Amphetamines are a class of drug that act as central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. They increase levels of focus and awareness and boost heart rate, respiration, energy level, and other bodily activity. Amphetamines have many medical uses and are often used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s disease, and narcolepsy. Some of the well-known prescription amphetamines include Adderall, Ritalin, Evekeo, and Dexedrine. Some of the illicit ones are called methamphetamine, Molly, MDMA, or ecstasy.
Amphetamines can easily be abused. Users can take them to control appetite, enhance athletic performance, or improve cognitive function. Amphetamines produce a rush of energy and euphoria, so they are often misused as a party drug. In recent years amphetamine abuse has become common among high school and college students, who use them to improve focus, concentration, and mental energy.
Are Amphetamines Addictive?
Unfortunately, amphetamines are highly addictive. These drugs alter brain chemistry and may cause or worsen mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Amphetamines stimulate the release of endorphins (dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin) — the “feel good” neurotransmitters — to cause feelings of euphoria and pleasure. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to the chemical “high,” creating physical dependency. Prescription amphetamines also increase dopamine levels, but not as greatly as the illicit versions. Prescribed amphetamines are associated with less risk for addiction, but the risk is still present. Withdrawal occurs if the user stops taking amphetamines.
Amphetamines are classified as Schedule II substances, which indicates that they carry a high potential for abuse, and are considered dangerous when used without medical supervision. Physically, amphetamines come as pills that can also be crushed and snorted, or dissolved in water and injected, causing an almost immediate high. Often they are combined with other drugs.
Symptoms of Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction
Amphetamine abuse symptoms are more far-reaching than many people may realize, and the signs are both physical and psychological.
One major red flag is the presence of paraphernalia for snorting or smoking including straws, pen casings, or rolled-up dollar bills and mirrors, soda cans, spoons with burn marks, glass pipes, or tin foil with powdery or yellowish residue on them. Those around the abuser may notice higher than normal energy levels, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss, trembling, excessive sweating, repetitive motions (toe tapping, jaw clenching, etc.), frequent nosebleeds (from snorting), needle marks, or burned fingers or lips from smoking.
Friends and family may also notice intense sustained focus, rapid-fire speech, sudden mood swings, bursts of energy followed by “crashes,” erratic behavior, evasiveness, loss of interest, an inability to maintain current relationships, financial difficulties (resulting from the misuse of finances to buy amphetamines), or depression.
Physical symptoms of amphetamine abuse often include racing heartbeat, increased respiration rate, elevated body temperature, dehydration, enlarged pupils, insomnia, muscle tension, or vertigo/dizziness.
Psychological symptoms that indicate potential amphetamine abuse can include increased motivation or drive, increased confidence and sociability, anxiety, restlessness, agitation, racing thoughts, altered sex drive/libido, irritability / aggressive behavior, paranoia, or depression.
Breaking an amphetamine addiction brings on several uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms during detox, including fatigue, inability to concentrate, depression, irritability, mood swings, anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure), apathy, reduced motor activity, altered sleep patterns, intense dreams or nightmares, increased appetite, and weight gain, or suicidal thoughts.
Short and Long-Term Side Effects of Amphetamine Abuse
Amphetamine side effects are dependent on the specific type that is used, as is the risk of addiction. Side effects that can occur with even short-term amphetamine use include palpitations, tremors, dilated pupils, fatigue, decreased cognitive function, psychosis, neurotoxicity (death of brain cells), electrolyte imbalances, confusion, hostility/aggression, suicidal behavior, or increased risk of stroke or heart attack.
Chronic, long-term amphetamine abuse has been linked to serious medical complications. Long-term effects of abuse may include vitamin deficiencies, malnutrition, high blood pressure, heart disease, liver disease or failure, stroke, reduced brain tissue volume, damage to the brain’s dopamine receptors, psychosis, behavioral disorders, or decreased cognitive ability. Chronic amphetamine use may also cause rhabdomyolysis — a condition resulting from an overactive metabolism that leads to kidney failure.
Amphetamine overdoses are extremely dangerous and can be deadly. Overdose risk is substantially increased when amphetamines are combined with other drugs or alcohol, and this accounts for most amphetamine-related overdose deaths.
Common signs of amphetamine overdose include elevated body temperature, nausea/vomiting, chest or abdominal pain, panic attacks, irregular breathing, slurred speech, rapid heartbeat, erratic behavior, uncharacteristic aggression, confusion, delirium or hallucinations, seizures or convulsions, unconsciousness, or bleeding in the brain. Untreated, an amphetamine overdose can be fatal.
Amphetamine Addiction Treatment
Treating amphetamine addiction is challenging because of the physical changes in brain structure that develop. The sometimes severe physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms are major obstacles, and relapse is not uncommon. Therapies proven effective in modifying responses to triggering events and overcoming addiction include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Motivational Interviewing, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, family counseling, addiction education, and peer support/12-step group programs.
Rising Phoenix Wellness Services is a licensed mental health and substance use disorder Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona. We created our addiction and mental health treatment program to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are embraced, not judged, throughout their recovery process.
We offer programming that is based on Integrity, Innovation, Confident Humility, and Mindful Leadership. Our Mission is to help people recognize the unique value of their life and improve their overall health and wellness.