Anxiety and sleeplessness are among the most common ailments that Americans face on an annual basis. And the problem isn’t new. Throughout the late 1800s and the 20th century, scientists and researchers have used psychoactive chemicals to treat and correct issues that are caused by an overactive nervous system.
Today, it’s estimated that nearly 19 percent of adults in the United States had an anxiety disorder in 2017, and 31 percent have experienced an anxiety disorder in their lifetime. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that as much as a third of adults in the country don’t get the recommended seven hours of sleep per night.
Prescription drugs like sodium amytal may be effective in facilitating sleep and anti-anxiety but, as with other barbiturates, the drug is notorious for its negative side effects. It can cause intoxication, loss of motor control, dependency, dangerous withdrawal, and life-threatening overdose.
The adverse effects of barbiturates like sodium amytal reached public consciousness in the 1960s, as benzodiazepines, a similar drug, were gaining popularity. Today, barbiturates have been all but completely replaced by benzodiazepines as a sleep and anxiety medication. Although, they may still be used as a sedative for minor medical procedures or to treat epilepsy.
However, they can be abused for their psychoactive effects which include euphoria and alcohol-like intoxication. If you or a loved one has used sodium amytal or another barbiturate, learn more about the signs, symptoms, and treatment options for sodium amytal addiction.
Sodium amytal, also called amobarbital, is a psychoactive substance in the barbiturate class of drugs that was frequently used in the first half of the 20th century. The prescription drug was used for its sedative and hypnotic effects to treat anxiety, epilepsy, and insomnia. For a short time, it also was used as a truth serum until its effectiveness for this off-label use lost credibility. Sodium amytal is in a broader category of drugs called central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which include benzodiazepines, other sleep aids, and alcohol.
CNS depressants work on the brain to suppress excitability in the central nervous system. In a therapeutic context, depressants can correct disorders that arise from overexcitability in the central nervous system such as anxiety, panic, and some sleep disorders. Sodium amytal produces sedative and hypnotic effects that can facilitate sleep and ease symptoms of anxiety. Barbiturates and other medicinal depressants are typically prescribed for short-term therapeutic use. Sodium amytal, along with other barbiturates are known for adverse effects, including chemical dependency, that can develop with long-term use.
Sodium amytal acts in the brain in a way that is fairly similar to other depressants. The substance is a GABA-ergic chemical, which means it primarily affects a naturally occurring chemical neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA, or gamma-Aminobutyric acid. GABA is an important chemical in the brain that is responsible for controlling excitability in the nervous system. When you are excited, angry, energized, or otherwise stimulated, it’s GABA’s function to calm you down when it’s time to rest and relax. In some cases, this process can be hindered, causing anxiety or sleeplessness.
Sodium amytal attaches to the GABA receptor and increases the efficiency of GABA in activating its receptor. In people who have an overactive nervous system, this can alleviate symptoms and calm your nerves.
However, sodium amytal can cause intoxication that’s similar to drunkenness. When abused or used for too long, your brain can become used to the drug and stop producing some of its own neurochemicals. To balance brain chemistry, it may even start producing excitatory chemicals to counteract the drug. Sodium amytal dependence and addiction is a potentially dangerous substance use problem that requires treatment to overcome.
If you or a loved one has used sodium amytal, it’s important to understand the signs and symptoms of dependence and addiction. As a barbiturate, sodium amytal has a high dependence liability. If the drug is used for more than short-term therapeutic use, it can be habit-forming. While addiction is a serious chronic disease, it may come with some warning signs that you may notice developing.
Tolerance is often the first sign that drug use is becoming a substance use disorder. Tolerance occurs when the brain and nervous system start to get used to the presence of the drug. This may feel like your normal dose is becoming less effective over time. If you increase the size of the dose or its frequency, it can lead to chemical dependence.
It can be dangerous to quit barbiturates abruptly because doing so can cause seizures or a potentially deadly condition called delirium tremens (DTs). If you believe you’ve become dependent, it’s important to speak to a doctor before quitting.
Finally, addiction is characterized by the continued use of substances despite the consequences. If you or a loved one has experienced medical or social consequences as a result of sodium amytal use, it may point to an addiction.
Treating sodium amytal addiction requires a process that’s tailored to the individual needs of the person seeking recovery. Addiction is complicated, and the nature of treatment will depend on a number of biological, psychological, and sociological factors. When you first enter a treatment program, you will go through an intake and assessment process that’s designed to determine your specific needs. You may sit down with a therapist and go through what is called a biopsychosocial assessment, which will explore your personal history with drug use, mental health, trauma, and anything else that might be relevant to treatment.
When CNS depressants like sodium amytal are involved, treatment will usually start with medical detox. Also called medically managed intensive inpatient services, detox is the highest level of care in addiction treatment. It involves 24 hours of medically managed service every day for about a week, depending on your needs. In detox, you will be treated with medications and care that is intended to alleviate uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and avoid dangerous medical complications.
After detox, clinicians will connect you to the next level of care that’s appropriate for your needs. Treatment after detox can include inpatient treatment or residential treatment if you need a higher level of care, intensive outpatient treatment, or outpatient treatment. In many cases, you may progress through multiple levels of care. As you advance through the treatment process, less intensive treatment may be applied.
Through treatment, you may go through a variety of therapies that are determined by your needs, with the help of your therapist. You may go through individual, group, and family therapy. You will most likely go through some type of behavioral therapy, which is designed to motivate success in treatment, provide incentives to remain abstinent, and increase coping skills to avoid relapse. Cognitive behavioral therapy is one of the more popular and commonly used options. It’s designed to help clients recognize triggers, develop positive coping skills, and form a relapse prevention plan.
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National Institute of Mental Health. (2017, November). Any Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/any-anxiety-disorder.shtml
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