Understanding the components and pharmacodynamics of benzodiazepines and barbiturates is essential in knowing how they affect the body and their efficacy as prescription medications. It is also important to note the major difference between barbiturates and benzodiazepines, even though both have been used in the past to remedy similar health impediments. In comparing benzo vs. barbiturate, we seek to highlight certain advantages that one may have over the other as long term medications. 

Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines Definition

Benzodiazepines and barbiturates have been confused as the same; this is probably because both drugs are classified as sedative-hypnotics. However, they act differently. 

Barbiturates are commonly known as Central Nervous System (CNS) Depressants that are primarily administered in the treatment of epilepsy, seizures, anxiety, alcohol withdrawal symptoms, and used to aid sleep. Barbiturates are very potent and caused high rates of addiction and overdose in the 70s. The rate of physical dependency on barbiturates was and is still high. The use of the medication is limited to peculiar health issues and as anesthetics in hospitals in order to reduce the rate of abuse and addiction to the medication. Some popular barbiturates are Luminal (Phenobarbital), Seconal (Secobarbital), and Nembutal (pentobarbital). 

The Barbiturates vs. benzo comparison has been soft-pedaled, as the advantage mostly goes to benzo. Benzodiazepines are depressants and are one of the most prescribed medications worldwide. The drug is effective for seizures, anxiety disorders, alcohol withdrawal management, and serves as muscle relaxants and sleep aids. Benzodiazepines replaced barbiturates primarily because they were believed to be safer and have fewer chances of causing addiction. However, the potential for abuse is significant even as prescription medication. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classified both barbiturates and benzodiazepines as controlled substances under the law as both drugs have high potentials for abuse and addiction. Popular benzos include valium (diazepam), Klonopin (Clonazepam), Xanax (alprazolam), Ativan (lorazepam), and others.

Benzodiazepines Vs Barbiturates Mechanism of Action

How do both medications work? Barbiturates vs benzodiazepines mechanism of action is quite similar. The primary mechanism is the ability to facilitate GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), which is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. GABA impedes the activities of neurons in the CNS (Central Nervous System). When the activities of the CNS neurons are slowed down, it causes a sedative effect, a feeling of euphoria, and the relaxation of muscles. It also brings about a pleasurable feeling of wellbeing and “high,” which is the basis for the ever-increasing rate of abuse and addiction to both medications. 

Benzos react differently as they enhance the receptors of inhibitory neurotransmitters, which also results in mild sedation. Benzodiazepines have three levels of classification: short-acting forms, intermediate-acting forms, and long-acting forms. 

Barbiturate benzodiazepines are depressants and slow down brain functions, so it is dangerous to use these medications together with alcohol, which is also a CNS suppressant, the consequences could be severe, in some cases coma or death.  

Differences between Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines

What is the difference between benzodiazepines and barbiturates? The side effects of both drugs may differ slightly, and most importantly, the potential for addiction in barbiturates and benzodiazepines are poles apart. Addiction potential, toxicity, and potency are higher in barbiturates than benzos. One of the most notable differences in both drugs is that the lethal dose for benzodiazepine is 100 times the normal therapeutic dose, which makes it relatively safe, while the lethal dose for barbiturate is ten times its regular therapeutic dose.

Benzodiazepines are the new class of medications that have replaced the use of barbiturates with as much efficacy and lesser potential for abuse. The main uses of both medications also differ as one may be effective for a particular health issue while the other may not be useful towards the same condition. 

Barbiturates are largely useful as anticonvulsants, remedy for alcohol poisoning, headaches, and anesthetics, while benzodiazepines are particularly effective for muscular tension, alcohol dependency, depression, anxiety, seizures, panic attacks, insomnia, psychosis, and others. 

Similarities between Barbiturates and Benzodiazepines

Barbiturate vs. benzodiazepine similarities is firstly hinged in their properties as CNS depressants, sedative-hypnotics, and controlled substances. They are both often used to treat the same medical conditions, such as insomnia, seizures, and the likes. Some common side effects that both drugs share are nausea, vomiting, drowsiness, and more. 

Barbiturates vs. Benzodiazepines both create a feeling of euphoria and are addictive. In some cases, cross-tolerance can be developed, and both drugs also present with withdrawal symptoms if a person lowers their dosage or stops using the medication abruptly. Benzodiazepines vs. barbiturates should only be used on prescription or recommended by a physician.