Seconal is a barbiturate derivative that at one time was the most widely abused prescription sleeping pill in the United States. The medication is still in use and the risk of addiction is still acute for those who take it for more than a short period of time for insomnia, or who consume it for recreational purposes. Seconal dependency is a serious medical condition that requires rapid intervention, but those who seek out treatment usually have excellent odds of recovery.
What Is Seconal Addiction?
Seconal is the brand name for a drug known as secobarbital sodium, a barbiturate derivative that is sometimes prescribed for insomnia. In addition to its use as a sleep remedy, Seconal may also be prescribed for the treatment of epilepsy, or as an anti-anxiety medication for people scheduled to undergo surgery.
Seconal was a highly popular sleeping pill in the 1970s, until its capacity for causing rapid addiction became apparent. Surprisingly, Seconal has now made a comeback, thanks to growing concerns over the addictive qualities of other widely prescribed sleeping medications, especially those in the benzodiazepine class.
But no one who takes Seconal should use it for longer than one or two weeks. This drug can be an effective remedy for insomnia during its most acute stage, but taking it for an extended period is liable to lead to dependency.
Facts and Statistics
Seconal is a sedative that works by slowing activity in the central nervous system. In doing so, it can boost the brain’s supplies of the neurotransmitter GABA, which produces the soothing and deeply relaxing effects that give Seconal its utility as a sleep medication.
In 2016, there were approximately half a million people in the United States who misused Seconal or other sedatives. While these numbers are relatively low in comparison to benzodiazepines, that is because barbiturates are used far less frequently and not because their addictive qualities are any less advanced.
Among those who develop Seconal addiction, some begin using it for sleep and come to crave it more and more as their use escalates. Others abuse it recreationally, often in mixture with other drugs that produce similar relaxing effects.
According to one study, between four and five percent of hospital emergency department visits related to drug abuse involve barbiturates, which is a striking number for a drug class that supposedly went out of style four decades ago.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Seconal Addiction
Secobarbital sodium will work against insomnia, as long as doses are carefully controlled and use is restricted to the terms of the initial prescription, which generally will run for no more than two weeks.
But the drug can be extremely addictive when use continues. Tolerance quickly builds, and users are forced to increase dosages to experience the same sensations.
Seconal addiction is both physical and psychological in nature, and some of the symptoms that betray its presence include:
- Daytime drowsiness
- Bouts of anxiety between doses
- Sudden shifts in mood and energy levels
- Neglect of personal hygiene
- Slurred speech
- Poor coordination
- Loss of ability to focus and concentrate
- Lightheadedness or vertigo
- Nausea and vomiting
- Changes in appetite
- Gaps in short-term memory
- Respiratory distress
- Daily cravings for the drug
These are all signs that indicate excessive Seconal consumption, which is a recipe for inevitable disaster.
Diagnosing Seconal Addiction
Under conditions established by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), an addiction to Seconal can be diagnosed if at least two of these criteria are met:
- Physical and psychological cravings for Seconal are a regular occurrence.
- Growing tolerance for Seconal has led to progressively escalating consumption.
- Repeated attempts to stop using the drug have failed.
- Withdrawal symptoms accompany attempts to quit taking Seconal, or even attempts to reduce dosages.
- Drug use has become increasingly compulsive, meaning Seconal has been used more frequently or in greater quantities than originally planned.
- Seconal abuse has interfered with personal, financial, familial, and work-related duties and responsibilities.
- Use of Seconal, and recovering from its effects, has begun to consume an inordinate amount of time.
- Continuing Seconal use is linked to a range of social problems and interpersonal conflicts.
- Physical and mental health problems have been caused or exacerbated by Seconal abuse, yet use continues.
- As a consequence of Seconal abuse, favorite hobbies or personal activities have been neglected.
- Seconal use has been implicated in reckless, impulsive, or dangerous behavior.
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The Dangers of Seconal Overdose
While benzodiazepines have gained a reputation for potency, in the sleeping pill category it is barbiturates that pose the greater risk for a deadly overdose.
Overdoses can occur easily when a person is abusing barbiturate medications like Seconal. Extreme respiratory depression is the mechanism by which Seconal can cause death, and symptoms of significant distress may be apparent 15-30 minutes after a person has taken a potentially lethal dosage.
Besides obvious respiratory distress, other signs of a possible Seconal overdose include severe grogginess and unresponsiveness, the inability to stand up or move around, slurred speech and blurry vision, extreme mental confusion, and a loss of consciousness.
If a Seconal overdose is suspected, action should be taken immediately. Failure to summon emergency personnel at the first sign of trouble could cost critical minutes and put the person’s life in jeopardy.
