Brevital is the brand name of the barbiturate methohexital. Several decades ago, barbiturates were the go-to medication for treating the symptoms of anxiety, insomnia, and epilepsy.
However, because they carried such a high risk of abuse and addiction, as well as a host of potentially dangerous side effects, barbiturates like Brevital largely fell out of use around the 1980s. They were replaced by benzodiazepines.
Today, Brevital is largely restricted to in-hospital use as an intravenous anesthetic, although it can still be prescribed to patients outside of a clinical setting in the form of Brevital Sodium.
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While Brevital use is heavily monitored, people still manage to find a way to illicitly get ahold of it, often by buying it online. Because of this, people should not underestimate the potential danger of Brevital abuse and addiction.
Like most barbiturates, Brevital is a potent powerful depressant and, therefore, not only alarmingly easy to become dependent on very quickly but also to fatally overdose on before having the opportunity to progress to addiction.
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How Does Brevital Work?
Brevital, while it is chemically different from benzodiazepines, still works in a very similar way to create an excess of gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), a neurotransmitter naturally produced by the body that regulates feelings of fear, stress, and anxiety by inhibiting and blocking the nerve signal carrying these feelings through the central nervous system.
Brevital mimics the natural GABA and enters the brain to bind with what are known as GABA receptors. This stimulates them and activates the receptors into overproduction, creating a flood of GABA that causes intense feelings of sedation, which is what makes Brevital useful as a form of anesthesia.
What makes Brevital different from other barbiturates is that it is has a very short half-life, which means that its effects take hold extremely quickly and wear off nearly just as fast. Generally, people who are administered Brevital for anesthesia will feel its effects in under a minute and wake back up within about seven to 10 minutes.
The danger of this brief half-life is that someone abusing Brevital has an increased likelihood of overdosing by taking multiple doses or a huge dose to try and make the high last longer.
What Are the Signs of Brevital Addiction?
The actual difficulty involved in spotting the signs of Brevital abuse and addiction may surprise people. While it might appear obvious in hindsight, substance abuse, in general, can often go unnoticed if you are not actively looking for signs of it.
Even if you are the one misusing Brevital, you might not realize that you are progressing from misuse to abuse and dependence until the negative consequences of addiction become too serious to miss.
When someone regularly engages in Brevital abuse, there are noticeable side effects that can stand out as clues that someone is becoming increasingly dependent on the drug, including:
- Disrupted sleep patterns
- Ongoing breathing problems
- Impaired sexual performance
- Increased sensitivity to pain and sound
- Difficulty remembering things
- Frequent periods of confusion
- Kidney problems
- Increased susceptibility to bronchitis and pneumonia
Along with these side effects, when someone progresses from Brevital abuse to addiction, they also may exhibit abnormal behaviors consistent with substance use disorders and the loss of control over use that characterizes addiction.
As obtaining and using Brevital becomes the driving force in someone’s life, all other priorities will become secondary, whether they’re hobbies, relationships, or major responsibilities. Over time, the signs of Brevital addiction will become more obvious and overt, including:
- Taking Brevital more often/larger amounts
- Forging prescriptions or “doctor shopping”
- Using Brevital without a prescription
- Willingness to obtain Brevital illegally
- A significant decline in personal hygiene
- Noticeable problems at work or in school
- Increased tolerance to Brevital’s effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms
- Becoming isolated/withdrawn in favor of using Brevital
- Feeling unable to function normally without Brevital
- Hiding or lying about Brevital use
- Being unable to stop using Brevital successfully
If you recognize any of these signs in your own behavior or observed them in someone else, get help at a professional addiction treatment center as soon as possible. This can help to avoid further possible health complications and a potential overdose.
As a barbiturate, Brevital can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Once someone has reached a point where they use Brevital strictly to fight off withdrawal symptoms, they will no longer feel the euphoria. Instead, they will feel anxious and depressed. When the craving for Brevital is not met, withdrawal symptoms will appear. Without the proper care, withdrawal can be dangerous, and in some cases, fatal.
