People often wonder what amphetamines are, their effects, and whether amphetamine addiction is possible. Amphetamines are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that vary in legality. For example, some amphetamines are used as medical treatments while others are manufactured, distributed and used illicitly. Regardless of classification, these substances can be addictive whether prescribed or used recreationally.
What Are Amphetamines?
Amphetamines are stimulants that treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Stimulants work by activating the central nervous system (CNS) and speeding up bodily functions.
Amphetamines can be prescribed for certain conditions, but they’re also used illicitly. There are many different types of amphetamines, but the most common are methamphetamine, dextroamphetamine and amphetamine salts. Most amphetamines are Schedule II medications, meaning they have accepted medical use but also a high potential for abuse and addiction.
There are many checks and balances in place to make sure Schedule II drugs are harder to misuse. Anyone who is prescribed amphetamines receives a limited amount at a time, depending on state laws. Random drug testing may occur to ensure the medication is being taken as prescribed.
What Do Amphetamines Do?
Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants that speed up functions controlled by the CNS. When someone uses amphetamines, neurotransmitter activity increases, particularly dopamine and norepinephrine — the “feel-good” neurotransmitters.
Prescription amphetamines are prescribed to treat ADHD and sometimes narcolepsy. Amphetamines, being stimulants, lead to increased alertness, energy, and physical activity, which could benefit people with narcolepsy.
When someone uses amphetamines, particularly recreationally, they may feel a false sense of confidence or well-being. These feelings often occur alongside a sense of euphoria.
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Types of Amphetamines
There are two primary types of amphetamines: amphetamine salts and methamphetamine. When prescribed legally, amphetamine is available under the brand name Adderall and methamphetamine is available under the brand name Desoxyn. Both of these medications are Schedule II substances.
Other prescription amphetamines include brand-name drugs Vyvanse and Dexedrine, in addition to some generic ADHD medications. These medications are commonly prescribed to treat ADHD, narcolepsy and binge-eating.
Amphetamine and methamphetamine can also be produced illicitly and are commonly referred to as “speed” when sold on the street. Amphetamine is usually sold as pills or powder, while methamphetamine is sold as a powder or as crystal-like rocks, known as crystal meth. Amphetamine and methamphetamine can be snorted, smoked, taken by mouth or injected.
If you are prescribed an amphetamine, you should only take it as prescribed. Taking it without a prescription or in a way that it was not prescribed is considered misuse. These types of drugs are heavily controlled, and the doctor may administer drug tests to ensure it is being taken appropriately.
Typical doses of Adderall range from 10–40 mg by mouth per day. However, some people may need higher doses if they develop a tolerance. The severity of ADHD can also vary from person to person. Vyvanse dosages range from 10–70 mg by mouth daily. The typical Desoxyn dose is 5–25 mg by mouth daily. It can be taken once or twice a day.
When starting an amphetamine regimen, the doctor will prescribe a low dose and slowly increase it until the intended effect is reached. The dose may need to be adjusted over time, depending on your response.
Amphetamine Side Effects
Both prescription and illicit amphetamines can have side effects, which are sometimes severe. The more someone misuses amphetamines, or the higher the dose, the more likely severe side effects will occur. Short-term amphetamine side effects include:
- Raised body temperature
- Cardiovascular symptoms
- Changes in heart rate
- Increased blood pressure
- Dry mouth
- Dilated pupils
- Increased breathing
- Heart palpitations
- Tremors or twitching
Signs of Amphetamine Abuse
Amphetamine abuse occurs with either the use of an illicit form of this drug or misuse of prescribed medications.
These drugs can increase focus and concentration, allow people to stay awake for long periods and can have other effects someone might find desirable, such as weight loss.
Increased heart rate and blood pressure
Insomnia and sleep disturbances
Maintaining a stash of amphetamines
Loss of interest in activities someone was previously interested in
Doctor shopping for amphetamine prescriptions
Trying to hide amphetamine use
Amphetamine and methamphetamine are addictive substances, especially when misused.
Addiction is caused when substances rewire the brain to reinforce drug-seeking behavior. The neurotransmitter dopamine is primarily responsible for creating this change in the brain. Dopamine is a chemical signal that reinforces reward and pleasure. When dopamine levels are high, the brain starts “seeking out” and repeating the rewarding behavior.
Amphetamine is addictive because it acts directly on dopamine pathways in the brain. Other drugs’ side effects can cause a dopamine increase, but amphetamine increases it directly, leading to the possibility of an amphetamine use disorder.
