The Effects of Dexedrine Use
Dexedrine is a brand name for the prescription drug dextroamphetamine and is used to treat pediatric attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy in both children and adults. By increasing neural signaling via several neurotransmitter systems, Dexedrine stimulates the central nervous system (CNS) and boosts several physiologic processes, leading to 1,2,3:
- Heightened alertness.
- A subjective increase in energy.
- Vigilance and focused attention.
Dexedrine is similar to other brand-name dextroamphetamine-based drugs such as 2,3:
- Adderall (dextroamphetamine + amphetamine).
Though the effects may be similar, Dexedrine differs from some other commonly prescribed stimulant medications like Concerta and Ritalin as those are formulated with another drug called methylphenidate. Though different, both substances work as CNS stimulants and are prescribed for similar conditions 3.
Dexedrine is available in extended-release capsules and is prescribed in doses from 5 mg to 60 mg that may be given at once or in divided doses in the case of narcolepsy. For those 6 and older using the substance for ADHD, dosing starts at 5 mg, with subsequent increases as needed until symptoms are controlled (with 40 mg being the suggested maximum dose) 1.
Is It Harmful?
Although the substance has the ability to improve symptoms of ADHD and help manage narcolepsy, Dexedrine abuse can be very harmful to the user. In fact, its potential for harm is indicated by the drug’s status as a Schedule II controlled substance (as determined by the Drug Enforcement Administration), which means that while the drug has therapeutic benefits, it carries the risk of abuse 1.
Dexedrine’s powerful stimulant effects should be closely monitored, even when the substance is being used as prescribed. To be sure, the drug’s potential for harm increases dramatically when it is abused. As with other prescription drugs, Dexedrine can be abused by 3:
- Taking more of the substance than directed.
- Taking the drug more frequently than indicated.
- Taking the substance without a valid prescription.
- Taking the substance to get high.
- Using Dexedrine for a purpose other than intended by your prescription.
One specific way that people abuse Dexedrine is to use it as a focus and study enhancing drug, hoping that the improved focus it provides to people with ADHD will help them study more effectively and for longer periods of time. There is no evidence to support that abusing study drugs actually leads to improved academic performance 4:
Other groups of people willing to abuse Dexedrine include 5:
- Academic professionals.
Rates of abuse are high because of the perceived benefits as well as easy access to the substance. Due to desirability and accessibility, 3.1 million people in the U.S. reported using a stimulant like Dexedrine within the last month (according to a survey by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration).
The short-term effects of Dexedrine are achieved by the stimulant drug’s ability to interact with a group of neurotransmitters in the brain called monoamines, which includes 5:
- Dopamine: a pleasure-inducing transmitter that is related to movement, emotion, and motivation.
- Norepinephrine: a hormone and neurotransmitter associated with attention, focus, heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle response.
- Serotonin: a neurotransmitter linked to mood changes and regulation of the sleep/wake cycle.
With the combination of neurotransmitter influence, Dexedrine use can produce a range of effects in the short-term, such as 1,3,4:
- Higher alertness.
- Increased energy.
- Improved attention.
- Better decision-making skills.
- Increased self-esteem.
- More appropriate family and social interactions.
Those abusing the substance may wish to achieve the above effects but at an extreme level. For example, someone may abuse Dexedrine so that they can complete their work more quickly and efficiently without needing to stop for sleep. Other people will abuse it primarily for getting high since the substance can trigger a sense of euphoria with 7:
- Improved mood.
- Decreased stress.
- Feelings of inflated self-worth.
Similar to other substances, Dexedrine use and abuse carries many risks. Even when used as prescribed, the substance is associated with a number of unwanted side effects. These effects tend to increase in frequency and intensity as someone abuses the substance, especially at high doses. Some of the unwanted side effects are 1,2:
- Impaired movement.
- Increase blood pressure.
- Higher heart rate.
- Motor and verbal tics.
- Vision problems.
- Dry mouth.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Risk of seizure.
Additional effects of sudden death, stroke, and cardiac issues can be triggered in people with heart conditions. Because of this, someone’s cardiac health should be determined before they are prescribed Dexedrine 1.
The risk of side effects may increase when the substance is combined with antidepressants or over-the-counter cold medicines (e.g., decongestants containing pseudoephedrine). This mixture can cause very high blood pressure and dangerous changes in the heart rate 3.
Long-Term Effects of Abuse
Long-term Dexedrine abuse is associated with a wide range of ill effects to one’s physical and mental health. As use continues for longer periods or the substance is abused at higher levels, the risks increase.
The drug can give rise to several psychological issues, including 1:
- Manic symptoms like an inability to sleep, very high energy, and difficulty making good choices. These symptoms are related to bipolar disorder.
