Updated on April 23, 2024
6 min read

What is the Butalbital High Like, and Is It Addictive?

Key Takeaways

Tension headaches can be incredibly disruptive, making it difficult to focus or enjoy your day. While butalbital offers potential relief by relaxing muscles, easing anxiety, and promoting calmness, it's essential to be aware of its risks.

In some cases, people can develop a dependence on the medication's effects. To ensure safe and effective headache management, using butalbital responsibly and only as your doctor prescribes is crucial.

Is Butalbital Addictive?

Yes, it can be. As a Schedule III drug, butalbital has a high potential for addiction and physical dependence on the drug. Tolerance to this medication can occur in a relatively short period, leading to higher dosages and more potential for misuse.

As a barbiturate, butalbital lowers central nervous system (CNS) activity altogether to relieve tension headaches and sometimes address anxiety, insomnia, and seizures. This effect can feel pleasurable to some.

People tend to get hooked on this pleasurable feeling and try to replicate it, leading to butalbital misuse and addiction. For some, they develop a tolerance to the drug, requiring more of it to achieve that same feeling, leading to even further abuse.


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Signs of Butalbital Addiction

Misusing butalbital can lead to long-lasting health effects. It's important to recognize the potential signs of butalbital addiction in yourself or a loved one.

Some signs of butalbital addiction include:

  • Obtaining butalbital without a prescription or taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Using butalbital in ways not intended by a doctor (such as snorting or mixing with other substances)
  • Appearing frequently tired and intoxicated
  • Having difficulty with coordination and speech
  • Spending excessive time alone or becoming defensive when discussing medication use
  • Experiencing problems with memory, attention, irritability, or restlessness
  • Continuing to use butalbital despite negative consequences

A person with a butalbital addiction may mix it with other substances to maintain the initial high. Combining butalbital with alcohol can also increase the risk of respiratory depression and liver failure.

Long-term and consistent use of barbiturates can also lead to chronic symptoms, including:

  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Decreased function
  • Shifts in alertness

If you notice these signs or changes in your behavior or a loved one’s, get medical intervention immediately. Your doctor can help taper your use so you can avoid intense withdrawal symptoms and potential relapse.

What are the Symptoms of Butalbital Withdrawal?

Butalbital addiction is likely to cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when use is abruptly stopped. These withdrawal symptoms generally occur within two to four days of stopping butalbital use.

Withdrawal symptoms of butalbital include:

  • Seizures
  • Psychosis
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety

If severe withdrawal symptoms go untreated or are not quickly recognized, the following may occur:

  • Hypothermia
  • Failure of blood circulation
  • Death

It’s important to slowly taper your use rather than quitting cold turkey, as you may experience some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms. These can be harmful and even fatal as your body is still adjusting to the absence of the drug.

Remember to talk to your doctor about any attempts to stop using butalbital and if you’re adjusting well to the tapering. If you’re still experiencing extreme withdrawal, you may be put on an even slower tapering schedule to ensure your safety and prevent relapse or overdose.

Butalbital Overdose Symptoms

Barbiturate overdoses can occur easily due to how quickly a tolerance can develop. Some people experiencing opioid addiction will use butalbital to enhance the effects of whatever drug they are taking. This is dangerous because taking butalbital with other narcotics can lead to overdose or accidental death.

Symptoms of a barbiturate overdose, such as butalbital, include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Coma
  • Respiratory depression
  • Trouble breathing
  • Persistent nausea and vomiting
  • Severe dizziness
  • Slow or slurred speech
  • Staggering
  • Ringing in the ears

If you notice any of these signs in a loved one or anyone around you, call emergency medical services immediately. Let them know of the butalbital or any other drug use right away so they can address the overdose as soon as possible.

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What is Butalbital Used For?

Butalbital is used primarily in treating tension headaches, also known as stress headaches. When taken responsibly and in the correct dosage, they can alleviate the discomfort these headaches bring.

Butalbital shouldn’t be used for the treatment of migraine headaches. It’s a prescription drug that should only be used under the guidance of a licensed healthcare provider, as it has a high potential for addiction.

Side Effects of Butalbital

There are several side effects of butalbital, even if you don’t develop an addiction to it, including:

  • Decreases in reaction time
  • Loss of motor coordination or balance
  • Slower thinking
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Lethargy
  • Drowsiness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain and cramps
  • Shallow breathing or shortness of breath due to respiratory depression

Rare Side Effects of Butalbital

Rare side effects of butalbital include:

  • Allergic reaction and rash (skin reaction)
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dry mouth
  • Indigestion and heartburn
  • Tinnitus
  • Leg pain or leg cramps

Butalbital in breast milk can also cause poor feeding and vomiting in infants. If you are breastfeeding, it’s best to avoid using butalbital.

Treatment Options for Butalbital Abuse

Detoxing from butalbital or any harmful substance can be dangerous. Reach out to a healthcare professional for proper treatment.

Available treatment options for butalbital abuse include:

Treatment for addiction recovery isn’t shameful, so don’t feel embarrassed or guilty if you need to explore your options. These treatments should be viewed as ways to get back on track for yourself and your loved ones.

You are also highly encouraged to combine treatments to have several sources of support, encouragement, and healing. Any medical treatment combined with counseling and therapy can do wonders for your journey.

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How to Avoid Butalbital Dependency

Since butalbital is a drug that has a high potential for misuse, a few tips can help you prevent dependency. These include:

  • Only take the medication as prescribed by your healthcare provider
  • Educate yourself on the proper use of butalbital and its potential for dependence
  • Have regular check-ins with your healthcare provider to monitor your butalbital use
  • Store medications properly and securely to avoid misuse by others
  • Seek help immediately if you think you’re developing a dependency on butalbital
  • If you’re worried about addiction potential, discuss alternatives with your doctor

Non-Addictive Alternatives to Butalbital

If you’re concerned about developing an addiction to butalbital, talk to your doctor about these non-addictive alternatives:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers like Tylenol, Advil, or Aleve
  • Prescription non-opioid pain relievers like Ketorolac or prescription-grade Naproxen
  • Antidepressants

You can also make significant lifestyle changes to minimize the chances of dependency, like:

  • Regular exercise
  • A well-balanced diet
  • Getting good-quality sleep
  • Mindfulness
  • Proper stress management

Butalbital is a prescription drug that treats headaches. It’s usually combined with acetaminophen and caffeine for pain relief. While butalbital is an effective drug, it has a high potential for misuse. 

If you experience signs of abuse, we recommend that you seek help immediately. Numerous treatments are available to overcome butalbital abuse.

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Updated on April 23, 2024
6 sources cited
Updated on April 23, 2024
  1. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. “Butalbital, Acetaminophen, Caffeine, and Codeine Phosphate Capsules for Oral Use.” FDA. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2017/020232s041lbl.pdf

  2. National Library of Medicine. “Butalbital.” NLM. https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Butalbital

  3. National Institute of Health. “Harmful Drug Interactions.” NIH https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/Harmful_Interactions.pdf

  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “2013–2014 National Roadside Study of Alcohol and Drug Use by Drivers.” NHTSA https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/13013-nrs_drug_092917_v6_tag.pdf

  5. Drugs and Lactation Database (LactMed) [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine (US); 2006-. Butalbital. [Updated 2019 Jun 30]. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/sites/books/NBK501481/

  6. Silberstein, S D, and D C McCrory. “Butalbital in the treatment of headache: history, pharmacology, and efficacy.” Headache vol. 41,10 : 953-67. doi:10.1046/j.1526-4610.2001.01189.x, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/11903523/

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