Overview of Amphetamine Use and Abuse
- Amphetamines such as Adderall or Vyvanse are prescribed for conditions such as ADHD, depression and narcolepsy.
- They are commonly abused for their short-term effects such as euphoria, increased alertness and weight loss.
- The drugs are addictive and can lead to a number of dangerous long-term effects such as kidney damage, depression, insomnia, muscle tissue damage and psychosis.
- Signs of addiction can include weight loss, cravings, malnutrition, continued use despite negative consequences and an increase in illegal or risky behavior.
- Symptoms of overdose include high fever, intense confusion, muscle weakness, cardiac arrest, respiratory distress and loss of consciousness.
What Is an Amphetamine?
Contact a treatment support specialist today at 1-888-319-2606
Helpline Information if you or a loved one has a problem with amphetamines.
Amphetamines are extremely addictive if used non-medically to increase wakefulness, boost performance, enhance weight loss or to get high. Abusing amphetamines can lead to chronic drug-seeking behavior to avoid withdrawal symptoms, which can include sleep disturbances, depression and fatigue.
How They Affect the Brain
Amphetamines increase the activity of neurotransmitter chemicals.
Amphetamines are stimulants. Like other stimulants, they increase the activity of certain neurotransmitter chemicals in the brain–namely, dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin. These neurotransmitters play a role in regulating attention, movement and feelings associated with pleasure and rewards.1 ,4
The doses of amphetamines that clinicians typically prescribe cause a slow and gradual increase of dopamine that mimics the way this neurotransmitter is normally activated in the brain.
However, when amphetamines are taken in excess of prescribed doses, or are snorted or injected, dopamine levels increase sharply. As a result, the abuser may experience a disruption of normal brain activity.
- Eye openers.
Amphetamine Addiction Treatment and Financing Options
Amphetamine addiction treatment options include:
- Outpatient rehabilitation centers. You live at home while going to a treatment facility a few days a week for a few hours at a time. This provides you with the freedom to fulfill your home, school, or work obligations while in recovery.
- Inpatient or residential rehabilitation centers. You live at the treatment center while going through a structured program that includes detox, group and individual therapy, and possibly 12-step meetings, depending on the treatment center. This options is best for people suffering from a severe addiction to amphetamines, as it allows them to escape their using environments and focus solely on recovery.
- 12-step programs. You gather with other people who are in recovery to share experiences and work with a sponsor through a series of 12 recovery steps.
- Dual diagnosis treatment facilities. You participate in an integrated treatment program that helps you recover from an addiction and co-occurring mental or physical health problems. It’s important that both conditions are treated accordingly or else the risk of relapse increases.
Once you have completed your initial treatment, your therapist will create an aftercare plan for you in which you receive ongoing treatment to help prevent relapse.
Finding the Best Rehab Center
Each type of treatment has its advantages and disadvantages. What works for one person may not work for another. That’s why it’s important that you conduct research on the different types of amphetamine treatment and assess your own personal needs.
You must decide whether you’d like to live at home or the treatment center, whether you’d like a spiritual experience or not, if you’d like to travel for rehab or stay close to home, among a number of other considerations.
Price and Paying for Amphetamine Treatment
The price of a treatment program will depend on a number of different factors, such as:
- The type of treatment, such as inpatient or outpatient.
- Whether you have insurance coverage or not.
- How much your insurance covers.
- The duration of the program, such as 30, 60, or 90-day.
- Location of the treatment.
- What kind of amenities it has.
There are many different financing options to pay for treatment. Below are just a few examples.
- Payment plan: Many rehab facilities understand how daunting paying for treatment can be which is why they work closely with you to create a plan in which you pay what you can afford.
- Crowdfunding: Using sites like IndieGoGo and GoFundMe can allow you to raise the money necessary to start your road to recovery.
- Use Personal Savings: Nothing is more important than your sobriety. If you don’t have the money to finance your recovery, consider using your personal savings to pay for treatment.
Learn more about insurance options below:
- If you have insurance. Call 1-888-319-2606
to get more information about your insurance coverage and your treatment options.
- If you do not have insurance. Contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s toll-free helpline to learn more about finding a rehab program without insurance.
How Are They Used?
Amphetamine pills are often used non-medically to boost attention, focus, wakefulness and performance as well as to suppress appetite to lose weight. 5 Students, in particular, may use amphetamines to help them study for long hours.
Crushing the pills into a powder and either snorting it or mixing it with water and then injecting it into the body can lead to the rapid onset of feelings of euphoria (getting high).
Risks of Snorting or Injecting
Alternate methods of abuse–such as the snorting or injecting of amphetamines–can greatly increase the risk of becoming addicted. Injecting the powder can be especially dangerous because clumps of powder that do not completely dissolve can become lodged inside of small blood vessels.5
Amphetamines are typically injected into the veins in the elbow pit. But they may also be injected into veins in the arms and neck.6 The veins in these regions may collapse and become inaccessible after years of drug abuse. The abuser may then resort to injecting into the spaces between the fingers and toes or even the groin.7
If this drug is taken in a pill form, the effects usually begin to be felt after about 30 minutes. Snorting and injecting bypass the intended first step of gastrointestinal absorption and, when used in this manner, only require a couple of minutes for the effects to be felt.
