Amytal is a brand name for a medication called amobarbital, which is a drug used for its sedative-hypnotic properties. Amytal is in a drug category called barbiturates, which were once widely used as anxiety and sleep disorder remedies in the United States. Amytal is also in a broader category of drugs called central nervous system depressants, which work to slow down the nervous system by decreasing excitability. Like most barbiturates, Amytal is no longer widely used in the U.S. to treat common disorders involving anxiety and sleep issues. However. It’s still approved to treat anxiety and insomnia. However, if it is used today, it will most likely be to treat epilepsy.
Though barbiturates were once popular, they were largely replaced by benzodiazepines, another depressant drug that has a safer side effects profile than barbiturates. Amytal works in the brain to suppress excitability by interacting with a natural chemical messenger called gamma-aminobutyric acid, or GABA for short. GABA binds to its receptors and slows down the nervous system, calming anxieties, decreasing alertness, and facilitating rest and sleep.
People with sleep disorders, anxiety, and epilepsy may have some biochemical or psychological problem that prevents GABA from effectively inducing a restful state. Amytal can bind to GABA receptors on a different binding site and increase the effectiveness of the natural chemical. This can lead to sedation, hypnosis, and anxiolysis (anti-anxiety).
However, it can also lead to several adverse effects, including intoxication that’s similar to alcohol with symptoms like a lack of coordination, drowsiness, loss of motor control, slurred speech, and dizziness. Amytal was also known to cause chemical dependence and addiction when the drug used consistently for too long. Once you’re dependent on Amytal, it can cause severe withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. In fact, Amytal can cause potentially life-threatening symptoms such as seizures and a condition called delirium tremens.
The symptoms you experience can depend on several factors, including the amount of time you’ve been dependent and whether or not you quit cold turkey. Most people experience common symptoms like anxiety, restlessness, and insomnia. Dependence can cause your body to produce more excitatory chemicals in order to counteract the drug and balance brain chemistry.
However, Amytal will continue to suppress excitability, especially if you increase the dose over time. Then, when you stop using suddenly, your nervous system becomes over-excited until your brain chemistry can adapt and rest.
Quitting cold turkey can cause more severe withdrawal symptoms, especially if you’ve gone through withdrawal before. A neurological phenomenon called kindling can cause more severe withdrawal symptoms with each subsequent depressant withdrawal. Other withdrawal symptoms can include:
Seizures and delirium tremens don’t happen to everyone who goes through Amytal withdrawal. However, when they do happen, they can be deadly. Seizures can come on suddenly, causing severe injuries, which are especially dangerous if you go through them on your own. Delirium tremens is marked by extreme confusion, panic, hyperthermia, elevated blood pressure, and a fast heart rate. Without treatment, delirium tremens can lead to heart-related complications and death.
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Your withdrawal timeline depends on a few factors that involve your personal history with the drug. If you’ve been taking it for a long time, you’re used to a large dose, or if your last dose was small, it can alter your withdrawal experience. However, it’s likely that your withdrawal timeline will look something like the following:
Medical detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment and involves 24-hour medically managed care. Not everyone who goes through addiction treatment will need to go through medical detox, but depressants like Amytal often need this medical treatment.
Since withdrawal symptoms can cause potentially life-threatening symptoms, it’s best to go through a medical detox program that can help you avoid seizures and delirium symptoms.
Detox can also help treat other medical complications and conditions you might be presenting with like heart conditions.
Medical detox is the safest way to go through Amytal withdrawal, but if you’re not sure if you need it or not, medical professionals can help you determine the right level of care for your needs.
If you don’t need medical detox, or if you complete it, you may go through another level of care next. After detox, the highest level of care is inpatient or residential treatment, which is reserved for people with high level medical of psychological needs. If you are able to live independently, you may go through intensive outpatient treatment or standard outpatient. Through addiction treatment, you will work through a treatment plan that’s personalized for your needs. It may involve individual, group, and family therapy, along with a myriad of other options.
If you or someone you know has been using a depressant like Amytal and might be struggling with a substance use disorder, it’s important to address the issue as soon as possible. Addiction is a serious, chronic disease that can get worse if it isn’t effectively addressed. Substance use disorders can start to affect different parts of your life, causing severe consequences like long-term health risks and strained relationships. However, addressing addiction early can help prevent some of these severe symptoms. No matter where you are in the disease of addiction, there is help available. Take your first steps toward recovery by learning more about addiction.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
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