Amphetamines are stimulant drugs that increase activity in the body’s central nervous system. They are frequently prescribed for the treatment of Attention Hyperactivity Deficit Disorder (ADHD) and include name brands such as Dexedrine and Adderall.
Amphetamines, however, are often abused for their stimulant effects, which include euphoria, wakefulness, alertness, and feelings of excess energy and confidence.
When a person abuses amphetamines, the brain is flooded with a rapid burst of the “feel good” brain chemical, dopamine. Over time, if the brain routinely receives this artificial surge of dopamine, it becomes accustomed to the rush, and the result is a chemical dependency. When this occurs, withdrawal symptoms ensue if the user abruptly discontinues use.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies amphetamines as Schedule II substances. This classification means that although the drugs have a legitimate medical use, they also carry a high potential for abuse and dependence.
Schedule II drugs are considered substances that are dangerous to use without a doctor’s supervision. However, even when used for a valid medical purpose, amphetamines can still cause significant problems.
Amphetamine Side Effects and Symptoms
Amphetamines abuse comes with significant side effects that can impact both the body and mind. The physical symptoms of amphetamine abuse are usually quite evident.
Amphetamine side effects may include the following:
Changes in Energy Levels
Users often experience repeated bursts of unexplained, extreme energy that can last for up to four hours. Changes in energy levels may occur immediately after smoking or injecting amphetamines, and about 40 minutes after swallowing or snorting the drugs. After the effects wear off, a “crash” quickly ensues.
Increased Heart Rate and Breathing
Amphetamines accelerate many of the body’s processes that are controlled by the central nervous system. These include breathing and heart rate, which may become noticeably quicker after using the drug.
Amphetamines increase chemical activity in the brain to the point it becomes difficult for the mind and body to be still. Therefore, insomnia is among the most common amphetamine side effects.
Extreme levels of energy can lead to restless behavior to the point of constant leg shaking and body tremors. This effect may also manifest as constant itching and scratching and also clenching/grinding of teeth.
Amphetamines suppress the appetite and are sometimes prescribed to help with weight loss. Over time, the addicted individual may incur significant and unhealthy weight loss.
Altered Sexual Behavior
Amphetamine abusers often initially experience an increase in sex drive due to the surges of dopamine in the brain. Increased libido and the impulsiveness that often accompanies drug and alcohol use can result in risky, unprotected sex and related diseases such as HIV.
Amphetamines cause dehydration, and it is difficult to drink enough water to counteract that effect. When a person is using amphetamines in large doses, this problem continues to increase causing dehydration, headaches and dry mouth.
Long-Term Amphetamine Side Effects
While it is difficult to stop abusing stimulants once started, long-term stimulant abuse can lead to an even more severe and chronic brain disease – addiction. As the body adapts to amphetamine, it develops a need for more of the drug to achieve the same pleasurable effects.
This condition is known as tolerance and eventually leads to dependency, which is characterized by a need to continue taking amphetamines to avoid highly unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
But addiction is just one of many problems that prolonged amphetamine abuse can induce. Other severe physical ailments caused by long-term amphetamine abuse include the following:
- Extreme weight loss
- Immunity-related illnesses
- Lung problems
- Kidney complications
- Increased risk of cardiovascular problems, such as stroke and heart attack
- Increased risk of needle-related infections if injected
- Repetitive motor activity
- Malnutrition and vitamin deficiency
- Skin problems, such as facial blemishes and infections from open sores related to scratching
- Electrolyte imbalance
- High body temperature and heat injury
- Inability to feel pleasure from anything else (dysphoria)
Long-term amphetamine abuse can also cause severe psychological problems, including the following:
- Decreased cognitive abilities
- Inability to concentrate
- Anxiety and panic
- Amphetamine-induced depressive disorder
- Psychosis (hallucinations and delusions)
- Behavioral disorders
Even if addiction does not develop, a dependency on amphetamines can lead to unpleasant withdrawals symptoms upon discontinuation of the drugs, which is characterized by the following:
- Fatigue and loss of energy
- Suicidal ideation
- Inability to feel pleasure
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Slowed motor activity
- Unexplained weight gain
- Vivid nightmares
- Nausea and vomiting
Like other drugs of abuse, amphetamine use can result in an overdose if a user consumes an excessive amount or combines it with other psychoactive substances. Stimulants increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature, and all of these amphetamine side effects can be dangerous if they reach critical levels.
Especially when used in conjunction with other substances, such as alcohol or other stimulant drugs, amphetamines pose a significant risk of overdose.
An amphetamine overdose can result in death and is a medical emergency. If you identify any or all of the following, seek emergency help right away:
- Increase in heart rate or breathing
- Extreme sweating/hypothermia
- Convulsions, tremors or extreme shakiness
- Stroke or cardiac arrest (heart attack)
- Chest and/or stomach pains
- Unexplained aggression or anger
- Extreme, uncontrollable anxiety or panic
- Psychosis (hallucinations and delusions)
- Slurred speech
A Word on Methamphetamine
Methamphetamine (meth) is another stimulant drug most often found illicitly that is chemically similar to prescription amphetamines. Meth is also a Schedule II drug because it is sometimes prescribed to patients with particularly stubborn ADHD under the brand name Desoxyn.
The effects of amphetamine and meth when abused are comparable, but meth, however, is characterized by a minor structural difference. This variation allows the drug to reach the brain faster than amphetamine and produces a rush or high more intensely and rapidly. For this reason, meth is considered to have an even higher potential for abuse and addiction.
And unlike amphetamines, most meth on the black market is not a product of drug diversion. Instead, it is produced in homemade, clandestine labs or by drug cartels. The active ingredient in meth is pseudoephedrine, but it is also made with a number of other highly-toxic and explosive chemicals including ammonia, hydrochloric acid, and red phosphorus.
Treatment for Amphetamine Addiction
Amphetamine addiction can develop after a person prescribed amphetamines has become dependent or misused the drugs. It can also occur when someone without a valid prescription uses amphetamines for recreational purposes.
In any case, drug addiction of any kind is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that should be addressed as soon as possible. Clinical studies have found that the most effective treatments are those based on a comprehensive approach that includes psychotherapy, education, counseling, and group support.
Our center offers these therapeutic services in both inpatient and intensive outpatient formats, and are delivered by caring medical professionals who specialize in addiction and mental health conditions. We provide our clients with the education, support, and tools they need to achieve abstinence and sustain a long-lasting recovery.
You can restore sanity and harmony to your life and experience the happiness and wellness you deserve! Call us today to find out how we can help!