Amytal is the brand name of the generic amobarbital. It is a barbiturate derivative, which is a depressant that is prescribed for anxiety, insomnia, and is also used as a sedation aid. Amytal works by altering function in the cerebellum, producing drowsiness and sedation. It also depresses motor functions and works to dull the sensory cortex. The effects of the drug last approximately 6-8 hours. Barbiturates originate from barbituric acid. These drugs suppress the central nervous system. Barbiturates work with the action of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) by binding to the GABA-receptor/chloride channel. This class of drug is often used as a secondary form of addiction. Alcoholics and opiate abusers, as well as amphetamine users are susceptible to Amytal abuse.

Street names that are familiar to users include names that are synonymous with barbituates as a whole. While color often refers to a certain barbiturate drug in pill form, the effects that run true with this classification of drug often influences the name:

  • Downers
  • Yellow jackets
  • Red Devils
  • Red Birds
  • Reds
  • Goofball

Amytal is used as an intramuscular injection and comes in powder form or can be lyophilized (freeze dried) for solution. In powder form it is an odorless, white, crystalline powder with a slightly bitter taste.

Drug Classification

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has classified Amytal as a Schedule II controlled substance. Substances found in schedule II have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence. Amytal is to be legally obtained and administered by prescription only.


First synthesized in Germany in 1923, Amobarbital (Amytal) was later used by the armed forces of the United States in World War II as a means to treat victims of Shell Shock until it was noted that patients were not more likely to return to the front after treatment. Sodium amobarbital developed a reputation, and was known for a period of time, as a “truth serum.” Subsequently, it was found that some patients were experiencing false memories, and the drug began to be used solely for its’ sedative qualities.

Effects of Use

  • Slowed heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fainting
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Agitation
  • Headache
  • Depression
  • Abnormal Dreams
  • Mental disturbances
  • Hallucinations
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting and constipation
  • Shortness of breath

The effects noted often present with heightened psychological responses that may cause prolonged deficits such as memory loss, mental disturbances and confusion.

Signs of abuse

Amytal and other barbituates present with readily noticeable signs and behaviors. However, Friends and family often attribute these behaviors to the conditions that caused the initiation of the prescribed medication, not realizing that the patient has consistently increased their dosage and intake due to increased tolerance. Secondary abuse can also occur due to misuse in conjunction with another primary drug of choice.

Immediately visible signs:

  • Drunken behavior
  • Slurred speech
  • Impaired breathing
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Mood swings

Dependence on Amytal arises from repeated dosing of the drug over a period of time and at increasingly higher levels of dosage. According to the FDA, the characteristics of dependence on Amytal include a strong desire to continue taking the drug, a tendency to increase dosage without professional medical consent, a mental dependence on the effects of the drug, and a physical dependence on the effects of the drug.

Withdrawal Symptoms include anxiety, elevated heart rate and blood pressure, muscle pain, and seizures. Withdrawal onset is 8-12 hours after last dosage. Symptoms of withdrawal can be severe and may cause death. Major withdrawal symptoms, such as convulsions and delirium, may occur within 16 hours of last dosage and can last up to 5 days. Symptom intensity gradually declines within 15 days.


Treatment for someone with an addiction to amytal involves slowly tapering them off of the medication over a prescribed period of time. It is imperative that properly supervised treatment is given as potentially fatal consequences can occur. Overdose, stroke, heart attack, coma, and respiratory failure are among the long-range effects and symptoms of severe withdrawal from Amytal. Phenobarbital is often used during treatment for withdrawal in order to manage symptoms. Successful treatment should also include counseling as the mental, emotional, and psychological effects of the drug are still pronounced, long after the addict stops using.

Amytal withdrawal can be successfully managed by a qualified treatment facility. If you, or someone you know, have a problem with addiction please seek help from our qualified treatment center. To locate a facility in your area that can provide the assistance you need, call 877-855-3470.

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