Barbiturate drugs were initially created to battle the ailments that affect our society. Sleeplessness and anxiety are two major problems that we fight against, and medications for centuries have been sought to alleviate these issues. The clinical introduction of barbiturates began a century ago in 1904 when the Farbwerke Fr Bayer and Co brought it onto the market. It brought profound changes to the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders of the time. A large number of individuals that previously had no outlet for their problems gained access to treatment and improved their prognosis. The more the effects were studied, it opened up the field of intravenous anesthesia, which played a role in anesthetic induction for minor operations. The drugs at the time were revolutionary but were still hugely misunderstood.
Throughout the 20th century, more than 2500 barbiturates were synthesized with 50 being employed clinically. The use was widespread, and many of which are still used today. One of those drugs, Amytal, has a long history itself but has been phased out of regular medical use because of its addictive properties. It was initially designed to treat symptoms consistent with anxiety or insomnia, but doctors soon caught on to its detrimental effects.
Amytal was prescribed to soldiers in World War II to treat a disorder resulting from war known as “shell shock.” The soldiers became too impaired to function appropriately, and use was eradicated upon this discovery.
While barbiturate use is rarer than it used to be, there are still 12 barbiturates that remain in use by physicians with Amytal as one of them. Amytal is restricted solely for use in a hospital setting as a sedative before surgery. There are many dangers attributed to Amytal use when it is not monitored, and it should only be used under the supervision of trained medical staff. There are no circumstances where Amytal is used as a prescription, but its prevalence remains on the black market. Amytal withdrawal is among the most dangerous of all drugs, and it shares similarities to drugs like alcohol or benzodiazepines during with withdrawal phase.
Amytal works in a fashion that resembles other barbiturates and depressant drugs like benzodiazepines. When it enters into the brain, it binds with receptors of the neurotransmitter gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA). GABA chemicals are naturally produced with the purpose of slowing down activity in the central nervous system (CNS). The objective of Amytal is to relax muscles, calm nerves, relieve stress, and reduce anxiety. It inhibits nerve impulses that cause these feelings that cannot reach the brain.
When Amytal enters into the system, it mimics naturally occuring GABA by binding to the receptors and induces anxiolytic feelings. It stimulates these receptors into overproducing the chemical and flooding the brain and nervous system with excessive amounts. Prolonged use of Amytal, however, can result in a dependence that leads to addiction. Those who attempt to stop using Amytal can experience uncomfortable and dangerous withdrawal symptoms because of how it affects our GABA receptors.
Amytal withdrawal as mentioned above can be extremely dangerous and should never be attempted alone. Death is a possible side effect of barbiturate withdrawal due to the brain’s inability to produce GABA on its own. An estimated 75 percent of individuals who withdraw from barbiturate drugs like Amytal suffer seizures and another 66 percent experience delirium tremens (DTs) that can last several days. For this reason alone, surrounding yourself with medical professionals during detox is crucial.
Some other common Amytal withdrawal symptoms include:
Each person will have a different experience when it comes to withdrawing from Amytal. It is typical for this to occur for each drug as each person shares a unique set of characteristics. There are some factors to take into consideration to determine the severity of the Amytal withdrawals. These factors include:
Amytal withdrawal symptoms will typically resolve themselves after about two weeks; however, lingering symptoms may occur that include cravings, depression, insomnia, and anxiety. These can persist up to six months to a year or more, and it is known as post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). If you experience these symptoms, you must contact a medical professional to discuss your options.
The initial symptoms a person suffering from an Amytal withdrawal will experience an increase in pulse rate, nausea, vomiting, insomnia, and severe mood swings. By day three, the symptoms will reach their peak. Some may intensify at this point, and the feeling of anxiety, fatigue, excessive sweating, and delirium could be present by this point. During this span is the highest risk of experiencing seizures, and being in the presence of medical professionals is imperative.
Once someone nears day five, the psychological and physical symptoms will begin decreasing in intensity. The emotional symptoms such as sadness or anxiety could remain, and cravings could still be present but less intense. Other symptoms could potentially linger, but they will not be as strong and include difficulty sleeping, mood swings, fatigue, and irritability.
After abstaining from Amytal for a week, the symptoms will begin to subside, and normalcy will begin to return in the individual’s life. Emotional symptoms could continue for the next couple of weeks, but the body will start to stabilize.
Based on the potential of death, committing yourself to medical detoxification will give the best possible outcome. If you are serious about abstaining from Amytal, you must go about it in a way that preserves your health. Detox will allow the transition into sobriety to take place under the supervision of medical professionals who can react to any medical complication.
The process will last anywhere from three-to-seven days and will depend on the severity of the addiction. The staff will also provide medications to cope with the uncomfortable symptoms and could place you on a tapering schedule that helps minimize the withdrawal dangers.
Medical detoxification is just a step in the spectrum of treatment. While you will be given an environment to abstain from Amytal, you will not understand the root of your behaviors and what led you to use barbiturates in the first place. To understand what drove this behavior forward, committing to a residential or outpatient treatment facility will be the best choice you can make. You will attend therapy sessions that help you learn how to cope with triggers, determine the reason why you started using, and provide you with useful tools that can be used outside of treatment. If someone is serious about long-term abstinence, their best option will be to attend the full continuum of care.
If you or a loved one is struggling with an Amytal addiction, it is imperative that you reach out for help immediately. At Serenity at Summit, we understand that quitting is never easy, but there’s always hope, and together, we can make an addiction-free life happen.