An amphetamine high can last from about 4 to 8 hours. Depending on how much of the drug is taken, the effects may persist for several days.
- Increased energy.
- Enhanced confidence and well-being.
- Improved focus, motivation and alertness.
- Weight loss.
Misuse of amphetamines can cause harmful side effects such as: 8
- Sleep disturbances.
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears).
- Rapid decrease of salt in the blood, which can harm bodily functions.
- Memory problems.
- Rambling speech.
- Increase in body temperature or heart rate.
- High blood pressure.
- Psychotic episodes.
- Palpitations and arrhythmias.
- Chest pain.
- Heart attack.
- Sudden death. 14
Chronic amphetamine abuse is associated with a number of long-term effects. Some of these may persist even after substance abuse treatment. They include: 9
- Impaired judgment.
- Social isolation.
- Intractable insomnia.
- Dystonias (involuntary muscle movement).
- Myalgias (muscle aches).
- Kidney damage or failure.
- Weight problems (e.g., excessive weight loss).
- Work or school absenteeism.
- Tolerance and withdrawal.
- Fluctuations in body temperature.
- Familial, marital, financial and personal relationship problems.
- Aggressive behavior.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Vitamin deficiency.15
- Loss of coordination and physical collapse.15
- Convulsions, coma and death.15
- Intranasal damage.14
- Legal problems such as theft, prostitution and drug dealing.
- Nasal irritation.
- Bleeding of nasal mucosa.
- Perforated nasal septum.
- Skin abscess or infection.
- Tracks on forearms.
- Vascular inflammation.
- Septic endocarditis.
Other Effects of Long-Term Use
Further, individuals who abuse amphetamines may have so much energy that they may not notice when they are becoming hungry or thirsty. This can result in dramatic weight loss. However, an increase in body temperature, which is one of the side effects of amphetamine use, in combination with dehydration, can have deadly consequences.
Signs and Symptoms of Addiction
Helpline Information to speak with a representative about amphetamine rehab options.
Signs of an amphetamine addiction include:
- Cravings and drug-seeking behavior.
- Decreased appetite.
- Profound weight loss.
- Dilated pupils, increased energy and heightened alertness.
- Abrupt improvement in mood, self-confidence and sociability.
- Increased energy.
- Staying awake for long periods of time.
- Aggressive behavior.
- Lack of social inhibitions.15
- Unrealistic feelings of competence and power.15
- Increase in risky and illegal behavior.
- Intense depression during withdrawal.
- Nose bleeds in intranasal users.
- Track lines in intravenous users.
- Loss of interest in hobbies.
- Continued use despite negative consequences.
- Needing higher doses of the drug to feel its effects (tolerance).Inability to fulfill family, work or school-related responsibilities.
How Addictive Are Amphetamines?
Taking amphetamines regularly can lead to abuse. One report even suggests that amphetamines are the most abused prescription medication in the United States. 10
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, those who use amphetamines can develop an addiction in as quickly as 1 week after exposure.14
Although the addiction does not always have such a rapid onset, it’s important to understand the elevated risk of addiction when taking amphetamines. A clinician should closely monitor individuals who are prescribed this drug for a diagnosed condition.
Why They’re Addictive
- Dopamine boost. The overstimulation of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward system in the brain, can quickly reinforce compulsive use of amphetamines, leading to an addiction. 1, 11
- Improved energy and performance. People taking amphetamines to lose weight are also susceptible to developing an addiction because, in addition to experiencing a suppressed appetite, they may also notice a boost in energy and performance.11 These types of initially rewarding side effects may motivate people to continue taking the drug.
- History of substance abuse. People who have a history of substance abuse, especially alcohol abuse, have an increased risk of developing an addiction to amphetamines as well.9
Withdrawal symptoms from amphetamines can begin anywhere from a few hours to a few days after termination of amphetamine use, depending on length and dosage, and can last anywhere from 5 days to 3 weeks. 14, 16
Medical supervision is not required but strongly encouraged due to the potential of severe depression and suicidal ideation.
- Hypersomnia (excessive sleeping).
- Increased appetite.
- Disturbances in attention and concentration.14
- Dysphoria (a state of dissatisfaction). 14
- Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure).
- Intense depression.
- Suicidal ideation.
Amphetamines can cause the heart to beat too rapidly and/or irregularly. If this happens, the heart can abruptly stop and go into cardiac arrest. Even if the individual is resuscitated, major organs may become oxygen-deprived and seriously damaged when the heart stops. 13
Combining amphetamines with other stimulant drugs can cause dangerous spikes in body temperature and blood pressure. In addition, mixing stimulant drugs with alcohol can lead to an accidental overdose or alcohol poisoning because the combination makes it harder for a person to notice the effects of the alcohol.9
If you experience or observe any of the following signs, call 911 or visit an emergency room immediately.
