Amphetamine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant commonly prescribed for the treatment of ADD/ADHD or narcolepsy. Amphetamine abuse has become a significant challenge facing the United States. Prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, along with illicit amphetamines like methamphetamine, are highly addictive and potentially harmful when used recreationally. Understanding more about these drugs and how they work in the body can help one recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction, so individuals can better learn how to get help for themselves or others to treat this disorder.
What Is Amphetamine?
As noted, amphetamine is a potent stimulant, and its use results in a boost in brain activity, promoting feelings of increased energy, focus, confidence, sometimes even euphoria. Since amphetamine’s stimulating properties were identified in the 1930s, it has been used to treat a variety of conditions, including alcohol hangovers and weight loss. It was also employed to treat two disorders for which it is still prescribed today—hyperactivity in young people and narcolepsy, a condition in which an affected person will fall asleep abruptly.
Types of Amphetamine
Several prescription medications contain amphetamine or its two active components, including the following:
- Generic medications
Dexedrine is made from dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine. Dextroamphetamine is stronger than levoamphetamine and more potent than amphetamine is itself. Another common drug that is similar in structure and function to amphetamine but more powerful in effect is methamphetamine. This illicit stimulant induces intense euphoric effects, is highly addictive, and hazardous to manufacture and use.
Amphetamine is abused in a variety of ways. The pills can be taken orally, or they can be crushed and snorted to produce a faster, more intense high. Among the quickest ways to get high from amphetamine or methamphetamine is to dilute the powder in water and inject it into a vein. This method administers the drug into the bloodstream and brain almost immediately, creating a rapid and powerful “rush,” followed by feelings of high energy and hyperactivity.
High school and college students often abuse amphetamine as a study aid. Those who do believe that the increased energy and focus that result from using the drug can help them perform better academically. Studies have shown, however, that students who use amphetamines do not function better, and in fact, they often perform worse.
Nonetheless, the drug does make people feel as if they can concentrate more and do better regardless of the opposite being true. More significantly, this level of abuse can result in ever-increasing use of the drug due to the development of tolerance or chemical dependence.
Signs of Amphetamine Abuse
There are several signs that are ways of identifying amphetamine abuse, including physical and emotional symptoms and changes in behavior, such as the following:
- Increased heart rate and blood pressure
- Decreased appetite and weight loss
- Digestive problems
- Mood swings
- Paranoia and anxiety
- Visual, auditory, or tactile hallucinations
- Lack of attention to work, school, or home responsibilities
- A significant amount of time is spent obtaining or using the drug
- Using up pills from a prescription before the next is due
- Changes in social circle and difficulties with relationships
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities
In the case of meth, dental decay and other problems (also known as meth mouth), skin sores from itching/picking, and profound weight loss are obvious signs that the drug is being abused.
Because of the way amphetamine acts on the body, this drug can promote changes in the way the brain responds. In particular, it can significantly alter the brain’s pleasure and reward response, destroying key receptors and impairing the body’s ability to experience pleasure without the drug’s presence.
The destructive properties of these drugs can make those who abuse them feel depressed and even suicidal when they are not actively using them. The comedown or “crash” from amphetamine can also be particularly unpleasant. As a result, cravings to continue using the drug can be very strong, making it challenging to quit using.
Risks of Abusing Amphetamines
Along with its addictive potential, there are risks that occur when using amphetamine for non-medical purposes, including the following:
- Risk of injury related to dangerous activities
- Cardiovascular issues, including stroke, heart failure, and heart attack
- Extreme weight loss and malnutrition
- Sleep disturbances
As noted above, the structural and functional changes that can occur in the brain are among the most significant dangers of using these drugs. According to research, amphetamine use can destroy gray matter in the brain in addition to dopamine receptors, fundamentally changing the way the brain works, which can affect the person’s ability to quit using and avoid relapse.
Effects of Amphetamines on Health
There are other short- and long-term complications associated with amphetamine abuse that are related to the effects of these drugs on the brain and body, including the following:
- Accelerated heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- High body temperature
- Loss of muscle control
- Muscle spasms
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood swings
- Poor appetite
In the long-term, these symptoms are often intensified. High blood pressure can lead to damage to blood vessels and the heart, while elevated body temperature can cause damage to vital organs and tissues. Poor appetite can lead to unhealthy eating habits and, ultimately, malnutrition, which can also wreak havoc on the body and brain.
Regarding the abuse of meth, these problems can be even more exaggerated, resulting in severe dental disease due to poor diet and oral hygiene, as well as a lack of saliva, which can lead to major infections and tooth loss and decay. Also, using meth can cause skin damage related to hallucinations that insects are crawling under or on the skin, leading people to pick at sores that may not easily heal.
Other Drugs Used in Combination with Amphetamines
Many people who abuse amphetamines engage in polydrug use because of the belief that certain drugs can positively enhance the effects of each other. In particular, alcohol and marijuana are often used.
Unfortunately, combining amphetamines with depressants or other stimulants complicates the body’s ability to detox and recover from substance abuse. Fortunately, however, it is possible to effectively treat addiction to amphetamines or other stimulants, as well as the abuse of multiple substances that often occurs.
Getting Treatment for Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction
Addressing amphetamine abuse and addiction can be challenging due to the changes in brain structure that often occur with chronic, excessive use. The sometimes profound depression and loss of pleasure that follow when use of the drug is discontinued can be a significant obstacle to preventing relapse. However, various therapies that help people understand and alter their behaviors surround triggers related to drug use can contribute to the persons being able to stay on the path to recovery. These include the following:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy
- Individual and family counseling
- Substance abuse education
- 12-step group participation
- Experiential and holistic activities
- Aftercare planning
By enrolling in a research-based treatment program, those who have struggled with amphetamine addiction have an improved chance of moving forward in recovery and fostering a future free from the abuse of amphetamines and other substances.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer comprehensive, personalized programs in both partial hospitalization and inpatient formats. We are dedicated to providing those we treat with the tools, support, and education they need to recover fully from addiction and go on to live the happy, healthy lives they deserve! Contact us today and find out how we can help!