- Psychotic symptoms like hallucinations, delusional thinking, paranoia, and a disconnection from reality.
- Aggression in the form of physical violence or verbal outbursts against self or others.
Physically, Dexedrine may carry a link to long-term suppression of growth. Taking a stimulant medication consistently has been shown in some cases to slow the growth rate of the user. This can be seen by losing weight, failure to gain weight expectedly, and failure to grow taller. In some cases, Dexedrine can diminish appetite to a degree that extreme weight loss and malnutrition can occur 1.
Some of the more harmful effects of Dexedrine use and abuse are ones that you cannot easily see: accumulated tolerance, substance dependence, and addiction.
- Tolerance. People who take Dexedrine regularly will no longer feel the same benefit at the initial dose. This occurs as one develops a tolerance to the drug and the body begins to adapt to the higher levels of the neurotransmitters. To achieve the wanted results, the person using or abusing the substance will need to consume more of the substance or modify the frequency or route of use, which typically leads to tolerance 5.
- Dependence. Another common and expected effect of abuse—and even consistent use—is dependence. As the body adapts to the substance, it will become so accustomed to it that the body begins to require Dexedrine to feel normal and to perform at expected levels 5.
- Drug addiction. Even people prescribed and using Dexedrine appropriately can develop tolerance and dependence, but addiction is more commonly associated with abuse. Addiction is a powerful desire to get and use the substance despite the high probability of negative repercussions. The thought and behavioral changes of addiction are believed to be brought on by brain impairment that results from chronic drug abuse 5.
People addicted to Dexedrine may show symptoms by 8:
- Placing more importance on the drug than other priorities.
- Having fewer healthy relationships and increased isolation.
- Losing their job or drop out of school due to use.
- Finding themselves in legal or financial trouble.
- Having unexplained changes in mental or physical health.
- Showing a decline in self-care.
The development of physiologic dependence may be difficult to identify during active use, but the symptoms become clear when use ends or decreases because withdrawal symptoms emerge within hours or days after last use depending on factors such as dosing, frequency, and methods of use. Though these symptoms are seldom life-threating, withdrawal from stimulants will be uncomfortable and include 7:
- High frustration.
- Extreme paranoia.
- Dehydration and hunger.
- Fatigue and lack of energy.
- Changing need for sleep.
- Poor memory.
- Loss of interest and motivation.
- Drug-related dreams.
- Strong cravings for more Dexedrine.
Because the withdrawal profile associated with stimulants is rarely medically dangerous, many attempt to allow their body to process and remove the substance, which is called detoxification, without professional treatment. This might not always be advisable, however, since withdrawal-related depression can be severe in some cases
And though infrequent, the level of violence and aggression that arises during some individuals’ withdrawal can also precipitate dangerous results. With these risks, people withdrawing from Dexedrine may benefit from a period of inpatient detoxification to better manage these risks and ensure the safety of the individual 7.
There are no medications specifically designed for stimulant withdrawal treatment. Pharmacologic interventions are instead largely supportive and administered for symptomatic relief, as needed. In cases of significant associated depression, the use of antidepressants may be helpful during withdrawal. Treatment mainly focuses on behavioral therapies such as 7,9,10:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is a therapy style that places emphasis on the interconnectedness between thoughts, feelings, and behaviors to understand, predict, and prevent substance use.
- Communication-based family therapy engages the entire family and support system of the individual with the goal of identifying the role each person plays in both triggering and preventing use.
- Contingency management (CM)works to continually reinforce abstinence and activities associated with abstinence by providing rewards and prizes for drug-free urine tests, attending treatment, and participating in community events.
- Motivational interviewing (MI) places the focus on intrinsic motivation in lieu of external rewards to develop a greater desire to stay free from Dexedrine.
- The Matrix Model for Stimulant Abuse is a specialized program specifically for people addicted to stimulants. It incorporates aspects of the above therapies to better treat the individual.
Each of these treatment options can be performed in various settings from inpatient, outpatient, and others in between.
If this information leads you to believe that you or someone important to you has a problem with Dexedrine abuse, addiction, or dependence, treatment might be necessary. Consider calling 1-888-744-0069Who Answers? to speak to someone about treatment options to lessen the impact of Dexedrine abuse in your life.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2015). Dexedrine.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus. (2016). Dextroamphetamine.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2016). Prescription Stimulant Medications (Amphetamines).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drug Facts: Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Research Report Series: Misuse of Prescription Drugs.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Behavioral Health Trends in the United States: Results from the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2001). Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders: Quick Guide for Clinicians.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). What to Do If Your Adult Friend or Loved One Has a Problem with Drugs.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Drug Facts: Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of Drug AddictionTreatment: A Research-Based Guide.