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Amytal is a popular brand name for the Barbiturate Derivative Amobarbital. Barbiturates are Sedative-Hypnotics used to treat sleep disorders or as Preanesthetic agents for surgeries in a medical or hospital setting. In smaller doses, Barbiturates can be used as Anticonvulsants. Amytal is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant that works in the brain by increasing the amount of a neurotransmitter called GABA, which calms the nerves, relaxes muscles, slows down the CNS, and induces sleep. At high doses, Amytal is also an Anesthetic. Amytal has also been controversially used as a “truth serum” in psychiatric interviews.
Between about 1930 and 1990, Barbiturates, including Amytal, Dexamyl, and Tuinal, were the most frequently abused drugs in the United States. Amytal was known on the streets as “Lilly 33s.” People were frequently becoming addicted to Barbiturates, and many died of overdoses. Some famous celebrities who died due to overdose on Barbiturates during this time include Jimi Hendrix and Marilyn Monroe.
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In the 1970s, a new family of Sedative Hypnotics called Benzodiazepines were introduced. They gradually began to take the place of Barbiturates due to their less-addictive properties and reduced risk of overdose. In the early 2000s, Amobarbital pills, including Tuinal and Dexamyl, among others, were removed from the market and made available legally only by injection.
Currently, the United States is the only country that continues to use Barbiturates medically. However, some medical professionals still administer Amytal because of its potency, effectiveness, and fast-acting properties. The most common legal dose is 15 to 50mg for sedation and 65 to 200mg for sleep. It is used only intravenously. The tablet form of Amytal has been banned by the FDA, although it may still be found on the streets. Street names for Amytal include Downers, Red, Redbirds, Blue Devils, Heavenly Blues, Blue Heaven, Bluebirds, and Blue Velvets.
Amobarbital is highly dangerous; if one were to increase the amount they use by only a few grains of the powder, they have a high risk of overdosing and dying. This is another reason it is no longer prescribed to patients outside of a medical setting. It has been reported that a fatal dose of Amytal can be between only two to six grams, although some have died from as little as one gram.
Barbiturate overdoses are frequently fatal. There are various factors that affect whether an individual will survive an overdose, such as if other drugs were co-administered with Amytal, how soon medical attention was received after the individual began overdosing, and individual factors, such as age, weight, and gender. Populations more at risk of fatal overdoses include elder adults and children. Pneumonia, pulmonary edema, heart failure, and failure of the kidneys can develop after an overdose from Amytal.
Amytal is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning it has medically designated purposes but runs a high risk of abuse and dependence. It is impossible to legally obtain a prescription for Amytal as it is no longer prescribed for personal use. If anyone obtains Amytal, it is considered illegal and a form of abuse. There are extremely harsh penalties under federal law for obtaining Amytal illegally.
Like many CNS Depressants, Amytal may be abused for its Sedative effects. Amytal induces an intoxicating “buzz” similar to that of alcohol when taken at unprescribed doses. At lower doses, Amytal causes reduced inhibitions, drowsiness, a false sense of confidence, and euphoria. At higher doses, the individual will appear intoxicated or drunk, with slurred, overly excited speech, reduced inhibitions, staggered walk, unsteady gait, and poor coordination.
Individuals who abuse alcohol commonly tend to abuse Barbiturates, such as Amytal, due to how similar the effects are and therefore should avoid this class of drugs at all costs. There have even been reports of alcoholics switching to Amytal in order to hide their alcoholic breath when out in public, as they achieve the same desired effects from Barbiturates that they do from alcohol.
Individuals that abuse Stimulants, such as Cocaine and Methamphetamine, frequently abuse Amytal or other Barbiturates in order to help them “come down” from states of hyper-stimulation and bring them to a resting and/or sleeping state. Amytal has also been used as a method to commit suicide due to its extreme potency.
Individuals who abuse Amytal either dilute the white powder into a liquid form (as physicians do) for intravenous use or snort the white powder.
Amytal was given to American soldiers fighting in World War II to treat ‘shell shock’ until officials realized the drug heavily impaired soldiers’ efficiency in battle.