Seconal Addiction Causes and Risk Factors
Chronic insomnia is the greatest risk factor for Seconal addiction. Men and women who struggle with sleeplessness over a prolonged period may be strongly tempted to misuse sleeping pills, and that is often what happens when the person has access to barbiturates.
Anyone who takes a prescription medication for sleeping problems could slip into addiction. But even among this group, there are some people who are more at risk for drug dependency than others. Additional risk factors for Seconal addiction include:
- Family history and genetics. Multiple studies have confirmed that half or more of the risk for addiction can be traced to inherited factors, most likely passed on by parents with their own history of substance abuse.
- Previous mental health problems. Of the 19 million Americans who had a past-year substance use disorder in 2016, 8.2 million (43 percent) had a co-occurring mental health disorder.
- A history of recreational substance abuse. Many people believe (falsely) that prescription drugs are safer than alcohol, or illicit substances like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine. These individuals may turn to prescription medication as a way to get a “safer” high, which can put them at grave risk for addiction.
- Exposure to severe neglect and abuse at a young age. Up to two-thirds of men and women in treatment for substance abuse report being physically, sexually, and/or emotionally abused during childhood.
Withdrawal and Detox
Barbiturates can cause a fierce addiction if abused for an extended period, and the withdrawal symptoms associated with stopping can be fearsome.
If the use of Seconal is stopped abruptly, within six-to-eight hours withdrawal symptoms will likely begin to manifest. These symptoms may include:
- Muscle pain
- Extreme nausea
- Spikes in heart rate or blood pressure
- Tremors, shakiness
- Swelling or numbness
- Weakness and fatigue
- Panic attacks
Most of these symptoms can be minimized, and the most serious ones avoided altogether, if dosages of Seconal are tapered gradually, under the care of a physician and a medical support team that can administer properly calibrated quantities of the drug.
To achieve the best results, people suffering from Seconal dependency are advised to seek medically-supervised detox services in a drug and alcohol treatment center that offers this amenity. In a hospital-like environment, withdrawal symptoms can be safely managed, along with any physical or mental health needs that might arise over the course of the seven-to-10-day detox program.
Withdrawal from Seconal addiction can be strenuous and can threaten sobriety. But the chances of a person remaining committed to recovery are greater if they undergo structured detox in a clinical facility where 24-hour care can be provided.
A 2012 study by the Sleep Research Society found that about 45 percent of people with one mood or anxiety disorder had accompanying insomnia, and those who had two or more such disorders had insomnia 60 percent of the time. Among those who have PTSD, which is now classified as a trauma and stressor-related disorder rather than an anxiety disorder, 70 percent report problems with insomnia or other sleep-related conditions.
Since these conditions tend to be chronic, the sleeplessness they cause is usually chronic as well, and that can easily lead to Seconal abuse if the medication is prescribed (or even if the person attempts to self-medicate using illicitly obtained Seconal).
In some instances, people who become dependent on Seconal were recreational users already suffering from an addiction to alcohol, illicit drugs, or some other type of prescription medication. Combining drugs in this way is clearly a risk factor for Seconal addiction, and in general drug mixing is extremely dangerous and can lead to a fatal overdose if treatment for drug dependency is not sought.
Treatment and Prognosis for Seconal Addiction
When a person has been diagnosed with Seconal addiction, fast and effective treatment is essential.
Once the patient is finished with detox and their withdrawal symptoms are under control, the next step is to enroll in an inpatient or intensive outpatient treatment program at a residential drug and alcohol recovery facility. If a dual diagnosis for addiction and a mental health disorder has been made, treatment programs will be designed to address both conditions simultaneously and in equal measure.
The centerpiece of a Seconal rehab program will be individual, group, and family therapy, each of which has a role to play in the recovery process. Individual counseling sessions will focus on discovering every factor that might have contributed to the addiction, including any mental health issues or traumatic life experiences that may have left the patient vulnerable to drug abuse. Meanwhile, peers can offer both compassion and insight during group sessions, while family therapy can help nurture sustainable recovery by strengthening bonds of caring and support.
Other supplementary forms of treatment may be added to the recovery plan, including classes that teach strategies to avoid relapse. Patients may be introduced to mind-body healing practices like yoga, meditation, massage therapy, Tai Chi, and music therapy, which promote effective stress management and healthier sleep patterns. Medications cannot help with Seconal addiction, but antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications may be provided in limited quantities if co-occurring mental mood or anxiety disorders have been diagnosed.
Hard work and consistent effort are required to overcome Seconal addiction. But those who enter treatment with good intentions have a great opportunity to achieve lasting sobriety.