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Amytal Addiction

Amytal is the prescription brand name of the barbiturate amobarbital. Like many barbiturates, it was once frequently used to treat the symptoms of anxiety disorders and insomnia. Amytal specifically gained notoriety for its off-label use as a “truth serum.” 

However, in light of the many dangers associated with barbiturate use, including severe adverse side effects as well as a high risk of abuse, addiction, and overdose, they are rarely prescribed today. In fact, according to the U.S Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), as of 2017, there are only 12 barbiturate substances in medical use in the United States, including Amytal. 

When Amytal is used, it is typically only in restricted hospital settings as a form of pre-surgery sedation. But Amytal and other barbiturate substances can be purchased illegally online and on the black market, which presents a significant threat, as it is extremely easy to overdose on Amytal, and regular abuse can lead to major organ damage and failure.   

How Does Amytal Work?

Amytal works the same way as other barbiturates and depressants in general, entering the brain to bind with the receptors of a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA is a chemical naturally produced by the brain that slows down activity in the central nervous system to relax muscles, calm nerves, and relieves stress and anxiety. It does this by inhibiting the nerve impulses that cause these feelings to where they cannot reach the brain.

Amytal enters the brain by mimicking natural GABA and binds to the receptors to activate and stimulate them into overproduction until the brain and nervous system are flooded with an excess amount of GABA. This is how Amytal creates such intense feelings of sedation and helps to induce sleep. 

What Are the Signs of Amytal Addiction?

Being able to identify the signs of a growing addiction to Amytal can be harder than one might think, especially if someone is still in the early stages of substance abuse. What looks like a clear and apparent pattern of abuse and erratic behavior in hindsight can be easily dismissed at the time as isolated signs. 

In the case of Amytal, even though it’s a barbiturate because it is a prescription medication, its misuse may not be recognized for what it is until it has progressed to complete dependence and addiction. 

Being able to catch an Amytal addiction early can mean the difference between life and death, which is what makes being able to spot these signs and identify an Amytal abuse problem so important. Some mental and physical side-effects associated with regular, long-term abuse of Amytal include:

  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired motor skills and coordination
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Recurring periods of confusion
  • Frequent, painful migraines
  • Chronic drowsiness
  • Hallucinations (although this is fairly rare)

Even someone who is abusing Amytal may not realize they are losing control of how much Amytal they use and how often until they have crossed the line into addiction, and become obsessive, compulsive users.

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At this point, they will generally begin exhibiting abnormal behavior consistent with a substance use disorder, prioritizing obtaining and using Amytal over hobbies, relationships, responsibilities, and even their own well-being. As the negative consequences associated with this behavior begin to pile up, the signs of Amytal addiction will become increasingly evident, including:

  • Increasing tolerance to Amytal’s effects 
  • Experiencing cravings and withdrawal symptoms when not using Amytal
  • Taking Amytal more often or in larger amounts than prescribed
  • Taking Amytal without a prescription
  • Forging prescriptions or attempting to get multiple Amytal prescriptions
  • Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn
  • Noticeable decline in performance at work or in school
  • Trying to hide or lie about Amytal use
  • Taking money or valuables to pay for Amytal
  • Feeling unable to function normally without Amytal use
  • Trying and failing to stop using Amytal 

If you have recognized these signs in the behavior of someone you care about or are experiencing them yourself, immediately take the necessary steps to get help from a professional addiction treatment center to decrease the risk of a potentially fatal overdose as well as any permanent physical or mental damage. 

What Is Involved in Amytal Addiction Treatment?

Effective Amytal addiction treatment should start with medical detoxification to remove every trace of Amytal and any associated substances from the body. This helps the recovering user achieve sobriety and physical and mental stabilization.

Amytal detox should never be attempted alone or without the supervision of an experienced medical detox team. Much like benzodiazepines, as a barbiturate, Amytal detox can be dangerously unpredictable with excruciating, possibly life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, including chest pains, hallucinations, seizures, suicidal behavior, and even total psychosis.

After the symptoms of Amytal withdrawal have passed and the process of detox has been completed, the next phase of Amytal addiction treatment is to move on to ongoing care in an addiction recovery treatment program. 

Detox must be followed by continued care in a treatment program to properly address the issues at the heart of someone’s addiction so that they may better understand them and learn how to manage their addictive behaviors in more positive and effective ways that will help them maintain long-term sobriety. 

Recovery treatment can take place in an inpatient or outpatient program. While there are different variations of these treatment types, the main difference is that inpatient treatment involves living on the premises of the treatment center throughout the program with 24/7 access to medical care, while in outpatient treatment, the client stays living at home and travels to the treatment center for regular appointments and therapy sessions.

The choice between inpatient and outpatient will vary based on the needs of a given individual, the severity of their addiction, whether or not they have a history of relapse, and if their home environment is conducive to addiction recovery. 

Whichever choice someone makes, they will then typically work with their therapist to design a treatment plan customized to what therapies and treatments will be most effective for them. Generally, a treatment plan will contain at least some of the following elements:

How Dangerous Is Amytal?

The whole reason Amytal and other barbiturates are very rarely prescribed today is because even using them as prescribed can still be extremely dangerous. Some of the serious health problems associated with long-term Amytal abuse includes major liver damage, dilated blood vessels, hemorrhagic blisters, and very low blood pressure.

It is more than possible to fatally overdose on Amytal, and if someone does not die specifically from the stoppage of breath caused by overdosing on a depressant, they are also at risk of dying from the multitude of potential complications resulting from an Amytal overdose.

Someone can overdose on Amytal within 15 minutes of taking it and will begin exhibiting overdose symptoms such as:

  • Confusion
  • Impaired coordination
  • Dangerously slow and shallow breathing
  • Hypothermia
  • Hypotension
  • Slowed reflexes
  • Unresponsive and drifting out of consciousness
  • Coma

It is also possible for an overdose to stop all electrical activity in the brain, causing what can look like the “flat line” that is usually associated with brain death. This can be reversible, however, provided the person is treated before experiencing severe brain damage from a lack of oxygen.

Even if someone experiencing an Amytal overdose is treated quickly enough to avoid death, there are still the many life-threatening, potentially permanent health complications that can result from an overdose, including:

  • Kidney failure
  • Brain damage
  • Arrhythmia
  • Pneumonia
  • Congestive heart failure
  •  Pulmonary edema

If someone is exhibiting symptoms of an Amytal overdose, it is critical the person receive emergency medical attention as soon as humanly possible to avoid not only dying but also the numerous possible health complications as well. 

Amytal Abuse Statistics

  • About 10% of all barbiturate-related overdoses are fatal, usually due to lung or heart complications. 
  • Amytal is one of the most commonly abused barbiturates in the U.S.
  • Even though barbiturates are much more rarely prescribed today, the U.S. still annually produces roughly 300 tons of barbiturates, including Amytal.
Many people

Sources Amytal Sodium. (March 22, 2019) from

Amytal Sodium: Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. (2017, June). from

U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. (2017, June). Drugs of Abuse: A DEA Resource Guide. from

U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017, September). Barbiturate Intoxication and Overdose. from

NIDA. (2019, October 18). Step by Step Guides to Finding Treatment for Drug Use Disorders. from

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