- High fever.
- Swelling of the lips, tongue, throat, face or lips.
- Intense confusion.
- A loss of coordination or balance.
- Muscle weakness.
- Arrhythmias (irregular heart beat).
- Cardiac arrest.
- Respiratory distress.
- Respiratory arrest.
- Loss of consciousness.
How Many People Abuse Them?
According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime’s 2011 World Report, between 14 million and 57 million people worldwide between the ages of 15 and 64 had taken amphetamines in the past year. Rates of amphetamine use were especially high in both North and South America as well as Africa and Asia. 12
Rates of Abuse in U.S.
This same report indicated that 1.1% of the U.S. population used amphetamines and that more than 13,000 people had suffered from health complications in 2009 due to amphetamine misuse.12
Teen Amphetamine Abuse
Amphetamines are the most commonly abused prescription drug among adolescents.10 Teen amphetamine abuse is particularly common due to the high number of teens with prescriptions for the management of ADHD.
Because of the high abuse potential, clinicians should closely monitor teens with amphetamine prescriptions for signs of dependency. According to the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition,” about 0.2% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 suffer from an amphetamine-type stimulant use disorder.
It is also estimated that 5% to 9% of high school students have used amphetamines without a prescription.14
Signs of Amphetamine Abuse in Teens
- Skipping class or school.
- Sudden weight loss.
- A drop in grades.
- Dramatic behavioral changes, such as violence, aggression and increased confidence and sociability.
- A lack of interest in previous hobbies.
- Inappropriate attire (e.g., wearing long sleeves to high needle marks).
Find Treatment for an Addiction
If you or someone you love is struggling with an amphetamine problem, call 1-888-319-2606 Helpline Information –speak with a caring treatment support specialist about rehabilitation options for prescription medication abuse.
. Cameron KN, Solis E Jr, Ruchala I, De Felice LJ, Eltit JM. (2015). Amphetamine activates calcium channels through dopamine transporter-mediated depolarization. Cell Calcium. pii: S0143-4160(15)00116-5.
. Sinita E, Coghill D. (2014). The use of stimulant medications for non-core aspects of ADHD and in other disorders. Neuropharmacology 87:161-72.
. Thorpy MJ. (2015). Update on therapy for narcolepsy. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 17(5):347.
. Rickli A, Hoener MC, Liechti ME. (2015). Monoamine transporter and receptor interaction profiles of novel psychoactive substances: para-halogenated amphetamines and pyrovalerone cathinones. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol 25(3):365-76.
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Drugfacts: Stimulant ADHD medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines. Available at: http://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/stimulant-adhd-medications-methylphenidate-amphetamines
. Liu SW, Lien MH, Fenske NA. (2010). The effects of alcohol and drug abuse on the skin. Clin Dermatol. 28(4):391-399.
. Darke S, Ross J, Kaye S. (2001). Physical injecting sites among injecting drug users in Sydney, Australia. Drug Alcohol Depend. 62:77-82.
. M?rland J. (2000). Toxicity of drug abuse-amphetamine designer drugs (ecstasy): mental effects and consequences of single dose use. Toxicol Lett 112-113:147-52.
. Lawyer G, Bjerkan PS, Hammarberg A, Jayaram-Lindstrom N, Franck J, Agartz I. (2010). Amphetamine dependence and co-morbid alcohol abuse: associations to brain cortical thickness. BMC Pharmacol 10:5.
. Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Schulenberg JE. (2007). Monitoring the future national survey results on drug use, 1975-2006: Volume I, Secondary school students. National Institute on Drug Abuse; Bethesda, MD.
. Berman S, O’Neill J, Fears S, Bartzokis G, London ED. (2008). Abuse of amphetamines and structural abnormalities in the brain. Ann N Y Acad Sci 1141:195-220.
. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. (2011). World Report 2011. Available at: http://www.unodc.org/documents/data-and-analysis/WDR2011/World_Drug_Report_2011_ebook.pdf
. Vittoria Matassini M et al. (2014). Evolution of clinical diagnosis in patients presenting with unexplained cardiac arrest or syncope due to polymorphic ventricular tachycardia. Heart Rhythm 11(2):274-81.
. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5. (5th ed.). Washington, D.C.
. University of Maryland Center for Substance Abuse Research. (2013). Amphetamines. Available at: http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/amphetamines.asp
. Cantwell, B., & McBride, A. (1998). Self detoxication by amphetamine dependent patients: A pilot study. Drug Alcohol Depend 49(2):157-63. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9543652
. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). Monitoring the Future Study: Trends in Prevalence of Various Drugs. Retrieved October 22, 2015, from http://www.drugabuse.gov/trends-statistics/monitoring-future/monitoring-future-study-trends-in-prevalence-various-drugs
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