Amytal is a brand name for the barbiturate drug amobarbital, which is used for its sedative and anti-anxiety effects. It was first synthesized in Germany in 1923 and would be used by the United States armed forces during World War II to treat PTSD (then called shell shock). However, since it has powerful effects as a hypnotic, it proved to impair cognitive and physical ability of a soldier in battle.

It was approved and used to treat anxiety, epilepsy, and insomnia through the rest of the 20th century and became the standard sleep aid prescription before benzodiazepines surpassed them in the 1970s. But in the 30s and 40s, they were readily prescribed for insomnia. In Hollywood, studios would counteract amphetamine (used to help actors keep up with busy shooting schedules) with barbiturates. Some, like Judy Garland, developed addictions after prolonged regular use, according to the PBS documentary Judy Garland: By Myself. Garland eventually overdosed on barbiturates in 1969.

However, it has a high potential for addiction, especially when abused. Plus, barbiturates take longer for the body to process for people over 65. The lingering chemical has a greater chance of causing adverse effects, especially dizziness leading to dangerous accidents in older people.


As a barbiturate, Amytal works to excite the central nervous system by acting as an agonist for certain receptors in the brain that produce sedative and anxiety-reducing effects. They also have shown to be effective anticonvulsants and may be used to treat seizures. However, barbiturates as a whole have fallen out of use because of their high dependence liability and adverse effects. When taken regularly they can cause dizziness, lightheadedness, drowsiness, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.

As a sleep aid, they are designed for short-term therapeutic use. When taken for longer than directed, users can come to depend on them in order to sleep, making sleep disorders worse. They have largely been replaced by benzodiazepines, which have similar effects with a slightly lower risk of dependence (though there is still a significant risk of benzodiazepine addiction).

Some barbiturates like phenobarbital and primidone are still used for their anticonvulsant properties. Amytal has been shown to increase benzodiazepine receptor binding and may be used where benzodiazepines have failed to promote sleep on their own. High doses of barbiturates are also used in lethal injections for death row inmates to facilitate a painless sedation before death.


If you use barbiturates like Amytal and are worried that you might be developing a dependence on the drug, there are a few signs and symptoms that may mean you have an addiction. Abuse increases your likelihood of feeling adverse effects like nausea, vomiting, headaches, anxiety, fever, and tremors. If you have been taking them to treat insomnia, you may notice more difficulty in falling asleep, requiring higher or more frequent doses to be effective.

Even if you haven’t had trouble with sleep in the past, your brain’s dependence on Amytal can cause you to need it to sleep. Otherwise, your central nervous system will not be properly regulated, causing anxiety and insomnia. A sure sign of Amytal addiction is the inability to reduce or stop Amytal use because of strong cravings or uncomfortable symptoms.

If you suspect that a loved one might be struggling with addiction, a few signs may be apparent to the people around a person in active addiction. Amytal addiction signs may include:

  • Social withdrawal or isolation
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Reckless or uninhibited behavior
  • Sedation or lethargy
  • Slurred speech
  • Confusion or mental fogginess
  • Financial problems
  • Sensitivity to sound and pain
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Shallow or slowed breathing

If you think you or a loved one is struggling with Amytal addiction, it’s important to seek medical help right away. Both Amytal overdose and withdrawal symptoms can be fatal. During an overdose, changes in blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing can lead to dangerous medical complications. Withdrawal symptoms can cause seizures or Delirium tremens which can be deadly in some cases.


The following is a breakdown of the stages of Amytal addiction treatment:


Since Amytal addiction involves physical dependence and potentially dangerous withdrawal, it’s important to start your road to recovery with safe medical detox. Central nervous system depressants like barbiturates and alcohol can cause insomnia, Delirium tremens, depression, and seizures. Medical professionals that specialize in addiction treatment can help alleviate uncomfortable symptoms, monitor, and respond to complications, and help ensure you don’t relapse.


After detox, you can dive into dealing with the roots of your addiction in a residential treatment program. The Amytal may be out of your system, but addiction is a chronic disease and its effects can linger in your brain until you learn to deal with them. Through behavioral therapies and other treatment options, clinicians can tailor a program to your specific needs, all while you stay at our secure and drug-free facility. By changing your behavior and mindset, you can learn how to avoid and deal with triggers that might otherwise lead to relapse.


Once residential treatment is completed, it’s important to continue to make recovery a priority. This is why many people choose to stay in outpatient treatment programs once they return home or move into a sober living center. Using the techniques you learn in treatment will help build the foundation for lasting recovery but staying connected to a community of peers and mentors can give you stability and accountability. Staying connected to community support groups, 12-step programs, or alumni programs can help you protect your sobriety for years to come.


Amytal, like other barbiturates (and nervous system depressants as a whole), can be deadly when abused. The most dangerous symptom of an Amytal overdose is respiratory depression. Coupled with a slowed heartbeat, an Amytal overdose can cause hypoxia or a lack of oxygen to the brain and body. Barbiturate abuse can also cause extreme confusion, dizziness, and sedation that can lead to an accident if used in dangerous settings.

Central nervous system depressants like alcohol, barbiturates, and benzodiazepines can cause dangerous symptoms during withdrawal. These compounds work to decrease excitability in the brain and body by increasing the production of certain neurotransmitters, such as GABA. When you abruptly stop Amytal use, your brain will no longer have the chemical help to create neurotransmitters that cause sedation and antianxiety. Symptoms like insomnia, anxiety, and tremors will come back, causing physical symptoms like seizures and Delirium tremens (which can be fatal) and psychological symptoms like anxiety, depression, and aggression.

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