Barbiturates vs Benzodiazepines

Knowing the difference between barbiturates vs benzodiazepines is important in understanding how it affects the body and mind, while also understanding how to seek treatment for misuse. Learn more about how these prescription drugs can affect you and how to get help if dependence or addiction happen.


Barbiturates are depressant or sedative drugs belonging to an old class of drugs meant for body relaxation and for people facing difficulties in sleeping .

Barbiturates work by modifying particular nerve communications in your central nervous system (CNS) to your brain which in this case relaxes your body by slowing down your brains activity.

Barbiturates drugs makes the neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid to work overtime. GABA is responsible for slowing down your brain by reinforcing its level of activity in the CNS, barbiturates allow GABA to produce a much stronger effect on your brain activity.

Barbiturates are available in injectable liquid, oral solution, pills and powder form. They come in many different strengths and combinations.

What are the different types of Barbiturates?

Examples of barbiturates include:

  • amobarbital (Amytal)
  • butabarbital (Butisol)
  • pentobarbital (Nembutal)
  • secobarbital (Seconal)
  • belladonna and phenobarbital (Donnatal)
  • butalbital/acetaminophen/caffeine (Esgic, Fioricet)
  • butalbital/aspirin/caffeine (Fiorinal Ascomp, Fortabs)

What are the uses of Barbiturates ?

Barbital was first synthesized in 1864 by  Adolf von Baeyer the German chemist and was then marketed by  Emil Fischer and Joseph von Mering the German scientists around 1903 who discovered that barbital was very effective in putting dogs to sleep.

This drug  became popular in the 1960s and 1970s, and was used or prescribed for ;

  • anxiety and sedation related to surgery
  • insomnia
  • euthanasia
  • seizures
  • anesthesia
  • tension headaches
  • traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Barbiturates can also be used as a form of anesthetic.Off-label uses include treatment for:

  • migraines
  • alcohol and benzodiazepine poisoning and withdrawal
  • jaundice
  • trauma

How are Barbiturates Abused ?

The used of barbiturates as recreational drugs led to its abused . Barbiturates carry a risk of psychological and physical addiction, risk of a fatal overdose is higher with barbiturates than other drugs as the difference between a safe dose and a deadly one is small.

You can become reliant on them with prolonged or frequent use or abuse. Barbiturates also foster dependence, which means if you suddenly stop taking them, or try to stop abusing them, you’ll experience some adverse and possibly dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment for barbiturate abuse, addiction, and dependence must be comprehensive, working not only to treat the symptoms but also to prevent further abuse and relapse.

What are Benzodiazepines?

Benzodiazepines also known as “benzos” are a class of medications that work in the central nervous system and are used for different types of medical conditions.

The usage of this medications in short-term is generally effective and efficient . However, long-term use is controversial because of the high probability for tolerance, dependence, and other unfavorably outcomes . overdosing on benzodiazepines is very common , and mixing them with alcohol or other substances can be dangerous or fatal.

These class of medications has appeared to be one of the most prescribed drugs especially in the United States, common among old people .

What are the types of benzodiazepines?

There are three types of benzodiazepines: long, intermediate and short-acting. Short-acting benzodiazepines have stronger withdrawal or ‘come down’ effects and can be more addictive than long-acting ones.

Benzodiazepines are known by their chemical (generic) name or their brand name. In each case the drug is exactly the same – it’s just made by a different company. Some common benzodiazepines are:

Brand Names: Xanax, Valium, Klonopin, Librium, Ativan, Rohypnol

Generic Names: alprazolam, diazepam, clonazepam, chlordiazepoxide, lorazepam, flunitrazepam

Street Names: Candy, Downers, Sleeping Pills, Tranks, Benzos, BZDs, Goofballs, Heavenly Blues, Qual, Robital, Stupefy, Valley Girl, Vs, Dead Flower Powers, Foofoo, Howards, Sleep Away, Z Bars, Bars, Zannies, White Girls, Footballs,Handlebars, Bicycle Parts, School Bus, Yellow Boys, and White Boys

What are benzodiazepines used for?

Benzodiazepines are effective for treating a range of psychological and neurological disorders, due to its effects on the neurons that trigger stress and anxiety reactions.

some of these disorders are :

How are Benzodiazepines Abused?

