation will help determine how far along a person is in their Luminal addiction and whether the person has a co-occurring disorder or dual diagnosis that must be addressed. Co-occurring disorders means a person has a substance use disorder along with a mental health disorder. Common mental health disorders include anxiety, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder. Finding a treatment center that addresses both conditions at the same time gives the dually diagnosed person the best chance of recovering from a substance.

Once the detox process has been completed and an evaluation has taken place, clients are presented with the best options for a treatment program that are based on their initial evaluation. These options include residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and partial hospitalization programs. In all of these programs, recovering users have the time and opportunity to address their addiction and begin to heal on all levels—mentally, physically, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences. They can include:

  • Individual therapy
  • Group therapy
  • Family therapy
  • Addiction education
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Relapse prevention
  • Holistic therapy (yoga, acupuncture, for example)
  • Medication management 

Substance abuse treatment also can be customized to specific needs and preferences, and include 12-step fellowship programs (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, for example), motivational therapy, trauma therapy, and individual counseling and group counseling sessions.

People recovering from Luminal abuse are also advised to seek aftercare services that give people in recovery the tools and guidance to focus on their goals and reduce their chances of relapse. There are many opportunities out there that can help one achieve this goal, including follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, which often happens long after dependence on the drug has passed. Barbiturate-related PAWS can include anxiety, cognitive impairment, irritability, and depression.

How Dangerous Is Luminal?

There are Luminal side effects that users should know about. They include dizziness, headache, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. This list also includes changes in memory or concentration as well as behavior changes, such as confusion, excitement, irritability, and aggression.

Major withdrawal symptoms of Luminal include convulsions and delirium. If you or someone you know uses this medication and has gone off it recently and experienced these symptoms, it’s important to get medical attention right away. These are red flags.

According to Everyday Health, the medication may also decrease the effectiveness of hormonal contraceptives, including birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUD), patches, rings, injections, and implants.

Luminal Abuse Statistics

  • In 2013, barbiturates were found to be responsible for almost 400 deaths.
  • Each year, doctors give out about 19 million barbiturate prescriptions.
  • 8 percent of all barbiturates in the U.S. are created illegally.
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