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Amytal Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 18, 2019

Amytal, or Sodium amobarbital, is widely associated with its off-label use as a “truth serum.” While the drug proved useful in helping patients recall blocked or repressed memories and to coerce information from suspected criminals, it was discovered that within the altered state afforded by the drug, false memories could be induced.

What is Amytal?

Amobarbital is commonly sold under the brand name, Amytal. This barbiturate derived medication is considered a sedative and hypnotic, commonly used to treat sleep disorders. Amytal is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant and can be used as a pre-anesthetic for surgeries or as an anticonvulsant.

Amytal and other barbiturates were commonly prescribed in the 1970s. Today, many barbiturates have been mostly replaced by benzodiazepines, another CNS depressant thought to be safer than barbiturates. Amytal is one of the few barbiturates still being used because it is fast-acting and potent when used as prescribed.

How Does Amytal Work?

Acting as a CNS depressant, Amytal slows the function of the brain and nervous system. The dose of Amytal determines how this prescription medication effects the body.

Amytal is administered intravenously. Low doses of Amytal are prescribed to reduce stress, anxiety, seizures, sore muscles, or pain. Amytal has also been historically prescribed to treat insomnia and other sleep related issues. In high doses, amobarbital helps with sedation before surgery. Within seconds, the person begins to lose sensation in their body and consciousness as well.

This medication is also highly restricted. In fact, doctors usually avoid prescribing Amytal to patient’s who are not already taking a barbiturate. It is also illegal to prescribe Amytal to anyone who has a personal or family history of barbiturate addiction or without a thorough health examination to rule out kidney, liver, or lung disease, among other ailments.

Amytal also should not be taken with many other medications, as it can cause severe adverse reactions. These medications include insulin, vancomycin, morphine, and hydrocortisone, among many others.

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Amytal Statistics

  • Due to the high risk for abuse and addiction, Amytal is only legally available in liquid IV form, and only when administered by medical professionals under doctor supervision
  • Street names for Amytal include redbirds, reds, blue velvets, and downers
  • 500 mg Amytal daily can cause dependence
  • Historically, amobarbital has been used as a “truth serum” and also used to treat WWII soldiers with shell shock (now referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder-PTSD)

Amytal Abuse

The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Amytal as a schedule II drug, which means it has a high risk of abuse, dependence, and addiction. When a person abuses Amytal, it causes a level of intoxication similar to drinking alcohol, with increased euphoria and relaxation.

This drug takes effect very quickly, and causes intense feelings of relaxation. Lower doses of Amytal can make a person feel more talkative or social. Feelings of discomfort and pain are replaced with empathy and happiness.

When abused and taken in higher doses, a person becomes unable to function as they normally would. The body is overcome with euphoria and this feeling is what drives a person to continue to abuse Amytal, which can result in addiction.

These strong euphoric feelings last approximately 30 minutes, and as the person continues to come down, the feelings associated with the high are replaced with physical exhaustion and feeling emotionally drained. This can result in increased depression, anxiety, and fatigue.

In an attempt to avoid this cycle, and increase the euphoric feelings, a person may abuse Amytal by taking it more often or in higher doses, indicating abuse. Repeating this abuse can result in dependence or addiction in short amounts of time, sometimes less than a month.

Some warning signs that a person is abusing Amytal may be:

  • mental confusion
  • fever
  • anxiety
  • dizziness
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • insomnia
  • tremors
  • injection site wounds

Amytal Addiction Signs

Because Amytal use has become so restricted, it is a huge red flag if someone is taking Amytal outside of a doctors care. In addition, if a person has Amytal in pill form, they obtained it illegally, which is another warning sign for Amytal addiction.

Continued Amytal abuse can cause a dependence, and the body then needs Amytal in order to feel ‘normal’. The cravings that result can trigger additional addictive behaviors, including:

  • having multiple doctors to prescribe Amytal
  • lying about symptoms to get more amobarbital
  • spending excessive amounts of time using or finding Amytal
  • using other barbiturates when they cannot find more amobarbital
  • stealing or asking others for their barbiturate prescriptions

Amytal Overdose

One of the biggest concerns of Amytal abuse is that effective dosages vary person to person, and the variance between a therapeutic dose and an overdose are so small that a person can accidentally overdose without even realizing they’ve taken too much.

Overdosing on Amytal, or any barbiturate is extremely dangerous, because barbiturates poison the body. Barbiturate toxicity is irreversible, which can make overdosing on Amytal fatal.

When a person is prescribed barbiturates, like Amytal, knowing the signs and symptoms of an overdose can help save their life. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if a person taking barbiturates displays the following:

  • trouble breathing
  • decreased alertness
  • body temperature spikes
  • memory loss
  • extremely confused
  • irritability
  • unable to function overall

Amytal Treatment Options

It is not recommended that a person stop taking any barbiturate ‘cold-turkey’. It is suggested that Amytal addiction treatment should include medically supervised detox program in addition to substance abuse treatment. This will allow medical professionals to help decrease the number of barbiturates in the person’s system at a rate that will lessen withdrawal symptoms.

While in detox, a tentative treatment plan can be developed to help a person abstain from Amytal. Exploring many facets of addiction, and discovering one’s own personal struggle with substance abuse can help a person maintain sobriety once they’ve completed the program.

Amytal addiction can be dangerous and fatal, but finding comprehensive substance abuse treatment that includes detox and a complete aftercare regimen can be the right move to get you or your loved on back on track and out of harm’s way. Contact us today and let us help you find the treatment you need.

Medline Plus - Barbiturate intoxication and overdose

National Center for Biotechnology Information - Barbiturate Toxicity

National Libraries of Medicine - Amytal

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