Most commonly, benzodiazepines are usually abused by mixing with other depressants like opioids or alcohol which can be very fatal, as mixing drugs with other drugs or with alcohol can cause some unpredictable reactions. As a matter of facts , most people who go to the emergency room for benzodiazepine overdoses must have mixed the drug with something else.

People mostly abuse benzos by swallowing , snorting and sometimes injecting them.

After a long-term used of benzodiazepines, addiction and dependence can set in and the withdrawal from benzodiazepines can be extremely dangerous. A sudden withdrawal from this drug can cause seizures, psychotic reactions, anxiety, severe insomnia, and agoraphobia. When an individual is Withdrawal from benzodiazepines, is advised to be done under direct medical supervision.

Similarities of Barbiturates vs Benzodiazepines?

Both barbiturates and benzodiazepines affect the human body similarly. The range of effects can be determined more accurately by dosage versus chemical structure of the drugs. Another similarity between them is they are both volatile to consume if the right dosage cannot be determined. Both drugs are highly addictive and are extremely dangerous. Withdrawal without medical supervision is not recommended as there may be many severe side effects.

What are the differences between Barbiturates vs Benzodiazepines?


From their names, they both are a distinct but quite different class of chemical compounds. The barbiturates all derive from barbituric acic, which by itself is pharmacologically inactive, but the esters of barbituric acid are (not the salts, as the name may suggest)The first barbiturate with sleep-inducing properties was synthesized in 1903 and was named Barbital (diethylbarbituric acid), also well known under its trade name Veronal. For decades the barbiturates were the gold standard for sleep medication until 1992, when they were almost completely withdrawn from the market in Switzerland and Germany with only very few exceptions, like e.g. Phenobarbital, which is used as an antiepileptic until today.

The benzodiazepines (also benzos, BZD or BZ’s) in contrast are a class of psychoactive drugs, whose core structure is a heterocyclic ring system where benzene is fused with diazepine, thus containing two nitrogen atoms. Depending on the substituents attached to the core benzodiazepine the pharmacological profile can be modulated. The first drug in this group was chlordiazepoxid, synthesized in 1955 and marketed as Librium by Hoffmann-La Roche in 1960, followed by diazepam (Valium) three years later. In 1977 benzodiazepines were globally the most prescribed medications.


Both barbiturates vs benzodiazepines possess sedating and sleep inducing properties, as well as anticonvulsive effects. Some barbiturates, in higher dosage were used as narcotics in surgery. This shows the difference on sleep induction. Whereas benzodiazepines lead to a mental state of calmness and tranquility, that makes falling asleep much easier (thus the name tranquilizer), the barbiturates are able to enforce sleep, which makes them useful as narcotics for surgery or for some rare cases of severe insomnia, where benzodiazepines have no effect. Although both barbiturates and benzodiazepines interact with the GABA-receptor (gamma-aminobutyric acid, a neurotransmitter), they do so at different locations on the receptor and in different ways. In contrast to barbiturates however, benzodiazepines have a kind of ceiling effect, where even higher doses won’t produce much stronger effects than those possible by GABA alone. Besides the already mentioned effects both have in common, benzodiazepines have a broader spektrum of activity, e.g. as anxiolytics, tranquilizers and muscle relaxants, too.


This is the property, where barbiturates differ the most from benzodiazepines. Barbiturates have a very narrow therapeutic index, which means that the dosage, where these drugs exhibit the desired therapeutical effects are quite close to the the dosage, where toxic effects take over. Barbiturates were responsible for a high number of deaths, be it by accident or by suicidal intention, especially when combined with alcohol. Benzodiazepines in contrast have a very wide therapeutic index, making it almost impossible to die from benzo overdose alone. Combinations of alcohol, opioids etc. with benzodiazepines however can be very dangerous because the possibility of respiratory and heart failure become a high risk. Also, their use e.g. as sleep aid should be limited to no longer than a few weeks, because of the risk of addiction and dependency.

To conclude on barbiturates vs benzodiazepines , we can say because of their high therapeutic index and the few undesirable side effects , the benzodiazepines are a class of very valuable pharmaceuticals, which almost completely replaced the barbiturates, which were responsible for many deaths during the decades they were in use, due to their low therapeutic index. Today barbiturates are still used for euthanasia and other mercy killings.