Possible long-term amphetamine side effects include:
- Aggressive or violent behavior
- Behavioral and psychological disorders
- Changes in brain structure and function
- Deficits in thinking and motor skills
- Dental problems
- Heart arrhythmias
- Increased distractibility
- Memory loss
- Mental illness
- Mood disturbances
- Vitamin deficiency
- Weight loss
Many people also face legal and social consequences from amphetamine abuse. Like any addiction, amphetamine addiction can damage your social, occupational, and financial life. Amphetamine addiction hijacks the motivation centers in your brain and causes you to value the drug more than other things.
Amphetamine addiction can also lead to legal trouble. Besides being illegal to use, the financial obligations of addiction can lead people to commit other crimes to support their amphetamine use. This can trigger a cycle that may feel impossible to escape from.
Can You Overdose on Amphetamines?
Yes, amphetamine overdose is common. Amphetamines produce an intense euphoria that drives people to keep using them. As tolerance builds, however, the euphoric effects of the drug diminish. People then must take more and more to get the same effect. As this happens, the risk of side effects and overdose increases.
Common symptoms of overdose include:
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Dilated pupils
- Dry mouth
- Fast heart rate
- High blood pressure
- High body temperature
- Increased energy
If an amphetamine overdose is suspected, the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 is available to help. If the person is unresponsive, has difficulty breathing or has collapsed, call 911 immediately.
Outlook for an Amphetamine Addiction
During the initial treatment of an amphetamine use disorder, the medical staff addresses any life-threatening conditions. Examples include infection — from infected needles or other sources — trauma, trouble breathing, seizures, and abnormal heart rhythms. Once the person is stable, long-term addiction treatment can begin, which usually begins with a medical detox and continues to later levels of care.
The outlook for amphetamine addiction is usually poor, with a high risk of death and long-term consequences. For this reason, it is extremely important to seek help if you or someone you know is suffering from an amphetamine use disorder. With the proper treatment and professional assistance, recovering from an amphetamine use disorder is possible.
Amphetamine Withdrawal & Detox
Withdrawal can happen to anyone who takes amphetamines, including people who take it exactly as prescribed by their doctor. After using amphetamines for a period of time, typically at least a few weeks of continuous use, physical dependence can develop. Someone who is physically dependent on a drug will feel withdrawal symptoms if they stop.
Amphetamine withdrawal symptoms may include:
- Inreased appetite
- Pacing or rapid talking
- Trouble sleeping
- Vivid dreams
Amphetamine Detox at Home
Detoxing at home from amphetamines is possible but challenging. The process usually lasts about 3–5 days and starts 24 hours after the last dose. The biggest challenge for many people is the cravings that come along with withdrawal. Since taking more amphetamine can stop withdrawal symptoms, many people have a hard time stopping on their own.
People who take high doses of amphetamine may experience agitation and hallucinations, which can make them a danger to themselves and others. In general, it is much safer to detox under medical supervision than at home.
Amphetamine Addiction Treatment
Amphetamine addiction can develop with regular use or misuse. With some forms of amphetamines like methamphetamine, addiction can develop quickly. Someone addicted to amphetamines can have a hard time eliminating drug use from their life. They often require a professional treatment program to successfully detox and address their substance use disorder.
Most addiction treatment programs involve three different stages, including detox, treatment and maintenance.
Detox involves eliminating the drug from the system while allowing the nervous system to repair itself. Withdrawal symptoms are at their worst during this time. Beginning treatment with detox can greatly increase the chance of long-term recovery success.
The next phase includes addiction treatment, which can only occur once detox is complete. Program levels, from least to most severe, include outpatient, intensive outpatient, partial hospitalization and inpatient treatment. The primary difference between these levels is the treatment setting and hours of treatment. During outpatient treatment, a person lives at home and attends appointments at the facility, while inpatient treatment requires the person to live full-time in a residential facility.
All forms of treatment typically involve individual and group counseling, self-care activities, and other exercises to help a person move past their addiction and manage their stress in more effective ways.
Once the primary addiction treatment is complete, a person enters aftercare. Aftercare is concerned with ensuring a person does not relapse on amphetamines by providing resources, follow-up appointments, support groups and referrals for additional care.
Finding Help for an Amphetamine Addiction
It is never too late to seek help for a substance use disorder. You are only one phone call away from beginning your journey toward recovery.
To learn more about amphetamine addiction along with the treatment process and programs available, contact The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake. The Recovery Village has facilities across the U.S., so those who aren’t local to Colorado are invited to browse our locations to find the one that’s right for them.
Call us today to speak with a representative who can guide you through our treatment programs and resources. Begin your healthier future today.
We can help answer your questions and talk through any concerns.
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The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.