Due to heavy federal regulation and the drug’s abnormal strength, using Amytal without a prescription or in a manner other than prescribed is considered abuse. Some signs of Amytal abuse include:
Though therapeutic in regulated and supervised doses, Amytal can easily cause overdose due to its potency. Amytal can depress brain function until the user “forgets” to breathe, triggering coma or even death. Combining Amytal with other CNS Depressants, like alcohol, increases the odds of overdose. Other dangerous side effects of heavy use of CNS Depressants include aspiration, whereby one vomits while they are sleeping and are unable to release it from the body due to a suppressed gag and cough reflex, thus causing one to choke on their own vomit. In addition to the danger of overdosing on Amytal, individuals also risk reduced inhibitions and impaired motor function. Many users report blacking out and engaging in risky behaviors, such as driving while intoxicated.
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An Amytal addiction can develop rapidly without the user even recognizing the problem. Over the last decade, doctors have become keenly aware of Amytal’s addictive power. As a result of severe federal regulation, doctor-supervised intravenous injection has become the only legal means of using Amytal.
If a friend or family member is using Amytal in any form outside of a doctor’s professional care, it may be time to say something.
Someone suffering from an Amytal addiction might “doctor shop,” or visit multiple physicians to acquire more of the drug. Others may try to get illicit Amytal pills from a street dealer. These users have probably developed a physical and psychological dependence on the drug over a period of continued use. Amytal actually alters the brain’s natural chemistry, resulting in the development of a tolerance (usually after it has been used regularly for 2 weeks or longer). Once a tolerance has developed, the user will need to take larger doses more frequently in order to achieve the same desired effect. With tolerance comes dependence. Dependence is when the user has to continue using Amytal in order to feel normal and avoid experiencing withdrawal symptoms.
Medical professionals and addiction specialists utilize the criteria outlined in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to assess whether an individual is suffering from a mild, moderate, or severe Substance Use Disorder (SUD). Learn how to recognize an addiction today.
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Barbiturates like Amytal are extremely risky to quit “cold turkey” because of the chemical changes they cause to the brain. Suddenly stopping Amytal use can shock the body with severe, life-threatening withdrawal symptoms depending on the length and intensity of use. Muscle pains, nausea, vomiting, anxiety, and mental confusion can arise in less drastic cases.
At their most pronounced level, Amytal withdrawal symptoms can include hallucinations, delirium, seizures, and even death.
1 in 10
Approximately 1 out of every 10 people who overdose on Barbiturates or Barbiturate mixtures will die.
Approximately 9 percent of high school students have abused Barbiturates in their lifetime.
Although Amytal addiction is less common than some other addictions, there are still many treatment options for overcoming it. Doctor-administered detox is the safest process of eliminating Amytal (and any other drugs that may be present) from a sufferer’s system and reducing negative side effects of withdrawal.
Recovering users fall back into cycles of abuse when they don’t allow themselves enough time to focus on recovery. Inpatient treatment programs provide an environment with fewer distractions and triggers that may lead to relapse.
Inpatient treatment is a type of treatment that offers 24-hour supervised care at a live-in facility. Both psychiatric and physical health assistance are included in this level of care. On average, clients will remain in inpatient treatment between 30 and 90 days. Before admission to this level of care, a substance abuse assessment must be completed to determine that the individual meets relevant criteria.
Inpatient treatment programs provide various benefits, including but not limited to:
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Outpatient treatment is an alternative option and can be very useful for those who must continue to work, attend school, or care for children. There are a a number of different outpatient treatment programs, each designed to meet specific needs. Usually, outpatient programs require participants to meet at least twice per week for at least a couple of hours each time. Some programs are more time and requirement-intensive than others. Outpatient treatment often involves group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, and specialized therapy, such as art or music therapy. Outpatient therapy is also frequently used and highly recommended as an aftercare or step-down program after completion of an inpatient treatment program. Outpatient treatment does not involve supervised medical care, although referrals are often available.
If you think that you or someone you know has an addiction to Amytal, seek help immediately to diagnose and treat it. After inpatient therapy, many recovering Amytal addicts find invaluable support through help groups and counseling; it’s important to continue building strong, healthy relationships with people who can help you stay clean.
Contact a treatment provider to discuss available treatment options today.
Jeffrey Juergens earned his Bachelor’s and Juris Doctor from the University of Florida. Jeffrey’s desire to help others led him to focus on economic and social development and policy making. After graduation, he decided to pursue his passion of writing and editing. Jeffrey’s mission is to educate and inform the public on addiction issues and help those in need of treatment find the best option for them.
Reviewed by Certified Addiction Professional
Theresa Parisi is a Certified Addiction Professional (CAP), Certified Behavioral Health Case Manager (CBHCM), and International Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor (ICADC) with over 12 years of experience in the addiction treatment field.
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