Brevital was once prescribed to treat the symptoms of insomnia and anxiety. It was commonly used in a hospital setting to help the patient fall asleep, but the drug was deemed too addictive, physically, and psychologically, to continue being used. Over the years, it has largely been replaced by benzodiazepine drugs, but it is still commonly used by those on the street.
Also known as methohexital, Brevital has been used for many decades. For the millions of people worldwide who take the barbiturate in smaller doses, Brevital is a perfectly safe and effective short-term solution to relieve pain and treat insomnia or seizures. In larger amounts, Brevital can slow the brain down to the point where the body no longer receives the messages needed to tell the respiratory system to keep on working.
Although their use has declined recently, experts continue to rank barbiturates as the fourth most addictive drug in substance abuse circles today. Most barbiturate overdoses involve a mixture with either alcohol or opioids.
Barbiturates like Brevital, the brand name for methohexital, became popular in the 1940s and 1950s when concerns about opium, morphine, and heroin consumed the American consciousness. If that sounds familiar, then the more recent worry should come as no surprise: the current opioid crisis may be positioning barbiturates to take center stage again.
Brevital is one of the few barbiturate drugs that remain in use today. While it is less popular than its counterpart phenobarbital, or pentobarbital, it can still cause the same amount of damage.
Brevital is known for being a short-acting barbiturate with a rapid onset. It belongs to a group of medications that have been otherwise banished in the medical community. Still, Brevital remains in existence. The drug was first synthesized in 1903, where the discovery of barbiturates was hailed for their ability to treat various ailments.
Barbiturates are used to treat specific conditions – long-acting barbiturates are used to treat epilepsy, while intermediate-acting barbiturates are used to treat insomnia. Short-acting barbiturates like Brevital, which lasts for two to six hours, are administered for surgical procedures.
For adults, Brevital is injected into a muscle or infused into a vein. It binds to a specific neurotransmitter, GABA, that is responsible for slowing down the central nervous system. It results in sedation. Brevital accomplishes the same effect as benzodiazepines despite its structural difference.
When used in large doses, it can produce mild euphoria and cause a lack of inhibition similar to alcohol. Unfortunately, someone who becomes dependent on the drug can develop withdrawal symptoms upon cessation.
Like other barbiturates, methohexital delivers its anesthetic qualities by binding to γ-aminobutyric acid A (GABAA) receptors throughout the central nervous system. Addicted users become dependent on these drugs while they disrupt pain messages to the brain. In doing so, they also block nerve cells that regulate mood. When neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, flood these blocked reward pathways, the body begins to experience euphoric feelings at the same time emotions of fear or stress are minimized.
Tolerance to barbiturates develops rather quickly as the brain adapts to repeated doses by shutting down the overloaded reward paths completely. At this point, people in active addiction no longer feel euphoric but just sad, anxious, and depressed instead. When the craving for more of the narcotic isn’t satisfied, Brevital withdrawal symptoms begin to surface. Without proper oversight, this type of withdrawal can be extremely dangerous and sometimes fatal.
Brevital withdrawal can be extremely uncomfortable and painful once a person who is addicted to the drug abruptly stops using it or reduces the dosage they are taking. Within one to three days of the last dose, the user can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms. In some instances, seizures are possible. For the next seven to 14 days, Brevital withdrawal symptoms may include:
If these symptoms are not identified and treated properly, hyperthermia, circulatory failure, and death may ensue. In some instances, withdrawal symptoms, such as insomnia, anxiety, depression, cognitive impairment, may persist for up to a year.
The timeline and stages of Brevital withdrawal are difficult to predict. Factors influencing the length of withdrawal include genetics and the frequency of use and dosage. However, to gauge a better understanding of what to expect, a typical timeline might include:
Stage 1 The first signs of withdrawal symptoms will surface anywhere within the first one to three days.
Stage 2 The most trying symptoms, such as anxiety, insomnia, sweating, and delirium, will peak after two to three days.
Stage 3 Some semblance of normalcy will resume after three days and will get stronger over the next two weeks.
Stage 4 After two weeks, physical symptoms should have subsided completely. However, psychological symptoms, such as cravings, depression, irritability, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping, may persist for longer periods.
Because Brevital dissolves easy and attaches to body fat deposits rather quickly, an individual who has abused the narcotic may carry symptoms for a longer time.
Without proper medical care, withdrawal symptoms can be a prelude to further health complications, such as dehydration, depression, seizures, and a return to using. The most common treatment is to taper off use. This may require hospitalization or detoxification at a certified residential treatment center. Here, a doctor may prescribe a longer-acting sedative, such as diazepam, buprenorphine, or naltrexone, to reduce levels of discomfort in the detoxification process.
The vicious cycle that comes with Brevital abuse does have a safe jumping-off point. It’s at a detoxification facility where doctors and certified medical professionals can manage the physical symptoms associated with Brevital withdrawal in a safe and peaceful environment.
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These facilities typically include hospitals or residential treatment centers, where medication can be prescribed to alleviate the discomfort from symptoms, and medical staff can prevent further complications by monitoring body temperature, pulse, breathing, and blood pressure. If you are serious about getting your life back in order, detox is a highly recommended first step on a path toward recovery.
The good news is you do not have to feel the way you did any longer. It’s up to you. The biggest danger to your recovery will be an urge to return to use. Following successful detox, any real chance at sustained sobriety and a life without Brevital and narcotics will require determination, commitment, and an extended stay at a residential treatment center.
Here, you will be fitted with a personalized recovery plan customized to meet your issues and unique circumstances. To strengthen your resistance to relapse and to start feeling good about yourself, you will also be exposed to group therapy, one-on-one counseling, educational lectures, and workshops as part of your recovery program.
National Institute on Drug Abuse: Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants
U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institute of Health. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10349206
United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Retrieved from https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/data-and-analysis/bulletin/bulletin_1964-01-01_1_page004.html
Olsen, R. W. (1999, January 1). GABA Receptor Physiology and Pharmacology. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK28090/
Sarrecchia, C., Sordillo, P., Conte, G., & Rocchi, G. (1998). Barbiturate withdrawal syndrome: a case associated with the abuse of a headache medication. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10349206