Brevital withdrawal can be unbearable and painful for someone who is addicted to the drug. Abrupt cessation or a reduced dosage will dictate the severity of these symptoms. Within one to three days of your last dose, you can expect to experience withdrawal symptoms. In some cases, seizures can be possible. For seven to 14 days, these symptoms can include:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Elevated heart rate
If the symptoms are not adequately treated, circulatory failure, hyperthermia, and death can occur. In some cases, withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, insomnia, and cognitive impairment, can last up to a year.
Someone going through an active Brevital addiction that wants to stop using must seek professional medical help. The safest and most effective way to start this process is in medical detoxification.
What Is Involved in Brevital Addiction Treatment?
Much like their fellow depressants, benzodiazepines, barbiturate withdrawal can be dangerous and unpredictable, with sometimes life-threatening symptoms. Because of this, starting Brevital addiction treatment with a medically supervised detox at a professional treatment center is critical.
Attempting to detox from Brevital alone creates unnecessary risks of not only relapse but also dangerous symptoms such as suicidal behavioral, delirium, hallucinations, and seizures. A Brevital detox should never be attempted without an experienced medical detox team to monitor the process carefully.
Once through the withdrawal phase, the next stage of Brevital addiction treatment is ongoing care in an addiction rehabilitation program. Failing to follow up detox with addiction therapy all but guarantees a relapse, sooner rather than later.
Depending on factors that will vary from person to person, such as the severity of someone’s addiction, their home environment, their health, and if they have a history of relapse, they may undergo treatment in either an inpatient or outpatient program.
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No matter which one they opt for, recovery treatment will provide clients with the tools needed to understand and effectively manage their Brevital addiction and maintain long-term sobriety.
This is done by using various treatments and therapies that will be tailored to the specific needs of each individual. Generally, they will include standards like addiction education, behavioral therapy, group counseling, medication-assisted treatment, and relapse prevention planning.
How Dangerous Is Brevital?
Even when taken as prescribed under the supervision of a physician, Brevital is still very dangerous. It has possible contraindications with dozens of other medications and often provokes extreme allergic reactions, such as:
- Skeletal muscle twitching
- Uncontrollable vomiting
- Severe rashes
It is almost too easy to accidentally overdose on Brevital, which can and often does carry fatal consequences resulting from complications brought on by overdose, which commonly includes:
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Brain damage
- Pulmonary edema (buildup of fluid in the lungs)
The signs and symptoms associated with a Brevital overdose include:
- Inability to remain conscious
- Shallow, slowed breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Slowed reflexes
- Bluish skin around the fingernails and lips
- Weak pulse
- Confusion or delirium
Unlike opioids and Narcan, there is no overdose reversal drug for barbiturates. Even if emergency services are contacted soon enough to avoid a fatal overdose, it is highly likely that the person in question will be left with serious, potentially permanent health problems.
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Brevital Abuse Statistics
- Despite being prescribed less often, roughly 300 tons of barbiturates, including Brevital, are produced annually in the U.S.
- According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), roughly 1 in 10 barbiturate-related overdoses are fatal, usually due to lung or heart complications.
- In the U.S. barbiturates like Brevital are classified as Schedule II, III, and IV depressants under the Controlled Substances Act.
Start Your Journey to Recovery Today
If you or someone you care about is suffering from an addiction to Brevital, it can feel hopeless or like quitting is impossible. But at The Palm Beach Institute, while we understand that quitting is never easy, it’s more than possible, and there is always hope.
We’ll work with you to create the treatment program that best fits your needs and be with you every step of the way for your recovery, from detox to ongoing care and beyond, providing the support, resources, and guidance to help you achieve lasting sobriety.
Allan, A. M., Zhang, X., & Baier, L. D. (2003, March). Barbiturate Tolerance: Effects on GABA-Operated Chloride Channel Function from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/000689939291583Z?via=ihub
Brevital (methohexital). (2017, July 14) from https://reference.medscape.com/drug/brevital-methohexital-343090
U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2017, September). Barbiturate Intoxication and Overdose from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/000951.htm
PDR Search. (n.d.). from https://www.pdr.net/drug-summary/Brevital-Sodium-methohexital-sodium-1769
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification