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Amphetamine Addiction

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Amphetamines are prescription medications or illegal substances that are also known as stimulants, as they speed up your metabolism and increase your alertness. When legally prescribed, they are typically used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

People also use them for non-prescribed purposes, such as to get high or stay awake. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) explains that many amphetamines are Schedule II substances, meaning that there is a high potential for abuse.1

Learning about amphetamines can help you better understand what they are and if you or a loved one needs help for amphetamine misuse.

In this article, you will learn about:

  • Different types of amphetamines.
  • How amphetamines work.
  • What amphetamine addiction means.
  • Amphetamine addiction symptoms.
  • Amphetamine addiction effects.
  • Amphetamine addiction withdrawal symptoms.
  • How to seek amphetamine addiction treatment.

What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are central nervous system (CNS) stimulant drugs that affect brain activity in a way that can make a person feel more energized, alert, and focused.4, 5

People take these substances for various reasons—both legally and illegally. Doctors prescribe certain prescription amphetamines to help treat different health issues, such as ADHD, obesity, or narcolepsy, but some people may also misuse them to get high, stay awake, or improve their performance.2, 3 

When used as directed, amphetamines can be effective at treating conditions they are prescribed for and are considered safe. However, if people misuse these drugs, they can develop dependence and amphetamine addiction.4

Types of Amphetamines

Prescription amphetamines are medications that people can obtain with a prescription provided by a doctor. There are 3 types of prescription stimulants that are commonly misused:4

  • Dextroamphetamines (such as Dexedrine)
  • Dextromethylphenidate (such as Ritalin)
  • A combination of dextroamphetamines and amphetamines (such as Adderall)

Amphetamines that are commonly misused have different street names. Commonly misused illegal amphetamines and their associated street names include:3

  • Amphetamine, known as gooey, louee, speed, uppers, or whiz.
  • Dextroamphetamine, which is a prescribed ADHD medication that is taken for unintended purposes. It can be referred to as dexies, kiddie-speed, pep pills, uppers, or black beauty when it is combined with amphetamine.
  • Methamphetamine, which, when in crystal solid form, is referred to as base, crystal,
    d-meth, fast, glass, ice, meth, speed, whiz, pure, or wax.
  • Methamphetamine, which, when in liquid form, is referred to as leopard’s blood, liquid red, ox blood, or red speed.

Illegal amphetamines are available in the following forms:

  • Liquid.
  • Pill.
  • Capsule.
  • Powder.
  • Paste.
  • Crystal.

People use them in different ways, such as:3

  • Swallowing the pills.
  • Dabbing powder or paste onto their gums.
  • Snorting the powder or ground up pills.
  • Injecting into their veins.
  • Smoking the substance.

How Do Amphetamines Work?

Amphetamines act on the brain to produce a stimulating effect throughout the rest of the body. The brain consists of nerve cells (neurons) that release chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Dopamine and norepinephrine are two neurotransmitters that have a similar chemical structure to amphetamines. Amphetamine use enhances the effects of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.4

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is often referred to as the reward chemical because the body naturally releases it in response to pleasurable experiences.3 When dopamine is released, these euphoric feelings reinforce the pleasurable experiences, which can lead a person to want to repeat their experience, creating a reward circuit. Amphetamines play a huge role in this reward circuit, and when misused, this substance has a high addiction potential.3, 5

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the short-term effects of amphetamines can include:6

  • A high, or feelings of euphoria.
  • Rapid heart rate.
  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Rapid breathing rate.
  • Increased blood sugar.
  • Decreased blood flow to organs.

In addition to these effects, there is a risk of a severely high body temperature, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and seizures if you take high amounts of amphetamines.6

What is Amphetamine Addiction, Tolerance, and Dependence?

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic, relapsing disease that can occur due to continued use of a substance such as amphetamines.7 Addiction means that you keep using the substance despite knowing and experiencing the negative effects it has on your health and well-being. Addiction is an all-encompassing behavior that affects multiple aspects of your life and has physical effects on your brain and body. The specific clinical diagnosis that refers to amphetamine addiction is known as stimulant use disorder.5

Chronic amphetamine use can lead to tolerance or dependence, or both. Tolerance occurs over time when you need to take more of the substance to experience the same pleasurable effects.5

Dependence occurs when you are at risk of withdrawal symptoms, which occur when you stop taking the substance, or reduce usage. In other words, your body is physically adjusted to the substance and without it, you can experience withdrawal symptoms.12

Misusing amphetamines means that you are using a substance without a prescription, using it in an unintended way, or taking a medication that has been prescribed to someone else.4 Even if you get the medication from a doctor, you can still misuse it by taking it more often than prescribed or taking larger amounts than prescribed, but not everyone who misuses amphetamines will develop an addiction.

Many factors can influence addiction, including genetic factors, your environment, and whether you have other mental health disorders.7

Signs of Amphetamine Addiction

Identifying addiction isn’t always easy and it’s best to leave diagnosis to healthcare professionals. However, it can be helpful to know the diagnostic criteria if you think that you or someone you care about has an addiction to amphetamines.

