Amphetamine Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, & When To Get Help

Are you unsure whether you or your loved one is struggling with amphetamine addiction? Read below to learn how to spot the warning signs.

Understanding Amphetamine Addiction

Learn about amphetamine addiction

Amphetamines, which are often referred to by the slang terms greenies, bennies, and uppers, are a group of central nervous system stimulants that trigger a jolt in one’s energy and produce a sense of pleasure and peacefulness. The term amphetamine can also be used to describe three substances: amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methamphetamine (which is frequently referred to as crystal, meth, or crystal meth).

Amphetamines interact with the body by activating the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is associated with pleasure and motivation. Amphetamines also block the storage, destruction, and reabsorption of dopamine, which sustains the rush that users experience from the use of these substances.

In the United States, amphetamines are classified as Schedule II controlled substances, which means they possess limited medical use and pose a high risk for dependence. Only available through prescription, medications containing amphetamines, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are most commonly used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Amphetamines used to be used to treat depression and obesity, however those practices have ended as they are no longer favorable or reputable amongst practitioners.

The most common amphetamine-based prescription medications for ADHD are Ritalin and Adderall. Dexedrine, Vyvanse, and Evekeo, which also contain amphetamines, can be prescribed to those who are afflicted with ADHD. Along with Provigil, these ADHD medications may also be used in the treatment of narcolepsy.

Since they promote focus, energy, attention, and pleasure, amphetamines are also enticing medications for those who partake in recreational substance abuse. Amphetamine abuse is also fueled by familiarity and easy access, as many individuals have been prescribed amphetamine-based medications to cope with symptoms of ADHD. When abused, amphetamines might be swallowed, injected, snorted, or smoked.

Though amphetamines can be safe for long-term use when consumed as directed by a certified prescribing professional, they are highly addictive substances that can cause a wide range of damaging effects when used for purposes of self-medication or abused for recreational purposes. If an addiction to these substance has formed, treatment can free a person from the powerful grips of an amphetamine addiction.


Amphetamine addiction statistics

Experts estimate that nearly 15 million Americans have used amphetamines for purposes that were non-medical, and that approximately 600,000 Americans partake in amphetamine abuse on a continual basis. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described amphetamine abuse as a growing phenomenon, and has reports that, in many different nations, amphetamine abuse occurs more often that heroin and cocaine abuse combined.

In the 10-year period from 1995 to 2005, amphetamine-related drug treatment program admissions increased over 100 percent, rising from four percent of all admissions in 1995 to nine percent of all admissions in 2005. In roughly the same period of time, visits to the emergency room that were directly related to amphetamine use increased by approximately 60%.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for amphetamine addiction

Below are examples of genetic and environmental influences and risk factors for partaking in the abuse of amphetamines:

Genetic: Possessing a family history of mental illness and drug abuse is a powerful predictor of problems with substance use disorder in the future. Research including twins and adopted children have showed that genetics play a tremendous role in deciding whether or not an individual will struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Having a parent or a sibling who battles substance use disorder might increase one’s risk for developing a similar issue by nearly 50%.

Environmental: The prevalence of ADHD medications has been cited as a primary environmental influence on the increasing rates of the abuse of amphetamines. As more young individuals have access to these drugs (either their own or through a friend who has been prescribed them), the likelihood that they will use them for recreational or self-medicating purposes continues to increase and may persist into adulthood.

Risk Factors:

  • Education level (for older teens and young adults, the abuse of amphetamine-based ADHD medication is significantly higher among college students than among non-students)
  • Gender and ethnicity (amphetamine abuse is said to be most common among white males)
  • Family history of substance abuse and/or mental illness
  • Prior substance abuse
  • Stress-management problems
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor self-image
  • Academic failure
  • Personal history of mental illness
  • Socioeconomic status

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of amphetamine addiction

Amphetamine abuse is likely to become obvious when a number of symptoms develop, which will depend based on the nature and severity of the problem. For instance, long-term methamphetamine abuse will look different than short-term Adderall abuse. Therefore, below are some of the most common signs that might indicate that a problem with amphetamine abuse is occurring:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Becoming secretive and/or deceptive regarding one’s whereabouts, activities, and associates
  • Visiting illegal online pharmacies
  • Doctor shopping (trying to get multiple prescriptions for the same or similar medications)
  • Taking ADHD medications from friends or family members

Physical symptoms:

  • Increased heart rate, including heart palpitations
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Excessive perspiration
  • Insomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Increased concentration
  • Increased confidence
  • Delusions
  • Heightened level of alertness

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Irritability and agitation
  • Sense of pleasure to the point of euphoria
  • Feelings of grandiosity
  • Heightened desire for sex
  • Hyperactivity, jitteriness, and other signs of an overabundance of energy


Effects of amphetamine addiction

When used properly and under medical supervision, amphetamines can have highly beneficial effects. However, when they are abused, the impact can range from distracting to dangerous to even deadly. Below are some of the most common long-term effects of amphetamine abuse:

  • Damage to teeth and gums
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart damage
  • Extreme weakness
  • Dizziness / lightheadedness
  • Erratic, unpredictable behavior
  • Liver damage
  • Kidney damage
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Malnutrition
  • Convulsions


Signs, symptoms, and effects of amphetamine withdrawal

Depending on the type, potency, and amount of a specific amphetamine, stopping use can trigger the onset of numerous withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms that can develop within a mere 24 hours of last use and continue for weeks can include:

  • Hypersomnia or insomnia
  • Tics, twitches, and spasms
  • Fatigue to the point of exhaustion
  • Increased appetite
  • Depression
  • Agitation and irritability
  • Lucid dreaming
  • Strong drug cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Nightmares


Signs, symptoms, and effects of amphetamine overdose

Type, potency, and length of use can all impact the onset and severity of amphetamine overdose symptoms. Overdose, which occurs when an individual consumes an amount or strength of a substance that surpasses the body’s ability to metabolize it, can be both painful and dangerous, and should be met with medical attention as quickly as possible. The following are signs of amphetamine overdose:

  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Death
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Stroke
  • Renal (kidney) failure
  • Psychosis
  • Seizure
  • Heat attack

Co-Occurring Disorders

Amphetamine addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is common for those who have been abusing amphetamines to also struggle with co-occurring disorders, including:

  • Major depressive disorder
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Specific learning disorder
  • PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder)
  • ODD (oppositional defiant disorder)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Bipolar disorder
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