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Barbiturates are central nervous system depressants with a high potential for abuse and addiction. 
For medical purposes they have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines which have fewer side effects and are safer, although benzodiazepines still have a very high potential for drug addiction and withdrawals can be long and difficult. 
Barbiturates may still be prescribed for epilepsy.  They are used as a recreational drug for their intoxicating effect – producing an effect very similar to alcohol.  Barbiturate overdose can be fatal.

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