The American Psychiatric Association has developed the diagnostic criteria for stimulant use disorder, which is outlined in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Stimulant use disorder also includes other stimulants such as cocaine.8

The DSM-5 criteria for stimulant use disorder includes:8

  • Taking amphetamines (or other stimulants) in higher or more frequent doses than you intended.
  • Being unable to control or cut down your stimulant use even if you want to.
  • Spending a lot of time obtaining, using, and recovering from the effects of stimulants.
  • Experiencing cravings or strong urges to use stimulants.
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at home, work, or school due to stimulant use.
  • Continuing to use stimulants despite having social or relationship problems that are caused or exacerbated by stimulant use.
  • Giving up social, occupational, or recreational activities due to stimulant use.
  • Using the substance in situations where it is physically dangerous to do so (such as while driving or operating machinery).
  • Continuing to use stimulants even though you have developed a psychological or physical problem that is probably caused by the drug.
  • Experiencing tolerance (needing more of the substance to achieve previous effects).
  • Withdrawal (unpleasant or uncomfortable symptoms that are experienced by a person addicted to amphetamines) when you stop using the drug.

Effects of Amphetamine Addiction

Amphetamine misuse and addiction can lead to several common brain and body effects. These effects are like those that occur due to cocaine use, but they have a slower onset and last longer.1

The effects of amphetamine addiction and misuse can include:1, 3, 9, 10

  • Hallucinations.
  • Memory loss.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Anger.
  • Aggressive or violent behavior.
  • Depression.
  • Risk of suicide.
  • Schizophrenia-like psychosis characterized by paranoia, picking at your skin, being preoccupied with your own thoughts, and hearing or seeing things that aren’t there (auditory or visual hallucinations).
  • Rapid or irregular heart rate.
  • Risk of HIV or other infections disease (if injected).
  • Insomnia.
  • Appetite loss.
  • Physical exhaustion.
  • Skin sores.
  • Tremors.
  • Tooth decay.

With long-term addiction, amphetamine overdose can be a serious risk, but you can also suffer from an overdose after your first use. This can be especially risky if you use a drug that is laced with fentanyl, a dangerous and potentially deadly synthetic opioid.10

In addition, many people suffer from co-occurring amphetamine and opiate addiction or amphetamine and alcohol addiction, which can increase the risk of overdose.10

Amphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms

Amphetamine withdrawal occurs when a person who is dependent on amphetamines suddenly stops or reduces their amphetamine use. This is because the body has grown accustomed to the presence of the drug, needs it to feel normal, and to function. As a result, a person may experience withdrawal symptoms when amphetamine is removed.12

Common withdrawal symptoms for amphetamines/stimulants include:9, 10

  • Depression.
  • Anxiety.
  • Cognitive problems.
  • Fatigue or loss of energy.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Confusion.
  • An inability to feel pleasure.
  • Impaired sexual functioning.
  • Cravings.

Amphetamine Addiction Treatment

Seeking amphetamine addiction rehab is an important step toward taking back control of your life and starting the process of recovery. It’s important to have an individualized treatment plan that is based on a proper assessment by addiction treatment professionals.14 This helps determine the appropriate level of care based on your needs and the severity of your addiction.

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment means that you live onsite at a residential rehab for the duration of treatment. This can involve varying levels of intensity depending on your needs. Residential rehabs provide 24/7 medical and psychological support and monitoring and can also attend to any co-occurring mental health conditions (such as depression or anxiety).13

Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient treatment can be a beneficial option for people who are unable to commit to an inpatient stay or who have less severe addictions. You live at home with a strong support system and commute to a treatment facility multiple days a week for counseling and other forms of therapy.

Outpatient programs vary in intensity, with the most intense being partial hospitalization programs that involve attending treatment 20 or more hours per week. The least intense program is standard outpatient care that may only require a few hours of treatment per week.13

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy is one of the most important components of inpatient and outpatient rehab for amphetamine addiction. Research has found behavioral therapy to be an effective approach to treat stimulant use disorder. You may receive different types of behavioral therapy, such as:10, 14

  • Motivational interviewing. This is an approach that is designed to help increase your motivation to make positive changes and stop using drugs. You work with a counselor to identify areas where you feel ambivalent about changing your habits, and you collaborate to create a plan designed to help you set goals and enter treatment.
  • Contingency management. This approach involves positive reinforcement. When you make positive behavioral changes (such as attending all treatment sessions or providing a negative urine test), you receive tangible goods or vouchers to exchange for specific items (like movie tickets).
  • Community reinforcement approach. This is a multidimensional approach commonly used in conjunction with contingency management. In addition to positive reinforcement, community reinforcement also involves analysis of your substance use, relationship counseling, vocational guidance, and job skills training.
  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This short-term, goal-oriented form of treatment is tailored to the individual and is designed to help you identify and change unhelpful or negative thoughts and behaviors. You work with a counselor to develop healthier or more functional ways of looking at and relating to yourself and the world around you.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an amphetamine addiction, American Addiction Centers (AAC) is here to help. Our AAC admissions navigators are available 24/7 at 1-888-744-0069 to help you find treatment, verify your insurance, and get started on the road to recovery.

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Kristen Fuller, MD, enjoys writing about evidence-based topics in the cutting-edge world of mental health and addiction medicine and contributes to medicine board education. Her passion lies in educating the public on the stigma associated with mental health. Dr. Fuller is also an outdoor activist, an avid photographer, and is the founder of an outdoor women's blog titled, GoldenStateofMinds. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, backpacking, skiing, camping, and paddle boarding with her dogs in Mammoth Lakes, California, where she calls home.
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