Amytal is the brand name for the prescription barbiturate amobarbital, which was once notorious for its off-label use as a type of “truth serum,” but is mainly prescribed for use as a pre-surgery sedative.
At one point, barbiturates were the drug of choice for treating the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety. However, they have since been replaced by benzodiazepines, due to the risk of abuse and addiction, and the frequently severe negative side effects and health problems caused by their properly prescribed use.
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Amytal is one of the few barbiturates still legally available for medical use in the U.S., so it is a prime target of abuse. It is very easy to overdose on, which can cause significant organ damage to the point of failure.
How Does Amytal Work?
While it is not a benzodiazepine, Amytal is a depressant, so it essentially uses the same means as benzos to slow down activity in the central nervous system and create strong feelings of sedation and intoxication.
It accomplishes this task by mimicking a chemical in the brain called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a neurotransmitter, and it helps inhibit nerve impulses that cause anxiety and stress. This acid blocks these impulses from reaching the brain, in order to relax muscles and calm nerves.
Amytal mimics the GABA produced by the body, so it can enter the brain and bind with “GABA receptors.” Afterward, Amytal activates them, which stimulates them over and over until there is an excess of GABA. This stimulation creates more intense feelings of sedation than the body would be able to produce on its own, which helps induce sleep.
What Are the Signs of Amytal Addiction?
It seems like it should be fairly easy to identify the signs of Amytal abuse and addiction, but the opposite is often the case. While there are many behaviors associated with both abuse and addiction, they usually don’t appear at the same time, so one or two isolated signs can be easily dismissed.
Even as a barbiturate, Amytal is a prescription medication, so even the person misusing it may not realize there’s a problem until they’ve progressed to dependence and addiction. Here are some common side effects consistent with long-term Amytal abuse:
- Slurred speech
- Impaired coordination
- Frequent drowsiness
- Noticeably altered sleep patterns
- Chronic migraines
- Hallucinations (although they’re less common)
When someone transitions from abuse to dependence and full-blown addiction, they’ll start losing control over and slide into compulsive drug-seeking behavior. At that point, they’ll begin exhibiting behaviors generally associated with substance use disorders. Obtaining and using Amytal will take priority over nearly everything else in their lives, despite the negative consequences that may happen as a result of this behavior.
Other signs of Amytal addiction include:
- Taking Amytal in larger doses or more often than prescribed
- Using Amytal without a prescription or trying to forge one
- Developing an increasing tolerance to Amytal’s effects
- Feeling cravings or withdrawal symptoms when not using Amytal
- Being unable to feel “normal” without using Amytal
- Hiding or lying about Amytal use
- Becoming socially isolated or withdrawn
- Exhibiting poor vocational or academic performance
- Allowing personal hygiene to significantly decline
- Overpaying for Amytal or giving away valuables in exchange for it
- Repeatedly trying to stop using Amytal but failing
Have you observed these signs in a family member or friend? Do you recognize them in your own behavior? If so, it’s vital that you take the steps needed to get help from a professional addiction treatment center as soon as you can, so you can avoid a potentially fatal overdose.
What Is Involved in Amytal Addiction Treatment?
Due to the many risks posed by both the remaining Amytal in someone’s system and the dangers associated with barbiturate withdrawal, it is imperative that you start Amytal addiction treatment with a supervised medical detox.
Medical detox involves flushing the alcohol, drugs, and associated toxins from your system, in order to treat acute intoxication and prevent any further physical and mental damage they may be causing.
Detoxing from Amytal should never be attempted alone (or without experienced professional medical intervention. Much like withdrawal from benzodiazepine, the withdrawal symptoms associated with Amytal can be uncomfortable, unpredictable, and sometimes even fatal. They can include hallucinations, chest pains, seizures, and even psychosis.
A medical detox professional can administer medications that ease the worst symptoms of Amytal withdrawal and manage any possible health complications that could arise during detox.
They could benefit more from living at a treatment facility and having 24/7 access to medical and therapeutic care, or they could have more effective support if they commute to treatment sessions while they’re still living at home. The decision will vary based on the needs of the individual in treatment. Either way, rehabilitation treatment is essential for avoiding relapse. While detox can get someone sober, it cannot keep them sober.
In a recovery treatment program, a person will be able to address the physical, psychological, medical, and social aspects of their Amytal addiction. Specifically, they can learn how to effectively manage their addictive behaviors and maintain long-term sobriety through various therapeutic tools, such as a customized treatment plan.
This plan may include some of the following common treatment modalities:
- EDMR therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Dialectical behavioral therapy
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Motivational interviewing
- Holistic therapy
- Addiction education classes
- Relapse prevention planning
- Group counseling
How Dangerous Is Amytal?
Barbiturates such as Amytal are rarely used today, and almost never as a first-line treatment. And there’s a very good reason why: Even using them as prescribed can be incredibly dangerous. Long-term abuse of Amytal can lead to hemorrhagic blisters, severe liver damage, and dilated blood vessels.
It is also very easy to fatally overdose by only taking Amytal, and it can even more rapidly occur when taken in conjunction with other depressants (such as opioids or alcohol). An Amytal overdose can occur within 15 minutes of use, which can include symptoms such as:
- Blue skin around fingernails or lips
- Dangerously shallow, slow breathing
- Impaired reflexes and coordination
- Drifting in and out of consciousness
- Slipping into a coma
An extreme Amytal overdose can also cause the appearance of brain death, due to a sudden stoppage of electrical activity in the brain. However, this outcome can be fully reversible, provided the person overdosing is treated soon enough to avoid permanent damage due to lack of oxygen.
Even if treated by emergency medical services, it is possible for someone who has overdosed on Amytal to die from the health complications caused by an overdose. These complications include:
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Pulmonary edema (an excess of fluid in the lungs)
Statistics about Amytal Abuse
- According to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), there are currently only 12 barbiturates that can still be legally prescribed for medical use.
- Amytal remains one of the most commonly abused barbiturates in the U.S.
- About 1 in 10 barbiturate-related overdoses is fatal, usually due to complications in the lung or heart that result from the impact of overdosing.
Start Your Recovery Journey Today
While barbiturates are not nearly as accessible as they once were, Amytal is still available and very dangerous. Is your loved one struggling with Amytal abuse or addiction? Are you? If so, it is important for you to treat it with the seriousness it requires, and get help before it’s too late.
At California Highlands Addiction Treatment, we offer the full continuum of care, so we can provide the resources, support, and specialized treatment you need to get you or your loved one back on your feet and on the path to lasting sobriety.
Amytal Sodium: Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. (2017, June). Retrieved from from https://www.rxlist.com/amytal-sodium-drug.htm
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2018, June). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide. Retrieved from from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2018-06/drug_of_abuse.pdf
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017, September). Barbiturate Intoxication and Overdose. Retrieved from from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000951.htm