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Amphetamine Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

March 11, 2019

Amphetamine prescriptions can be diverted for misuse and abuse, which can lead to addiction. Amphetamine addiction may have a number of consequences, which can be treated with the right rehab program.

In 2015, nine percent of national treatment admissions were due to abuse of amphetamines and methamphetamine.

Amphetamine is a legal, stimulant prescription medication which can be misused and abused. With time, abuse of amphetamines can lead to addiction. Addiction is a chronic brain disorder which prompts a person to continue using a drug or substance, despite consequences.

Used as prescribed, amphetamines can treat a number of behavioral and mental health disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), obesity, and narcolepsy.

When abused, amphetamines can contribute to addiction and have a number of adverse side effects.

Treatment for amphetamine abuse can help individuals stop the abuse of the medications, learn to manage symptoms of addiction, and change lifestyle and behaviors for lasting changes in recovery.

List Of Commonly Abused Amphetamines In The U.S.

Amphetamine is the generic name of the stimulant prescription medication, which is marketed by many brand names.

The following are commonly abused amphetamines in the U.S.:

  • Adzenys ER
  • Adzenys XR
  • Dyanavel XR
  • Evekeo

Combination Amphetamine-Dextroamphetamine:

  • Adderall
  • Adderall XR
  • Dexedrine
  • Mydayis
  • Vyvanse

What Is Considered Amphetamine Abuse?

Amphetamines are legal medications, so anything that constitutes taking the drug in a way not prescribed is considered abuse. This includes:

  • changing the frequency or dosage (without consulting a doctor)
  • changing method of administration: injecting, snorting, or smoking or inhaling for faster results
  • taking someone else’s prescription
  • selling prescriptions to others or giving prescriptions away
  • taking amphetamines with other substances of abuse, such as alcohol

When amphetamines are sold on the street, they are considered illicit (illegal) and any use of them in this manner is considered abuse.

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Signs And Symptoms Of Amphetamine Abuse

A person abusing amphetamines may exhibit a number of signs or symptoms, which can be physical or mental, such as:

  • aggression
  • anxiety
  • decreased appetite
  • increased alertness/energy level
  • increased heart and blood pressure rates
  • insomnia
  • mood swings
  • paranoia
  • upset stomach
  • weight loss

People who are abusing substances and begin to form an addiction also experience changes to behavior. They may seek multiple prescriptions from various providers or begin being secretive and try to hide amphetamine abuse.

Amphetamine abuse may keep people from being dedicated to work, school, or home responsibilities. They may fall out of their usual social groups or shirk family and friends.

In high amounts and with extended abuse, amphetamine abuse can lead individuals to have hallucinations, seeing, hearing, or experiencing things which aren’t there. Abuse can also lead to a sense of apathy or disinterest in activities which used to interest a person.

Behavioral changes are generally the greatest sign of abuse as addiction is forming and should be an indicator that a person is in need of help to quit use of amphetamines.

Reasons People Abuse Amphetamines

People may abuse amphetamines for a number of reasons. Of the 9 percent who were admitted to treatment for amphetamine abuse in 2015, the average age was 34.

Many who abuse amphetamines are college students, seeking a way to stay alert and energetic through high-stress study times.

Amphetamines are known for their stimulating effects and believed to aid in concentration and focus levels. People who abuse them may be seeking a way to hone their attention.

It is common for stimulants to be abused in order to counteract the effects of drugs with opposing effects, such as depressants.

Known as a “speedball, ”mixing stimulants and depressants can mask the effects of each drug and enhance the effects of each, although this combination can have dangerous consequences.

How Amphetamine Abuse Leads To Addiction

Amphetamine is an addictive substance. Even when used as directed, amphetamine may change the way the brain communicates, disrupting the natural flow of feel-good chemical messengers.

Amphetamine works by stimulating the pleasure center in the brain— this is how the medication produces feelings of alertness and energy, along with enhanced focus and concentration.

When abused, amphetamines can train the brain to produce such feelings only when amphetamine is being used, causing an addiction to the substance.

Effects Of Amphetamine Abuse

In addition to the risk of developing an addiction, amphetamine abuse comes with a number of short-term and long-term side effects. Some can be minor and may be resolved when a person stops abusing the drugs, while others may cause long-term damage.

Short-Term Effects Of Amphetamine Abuse

Short-term effects of amphetamine abuse are related to how the drug affects the body and brain immediately, and include:

  • high body temperature
  • increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • lack of appetite
  • loss of muscle control
  • mood swings
  • muscle spasms or tics
  • sleep troubles
  • depression and fatigue when not using the drugs

Long-Term Effects Of Amphetamine Abuse

With long-term effects of amphetamine abuse, short-term effects may be amplified, long-lasting, or lead to other damaging health issues, such as:

  • damage to blood vessels and the heart from high blood pressure
  • damage to organs and tissues from high body temps
  • bad eating habits, poor nutrition, or weight loss from lack of appetite
  • increased risk of overdose

Dangers Of Amphetamine Abuse

Perhaps one of the greatest dangers associated with amphetamine abuse is the risk of developing an addiction. Addiction can lead to a range of consequences from the risk of overdose to brain structural changes to lifestyle consequences.

