Amphetamines are a useful medication in treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, amphetamines are also an underestimated drug when it comes to abuse potential and addiction.
In 2013, these medications accounted for between 71,000 and 103,000 emergency room visits. Some people use amphetamines as a recreational drug to achieve feelings of excitement and euphoria. However, a large portion of amphetamine abuse is due to use on college campuses for its performance-enhancing effects. Stimulants allow students to pull all-nighters and focus on studies for long hours.
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Amphetamine abuse can have serious effects on your health and well-being. Learn more about amphetamine addiction, the signs and symptoms, and how it can be treated.
What Are Amphetamines?
Amphetamines are a category of central nervous system stimulant drugs that are used for medicinal and recreational purposes. They work by affecting certain “feel-good” chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. They often increase the release of dopamine or prevent it from being removed from the brain. Dopamine is a natural chemical messenger in the brain that serves a variety of functions related to reward, motivation, and alertness.
With high levels of dopamine binding to their respective receptors, amphetamine users will feel excited, alert, awake, and focused. Because of this, amphetamines are used to treat attention disorders like ADHD, and they’re sometimes used to treat narcolepsy. Amphetamine brands include Adderall, Vyvanse, and Dexedrine.
Amphetamines can also cause a range of side effects, including chemical dependency and addiction. When abused, these stimulants can cause an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, blurred vision, teeth grinding, nausea, anxiety, and insomnia.
Repeated use and high doses can lead to dependence, which is when your brain started to rely on the drug to maintain a chemical balance. Since dopamine is closely tied to reward, amphetamines can also affect the reward center of the brain, which can lead to addiction.
Amphetamines can also cause withdrawal if you become dependent. Withdrawal symptoms include extreme fatigue, depression, and the temporary inability to feel pleasure.
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What Are the Signs of Amphetamine Addiction?
Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease. That means, if it’s left unchecked, it can worsen over time. It has the potential to take over multiple aspects of your life, including your health, relationships, finances, and legal standing.
Addressing a substance use disorder early can help you to avoid dangerous and uncomfortable consequences of addiction like financial ruin or medical problems. If you or someone you know is using an amphetamine, it’s important to be aware of the signs of dependence and addiction.
If you’ve been using an amphetamine and you’re worried that you might be developing a substance use disorder, there are a few signs and symptoms that you should be aware of, including:
- Weight loss
- Using more than you intended
- Needing more or higher doses to achieve the same effects
- Taking more frequent doses
- Using to feel normal
- Using to self-medicate or to avoid feelings
- Uncomfortable symptoms when you stop using
If you are worried that a loved one may be struggling with an amphetamine addiction, there are a few signs and symptoms that you might be able to notice, including:
- Loss of interest in normal activities
- Poor performance at work or school
- Strange sleep patterns
- Poor hygiene
- Lying about drug use
- Hiding drugs
- Financial issues
- Legal issues
- A change in friend groups
What Is Involved in Amphetamine Addiction Treatment?
Amphetamine addiction may be a chronic disease, but it can be treated with the right therapies and professional assistance. When you first enter addiction treatment, you will go through an intake and assessment process that’s designed to identify your needs and the level of care that’s appropriate for you.
If you’ve become chemically dependent on amphetamines, you may begin treatment with medical detox. Amphetamine withdrawal isn’t as life-threatening as some other types of habit-forming drugs, but it can cause uncomfortable symptoms like extreme fatigue, agitation, sleep disturbances, anhedonia, depression, and suicidal thoughts.
Depression and thoughts of suicide can be dangerous. If you start to experience these symptoms, speak to a professional right away.
If you complete detox or if you don’t need detox, you may go through inpatient or residential treatment. This level of care is reserved for people with high-level medical or psychological needs and involves 24-hour medically monitored or clinically managed care.
When you’re ready to live on your own, you may move on to intensive outpatient treatment, which involves more than nine hours of treatment services each week. If you have high-level needs, you may also go through partial hospitalization, which involves more than 20 hours of treatment services each week.
As you progress, you may move into an outpatient program that involves fewer than nine hours of treatment per week. Through treatment, you may go through individual, group, and family therapy. You are also likely to go through behavioral therapies to increase your motivation, build self-efficacy, and form a relapse prevention strategy.
How Dangerous Are Amphetamines?
Amphetamines are often seen as safer than other drugs of potential abuse. They are commonly abused on college campuses to increase focus and boost academic performance. However, they can cause dangerous side effects after long-term use or in high doses. Stimulants often increase your blood pressure and heart rate.
During long-term use, this can put a strain on the heart and blood vessel walls. Hypertension can also cause blood vessel walls to thicken, which worsens hypertension and can eventually lead to a heart attack or a stroke. High doses can have other effects on the heart like tachycardia, irregular heartbeats, and other dangerous cardiac symptoms.
Amphetamines can also cause insomnia and an altered sleep schedule. Using the drug frequently and pushing your body to the limit without rest can cause psychological and physical health problems.
Finally, prolonged amphetamine use can decrease the amount of dopamine your body releases. This can result in a condition called anhedonia, which is when you’re not able to feel pleasure.
The drug may be the only way you feel pleasure and excitement, which can further dependence and addiction. It can also lead to severe depression. However, anhedonia is usually temporary and may go away after you stop using.
Amphetamine Abuse Statistics
- 45% of emergency room visits involved amphetamines in 2013.
- Students who attend highly selective colleges are twice as likely to abuse stimulants.
- Amphetamines are in the top 10 most abused prescriptions.
American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
Center for Behavioral Health Statistics. (2013, May). Drug Abuse Warning Network, 2011: National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits. from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/DAWN2k11ED/DAWN2k11ED/DAWN2k11ED.htm
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June 06). Prescription Stimulants. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
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