When legally prescribed by a doctor, amphetamines can be safely used to treat conditions such as obesity, narcolepsy, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, many people use amphetamines illegally, or use illegal forms of the drug, which can lead to addiction and death.
Understanding Amphetamine Abuse
Amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methamphetamine go by many names when used illegally—speed, uppers, dexies, crystal, glass, meth, liquid red and more. They come in a variety of different forms, and can be swallowed, injected or smoked.
Whatever form they take, amphetamines are stimulant drugs. They work to speed up the messages between your brain and your body to make you feel more alert and energetic. People use them to stay awake, increase focus, or improve physical performance.
Amphetamines also causes the brain to release dopamine, which is commonly known as the feel-good brain chemical. According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, using amphetamines may cause pleasurable effects such as:
- Joy (euphoria, or “flash” or “rush”) and less inhibition, similar to being drunk
- Feeling as if your thinking is extremely clear
- Feeling more in control, self-confident
- Wanting to be with and talk to people (more sociable)
- Increased energy
Signs and Symptoms of Amphetamine Abuse
In addition to the effects above, the U.S. National Library of Medicine lists a number of much less pleasant effects caused by amphetamines, such as:
- Appetite decrease and weight loss
- Heart problems such as fast heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure
- High body temperature and skin flushing
- Memory loss and problems thinking clearly
- Mood and emotional problems such as aggressive or violent behavior
- Restlessness and tremors
- Skin sores
- Sleep problems
- Stomach pain
- Tooth decay (meth mouth)
Long-term users of amphetamines also experience dysthymia, an affective disorder which features a chronically depressed or irritable mood.
Dangers of Amphetamine Abuse
Abuse of amphetamines can be dangerous in a variety of ways. In addition to the symptoms above, people who use these drugs also have an increased risk of getting HIV and hepatitis B and C, either through sharing used needles with someone who has an infection, or because drug use can lead to unsafe behaviors such as having unprotected sex.
The paranoia and psychosis caused by heavy amphetamine use can lead addicts to either accidentally or purposefully harm themselves or others. Continued overuse of the drug can result in permanently reduced mental functioning. It is important for addicts to seek help before too much damage is done.
Sustained use of amphetamines will create a tolerance for the drug, forcing addicts to increase their dosage to experience the same effects. Taking large amounts of amphetamine can have deadly consequences, such as breathing difficulty, heart attack, seizure, stroke, kidney failure, and coma.
Who Abuses Amphetamines?
A person of any age, gender, financial status, or ethnicity can become addicted to amphetamines. Some people take it to try and accomplish more tasks in less time, or on less sleep. Some people take it to try and lose weight or achieve fitness goals. Some take it as a way to self-medicate their depression.
In all of these cases, the benefits are short-lived, and the amphetamine usage inevitably backfires, resulting in effects that are opposite to those which are desired. For example, while amphetamines will make depressed people feel better initially, their low mood will become worse and worse each time the drug wears off, frequently leading to severe depression and suicidal thoughts.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), “a growing number of teenagers and young adults are abusing prescription stimulants to boost their study performance in an effort to improve their grades in school.” Many of these young people mistakenly believe that taking amphetamines will result in cognitive enhancement, and therefore better grades. However studies have shown that while they do indeed keep you awake, amphetamines cannot improve mental sharpness or the ability to learn. In fact, students who abuse these drugs tend to have lower GPAs than non-users.
Anyone, from any walk of life, can become addicted to amphetamines. When its legal forms are used appropriately, under a doctor’s instructions, these medicines can be beneficial, and improve a patient’s quality of life. But overuse and abuse of either prescription or street forms of amphetamines will lead to addiction, and serious mental and physical consequences.
Because many forms of this medication are prescribed by doctors, users often believe that the amphetamines are harmless, and non-addictive. This is a hazardous misconception. Amphetamines are only safe when they are being used in a precise dosage, as determined by a medical doctor, to treat a specific medical condition. When you use the drug to improve performance or get high, addiction occurs.
Am I Addicted to Amphetamines?
If you fear that you are addicted to amphetamines, ask yourself the questions below, and be sure to answer honestly:
- Do I abuse amphetamines every day?
- Do I abuse the drug in order to combat feelings of unhappiness, loneliness, depression, etc.?
- Have friends or family members mentioned more than once that they are worried about my drug use?
- Do I become hostile or angry when they do so?
- Do I ever experience withdrawal symptoms such as: an inability to feel pleasure, fatigue and/or changes in sleep or energy levels, thoughts of suicide, anxiety and irritability, or intense cravings?
- Do I feel like I can’t have fun, be normal, or complete everyday tasks without amphetamines?
- Am I secretive about my drug use, lying about when I use or how much I take?
- Am I beginning to experience hallucinations, aggression, paranoia, or any other symptoms of psychosis?
- Do I need more and more speed each time I abuse the drug in order to feel its effects?
- Have I experienced any major problems in the last year, such as a breakup, job loss, car accident, family problems, financial problems, or getting arrested as a result of my drug use?
- Despite these problems, do I feel unable to stop using amphetamines on my own?
Amphetamine Addiction Treatment
Addiction is a chronic, relapsing disease. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains that “repeated drug use changes the brain, including parts of the brain that enable you to exert self-control. These and other changes can be seen clearly in brain imaging studies of people with drug addictions.”
This is why addicts require professional help to break the cycle of addiction. The substance abuse specialists at a qualified drug and alcohol treatment center are trained in how to manage addiction and lead addicts safely to recovery.
There are a wide variety of affordable treatment options available, but all of them begin with abstaining from drug use.
Abstinence and detoxification is the first step to any recovery plan. A person needs clarity of mind and a body free from addictive substances before they can be effectively treated. While there are no drugs that can counteract or alleviate the symptoms caused by amphetamine withdrawal, detoxing in a rehab center under the care of medical professionals will ensure that you detox safely, with as little discomfort as possible.
Whether addicts choose inpatient residential treatment and/or outpatient treatment, all substance abuse recovery plans will include talk therapy. Individual therapy allows for patients to work intensively on issues specific only to them, while group therapy allows them to both support and experience support from other addicts who are struggling with similar challenges. Family therapy is a valuable tool to ensure individuals receive the best environment possible at home, to prevent relapse.
Other treatment options include:
- 12-step meetings: Meetings based on the 12-step program that originated with Alcoholics Anonymous are an invaluable resource to support long term sobriety.
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy: CBT teaches patients to retrain their brains with new methods of coping with stress and cravings, and avoiding trigger situations
- Nutrition, fitness and recreational therapy: a strong body is just as important as a strong mind when it comes to long-term recovery. The better a person feels, the more prepared they will be to handle life as it comes.
- Treatment for co-occurring conditions: most addicts suffer from undiagnosed mental health issues that underlie and fuel their substance abuse. These co-occurring disorders must be addressed as a part of recovery.