What Are Amphetamines?
Amphetamines are classified as stimulants. They affect the central nervous
system by increasing certain types of brain activity. This gives the user
a feeling of higher energy, focus, and confidence.
Amphetamines can be prescribed by a doctor to treat health issues such as:
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
People do not usually become addicted to
prescription amphetamines when they are used at the right dosage for a valid medical condition.
Some of the most common prescription amphetamines include:
Adderall: Commonly prescribed to treat ADD/ADHD
Dexedrine: Usually prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy
Vyvanse: Prescribed to treat ADHD and binge-eating disorder
Although these medications are commonly available with a prescription,
amphetamines carry a significant risk for abuse.
Although over-the-counter (OTC) medications are commonly believed to be
harmless, OTC stimulants can lead to certain negative effects.
Amphetamines and other stimulants can often be found in the following OTC
- Appetite suppressants
- Nasal decongestants
- Bronchodilators (commonly used for asthma)
- Energy pills
These products contain the ingredients ephedrine, pseudoephedrine, caffeine,
and phenylpropanolamine (PPA). Toxic effects could result from overdose,
drug interactions, or diseases that increase the body’s sensitivity
to those ingredients.
The most important toxic effect of PPA is hypertension (high blood pressure).
Severe hypertension can happen at less than three times the recommended
dose. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine can also cause hypertension and an
increased heart rate. Toxic reactions from caffeine include hypotension
(low blood pressure), seizures, and increased heart rate.
How Do Amphetamines Affect Your Brain?
Your brain is made up of neurons (nerve cells) that talk to each other
by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters.
Amphetamines affect a group of key brain neurotransmitters (norepinephrine
and dopamine) associated with:
- Blood flow
- Motor control and motivation
Amphetamines increase the effects of these chemicals in the body and brain.
The related increase in the activity of these neurotransmitters can bring
on a feeling of euphoria and a rewarding feeling that motivates continued use.
Understanding Amphetamine Addiction
Addiction happens when someone uses amphetamines to get high or improve
performance in activities, school, or work. Misusing or abusing prescription
stimulants can also lead to addiction. Eventually, the person’s
body and mind become dependent on the drug, and they are unable to control
their amphetamine use. Addicts will find that they need amphetamines to
get through daily life. As the individual’s tolerance builds, they
will need more and more of the drug to get the same effect they had in
Below are five signs that you or someone you love may be addicted to amphetamines:
Off-Label Use: Off-label use means that you are using a prescription in a way that was
not prescribed by your medical provider. Swallowing amphetamine pills
can cause a mild high but crushing and snorting them gives a stronger
high more quickly. Some people dissolve the powder in water and inject
it. This method gets the drug into the bloodstream and the brain almost
immediately, increasing an intense high. A level of abuse this high can
lead to more severe use of the drug to get high.
Memory Loss: A 2020 study published in
Molecular Psychiatry found that long-term amphetamine abuse can impair short- and long-term memory.
Changes in Metabolism: Drugs that contain amphetamine, such as Adderall, can curb your appetite
and make your body burn up calories faster than normal. Abuse of these
medications can lead to weight changes as well.
Increased Anxiety and Insomnia: A study published in
Current Topics in Medicinal Chemistry in 2020 found that anxiety sensitivity was more common in amphetamine
users than people who don’t use amphetamines. This increased anxiety
can lead to insomnia. Because it speeds you up, amphetamine can cause
a jumpy, jittery appearance but between uses or when coming down from
it, the person may appear completely opposite because of drug withdrawal.
Changes in Close Relationships: The American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy has said that
substance abuse, including addiction to amphetamines, can have serious
negative consequences on personal relationships. If you have a substance
use disorder (SUD) you may find yourself missing important family or social
events. This can hurt those who count on your support. In addition, you
might also unintentionally cause people who trust you to enable your addiction.
Signs of Amphetamine Overdose
Amphetamine overdose symptoms generally occur in two phases.
First, the symptoms involve overstimulation of certain body functions, such as:
- Increased blood pressure and body temperature
- Restlessness and agitation
- Abnormal muscle contractions
- Extreme anxiety
- Blurred vision
This is followed in a few hours by a depressive phase. Symptoms include:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Muscle pain
- Nausea and vomiting
Death related to amphetamine overdose is relatively rare; however, the
rates of overdose deaths from amphetamines—such as Adderall (prescription),
methamphetamine (illicit), and Ecstasy (illicit)—have been increasing.
Without emergency medical care, the individual may experience a complication
related to an overdose, which could be fatal. Death from amphetamine overdose
is more likely when the person takes other drugs with the amphetamine.
People who have overdosed on amphetamines will need chemical and physical
restrictions to prevent harm to themselves or others, as people overdosing
on amphetamines can be hostile with severe paranoia.
Treating Amphetamine Addiction
Detox is considered the first step in treatment. For severe addictions,
detox in a medically monitored detox center may be required. Some withdrawal
symptoms can be intense, and medical support can help you get through
Following medical detox, patients should enter an inpatient or outpatient
addiction treatment program. These programs typically involve:
Addiction Counseling: Treatment programs use behavioral therapy techniques through psychotherapy
(talk therapy). The goal is to help you explore your feelings and behaviors
and how they relate to your amphetamine addiction. Common behavioral therapies include:
Group Counseling: Frequently, family members are included in therapy sessions to help address
the upheaval that addiction causes to the family members. Support from
family and friends can help a person in recovery avoid relapse. Common
psychotherapy approaches include:
Amphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms
When you try to stop using or cut back on amphetamine use, your body and
mind will experience withdrawal.
Some common symptoms of amphetamine withdrawal include:
- A strong craving for the drug
- Mood swings that go from feeling depressed to agitated and anxious
- Feeling tired all day
- Unable to concentrate
- Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations)
- Aches and pains
- Increased appetite
- Trouble sleeping
No medication has been found to be effective for the treatment of amphetamine
withdrawal or cravings. But medications that stabilize neurotransmission
(when the brain cells pass messages to one another) may relieve severe
Amphetamine Addiction Treatment Programs
After detox, you have technically recovered from the physical symptoms
of addiction. But that’s just the first step in your recovery. The
goal of detox is to prepare you for treatment.
There are several types of common treatment programs:
Residential Treatment: In residential programs, you live at the treatment facility and receive
around-the-clock medical supervision, free of distractions and triggers.
Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHPs): A
partial hospitalization program is an intense outpatient program. You will spend your days at the treatment
center but go home in the evenings. You will receive a high level of treatment
and supervision while at the treatment center.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOPs): Intensive outpatient programs offer a step down from the PHP. You will attend counseling sessions several
days a week at the center for several hours a day.
Outpatient Programs (OPs): Standard outpatient programs provide the same level of care as IOPs but with a lower time commitment.