Other dangers of amphetamine abuse can be tied to health, behavior, and mental choices, such as:

  • increased risk-taking: can lead to accident or serious injury
  • cardiovascular (heart) issues: risk of heart attack, stroke, or heart failure
  • long-term sleep issues, such as insomnia
  • severe weight loss and malnutrition
  • destruction of gray matter and dopamine receptors in the brain: this can affect a person’s ability to stop the use of amphetamines or stay sober when stopping the use

Mixing Amphetamines With Other Drugs

A number of additional dangers and side effects can occur if a person mixes amphetamines with other substances. Known as polydrug abuse, mixing two substances at once can amplify, or enhance, the effects of each drug and cause unpredictable side effects.

People who abuse amphetamines may abuse other stimulants, believing the abuse of two like-substances at the same time will increase the overall high (euphoric feeling).

If a person abuses other stimulants with amphetamine, they may be at increased risk of overdose. An individual who regularly abuses amphetamines may be tolerant of their effects.

Abusing another similar substance is risky, then, as the person may not feel the effects of the second substance as readily.

Even if a person doesn’t feel the effects of the drugs they are abusing, the substances will still affect the body, which can only process so much of any substance at a given time.

A person may not be able to feel high and may continue to abuse amphetamines and other substances in higher amounts in an attempt to get the desired high. This cycle greatly increases the risk of overdose, which can be fatal.

Can Amphetamine Abuse Lead To Fatal Overdose?

Amphetamine abuse can lead to overdose, though amphetamine abuse is rarely fatal unless taken in extremely high doses or combined with another, more potent drug.

Individuals who have built up a tolerance to amphetamines may not be aware of how high a dose is too high and may accidentally overdose.

Symptoms of amphetamine overdose include:

  • mild to severe chest pain
  • breathing troubles, including hyperventilating
  • body spasms
  • hyperthermia, or increased body temperature
  • heart troubles, which can lead to stroke or heart failure

Can Amphetamine Abuse Lead To Withdrawal?

Physical dependence, a body’s reliance on a substance to function properly, is responsible for withdrawal symptoms. Amphetamines do not cause physical dependence.

However, a person detoxing from amphetamines can undergo certain mental withdrawal-like symptoms, including:

  • cravings for the medication
  • a rebound of symptoms the medication was used to treat, such as severe anxiety, depression, or insomnia
    extreme fatigue

Types Of Treatment Programs For Amphetamine Abuse

Amphetamines greatly affect a person’s brain function and realign a person’s thinking with seeking and using the drug.

Treatment for amphetamine abuse must address both the physical effects of the drug as well as the behavioral effects in order to foster lasting changes.

Detox Programs For Amphetamine Abuse

One of the first steps to treating amphetamine abuse may be detoxifying, or cleansing, the body of amphetamines. This is an important step, as it allows the person entering treatment to rid their body of all substances so their mind can focus on healing and growth alone.

Length of a detox program depends on the person but may last anywhere from 24 hours to one week. Withdrawal symptoms may last longer than the detox period, but in a rehab program with medical supervision, individuals can seamlessly transition from detox to treatment.

In some cases, medication may be used to ease withdrawal symptoms. Because amphetamine abuse can lead to hallucinations, undergoing medically supervised detox can be important for a person’s health and to treatment outcomes.

Long-Term Residential Treatment For Amphetamine Abuse

After completing detox, individuals can move on to intensive treatment, such as long-term inpatient rehab programs.
Of individuals nationally surveyed for treatment admissions in 2015, those admitted for amphetamine/methamphetamine abuse were more likely than all other types of admissions to seek long-term care.

This is perhaps due to the changes a person can experience from amphetamine abuse. A person who has been addicted to amphetamines must re-learn how to function without the medications. This is a feat best achieved in a long-term residential rehab program.

Long-term rehab programs allow for the most complete healing available within addiction treatment. Within these programs, individuals are not restricted to a rigid timeline such as within other programs.

Instead, individuals can go at their own pace and focus on all aspects of health and well-being for a more complete recovery from amphetamine abuse. Examples of treatments which can be used in rehab programs for amphetamine abuse include:

  • adventure therapy
  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • dialectical behavioral therapy
  • motivational interviewing
  • medication-assisted treatment
  • Wilderness therapy
  • Individual and group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • case management
  • recreational therapy
  • art and music therapy

Continuing Care For Amphetamine Abuse And Addiction

Recovery is best facilitated as part of a long-term dedication to an individual’s overall health. Once a person completes an addiction treatment program, it is best to seek lasting recovery by continuing to uphold treatment principles.

The best rehab centers provide aftercare or continuing care component. This can put individuals in touch with fellow alumni who are also in recovery, offering a support network.

Individuals can also be connected to therapy, counseling, 12-step support groups, and sobriety sponsors. Resources for addiction treatment are vast and recovery from amphetamine abuse is within reach, beginning with an excellent rehab program.

Center for Substance Abuse Research - Amphetamines

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Prescription Stimulants

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration - 2015 National Treatment Episode Data Set

United States Drug Enforcement Administration - Amphetamines

U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Substance use — Amphetamines

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health - Abuse of Amphetamines and Structural Abnormalities in the Brain

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