What Is Nembutal, and How Is It Abused?

Nembutal is a prescription sedative that has medical value but is dangerous when misused. This article will discuss Nembutal misuse, addiction, and treatment.

What is Nembutal?

Nembutal (pentobarbital) belongs to the class of drugs known as barbiturates.

Barbiturates are central nervous system depressant drugs that are often referred to as sedative-hypnotic drugs because, at low doses, they help to initiate sleep (sedative effects), and at higher doses, they can treat issues with anxiety (hypnotic effects).

The major uses of Nembutal are:

  • For short-term treatment for insomnia (most often used to help people fall asleep but not as useful in helping people stay asleep).
  • Treatment of anxiety.
  • As an anticonvulsant in emergency situations.
  • As a pre-anesthetic for surgery.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies Nembutal as a Schedule II controlled substance, recognizing that the drug has some important medical uses but is also a major candidate for the development of misuse and physical dependence.

Nembutal Misuse

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) estimates for 2015, only about 452,000 individuals over the age of 12 in the United States used barbiturate drugs, and an estimated 46,000 of these individuals may have misused a barbiturate at least once.

SAMHSA also reports that barbiturates are most commonly used in hospital settings or clinics. When they are prescribed, barbiturates are more commonly prescribed to elderly people or women.

Nembutal misuse may include:

  • Using Nembutal to get high.
  • Using Nembutal in higher doses or in ways other than how they are intended (e.g., crushing and snorting pills).
  • Taking someone else’s Nembutal or buying it illegally.

Barbiturates are not normally the primary drug of use for individuals who misuse them. Instead, barbiturates and benzodiazepines are more commonly used in conjunction with other drugs.

The most common drug that is used with barbiturates is alcohol, although it is not uncommon for people to mix barbiturates with other barbiturates, benzodiazepines, narcotic pain medications, or nonprescription drugs including cannabis products. Because these drugs are often misused in conjunction with other drugs, the potential to develop very complicated issues with substance use disorders is increased.

Dangers of Nembutal Misuse

Effects and risks of Nembutal misuse may include:

  • Similar effects that occur with intoxication to alcohol, such as slow and slurred speech; problems with motor coordination; a shuffling or staggering gate; problems with balance; decreases in breathing rate, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature; slowed rate of thought; problems with reasoning and logic; aggression; sedation and lethargy; and unconsciousness and/or coma.
  • The development of physical dependence (experiencing withdrawal when quitting or reducing use).
  • The development of a sedative, hypnotic, or anxiolytic use disorder, a specific substance use disorder identified in the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – Fifth Edition (DSM-5).
  • Long-term effects that can include significant issues with one’s respiratory system (as a result of chronic respiratory suppression), cardiovascular system, and liver as well as and potential damage to the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord).
  • Damage to the brain that can result in cognitive problems, such as issues with attention, memory, and reasoning, or the development of long-term emotional issues, including depression, anxiety, and even psychosis.
  • Significant problems in one’s personal life, including issues at work, in school, with relationships, etc.
  • Fatal overdose.

Individuals under the influence of barbiturates often have the same issues with reasoning and functioning as individuals who are highly intoxicated from alcohol. This increases the risk for the person to become involved in accidents, to make poor decisions that can be potentially dangerous, and to engage in behaviors that are risky, such as having unprotected sex. Chronic misuse of Nembutal can lead to various dangerous events that can affect both physical and mental health in the long run.

Nembutal Overdose

An overdose of Nembutal can be fatal due to the drug’s ability to shut down areas of the brain that control breathing and heart rate. Individuals can fall into a coma and die, or they may survive but develop severe brain damage as a result of decreased oxygen to important areas of the brain.

Those who overdose on Nembutal often become very lethargic and confused, display significantly decreased breathing, and may become unconscious or comatose. Remember that Nembutal has been used to euthanize animals and even people. An overdose of Nembutal would have the same effects as the dose used for euthanasia.

When individuals mix central nervous system depressant drugs like barbiturates and benzodiazepines or barbiturates like Nembutal with alcohol, they are enhancing the suppressing effects of these drugs on the central nervous system. This makes overdose far more likely; hence, combining central nervous system depressant drugs is extremely dangerous.

Nembutal Withdrawal and Detox

The withdrawal syndrome from drugs like Nembutal can be very dangerous due to the potential development of dangerous symptoms. It consists of severe confusion, hallucinations (most often, visual), tremors, and the potential for seizures. The seizures that can occur as a result of barbiturate withdrawal can be fatal.

Individuals who have chronically misused Nembutal will need to be monitored by a physician and placed on a physician-assisted withdrawal management protocol. This typically involves the administration of a longer-acting barbiturate or benzodiazepine in a dose sufficient enough to control any withdrawal symptoms, and then slowly tapering down the dose periodically to allow the person to slowly become accustomed to functioning on lower doses of the drug without experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms. Eventually, once the dose is small enough, the drug can be totally discontinued.

Nembutal Addiction Treatment

Simply getting through the withdrawal period from Nembutal is rarely sufficient for maintaining sobriety. Long-term recovery typically requires addressing the psychological and social factors that contribute to someone’s addiction. Treatment can be performed in a variety of settings and usually incorporates a combination of behavioral therapy, peer support, psychoeducation, simultaneous treatment for any co-occurring disorders, and other interventions.

If you or a loved one is struggling with Nembutal addiction, please call to start addiction treatment or to learn about the various levels of care offered at Laguna Treatment Hospital, our Orange County, CA inpatient rehab. Admissions navigators can answer questions about using health insurance to cover rehab and other ways to pay for addiction treatment.

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