Amphetamine Addiction

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Updated 10/21/2022

Many people wonder, “Are amphetamines addictive?” The number of overdose deaths due to amphetamine addiction and use has continued to increase since 1990. In 2019, approximately one out of every 100,000 people in the U.S. died from an amphetamine overdose. That rate is higher than that of any other country in the world.

What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamine is a synthetic compound also known as the chemical 1-methyl-2-phenethylamine. The term “amphetamines“ may be used to refer to both 1-methyl-2-phenethylamine and methamphetamine. 

When used as prescribed for health conditions like ADHD, amphetamines can be effective. However, when misused, the drug can lead to addiction, dangerous behavior, health issues, and overdose.

Legal amphetamines include:

  • Dextroamphetamine: Sold under the brand names Dexedrine and DextroStat
  • Mixed Amphetamine Salts: Sold under the brand name Adderall
  • Lisdexamfetamine Dimesylate: Sold under the brand name Vyvanse
  • Methamphetamine: Sold under the brand name Desoxyn

Legal amphetamines can still be addictive. Patients should be regularly monitored for signs of physical dependence.

Illegal amphetamines include:

The two most commonly used illegal amphetamines are methamphetamine and methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MDMA). Methamphetamine has a similar chemical structure to amphetamine but is a more potent stimulant. Some street names for illegal methamphetamine include: 

  • Yaba
  • Crystal
  • Speed
  • Glass
  • Ice
  • Meth

What Do Amphetamines Look Like?

Amphetamines are available in pills, powder, capsules, and liquid forms. Liquid amphetamines are used for oral intake. Illicit amphetamines are also available in crystal form. Prescription pills and capsules come in various shapes and colors according to brand.

What does amphetamine look like when purchased illicitly? Pure amphetamines are white or brownish crystalline powders that can contain traces of gray or pink impurities. They may have a bitter taste and a strong odor. Methamphetamines resemble white powder or small crystals.

What Does Amphetamine Do?

Amphetamines produce their stimulant effects by increasing the amounts of the neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine in the nervous system.

Amphetamines activate nerve cells in the spinal cord and brain, improving focus, increasing alertness and decreasing the need to eat or sleep. Taken in high doses, amphetamines can also cause:

  • Euphoria (extreme joy) 
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations 
  • Inappropriate feelings of confidence

Is Amphetamine an Opioid?

Amphetamines are stimulants, and opioids are sedatives. Opioids are a class of drugs that includes legal prescription drugs, such as OxyContin, and illegal street drugs, such as heroin. Prescription opioids relieve pain and make people feel relaxed, calm, and sleepy.

Are Amphetamines Stimulants?

Amphetamines are stimulants. They speed up messages between the brain and body and can affect blood pressure, body temperature and heart function.

Like other stimulants, amphetamines can increase focus and improve concentration. When abused, they can also cause feelings of aggression, paranoia, talkativeness, and feelings of being invincible.

Are Amphetamines Addictive?

Amphetamines are safe when used as prescribed but are highly addictive when abused.

Attempts to suddenly stop amphetamine use after prolonged use can lead to adverse withdrawal symptoms such as: 

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Depression
  • Intense cravings

Dependence on amphetamines may be severe and can result in addiction. Addiction to amphetamines involves an inability to control drug use despite negative consequences.

How Long Does the High from Amphetamine Last?

The high experienced from taking amphetamine is affected by many factors, including:

  • The size of the dose
  • The frequency of dosage
  • Mental and physical health conditions
  • Exposure to other substances, such as alcohol or other drugs
  • Past drug use
  • Method of use (snorting, smoking, swallowing tablets, etc.)

The type of amphetamine used also influences how long the effects last. An amphetamine high from illegal crystal meth can last four to 16 hours.

Amphetamine Half-Life

The half-life of a drug refers to the time it takes for the drug’s concentration in the bloodstream to reduce by half of its original amount. Based on dosage, the half-life of amphetamine can be between 9 and 13 hours in adults.

What Is Amphetamine Prescribed for?

Although amphetamines were once used for treating a wide variety of ailments, the use of amphetamines today is restricted to the treatment of ADHD, narcolepsy (excessive daytime sleepiness), and obesity. 

Amphetamines are psychostimulant drugs, and at low doses, they can lead to increased concentration, alertness and energy. 

Prescription amphetamines are often misused by college students to improve their study behavior and even by older adults to improve memory. Amphetamines may also be used illicitly to postpone sleep, improve athletic performance and lose weight. 

Amphetamines used for therapeutic purposes involve low doses and do not produce euphoric effects. However, prescription amphetamines, like illicit amphetamines, may be abused at higher doses for their euphoric effects and may be used to get “high.”

Amphetamines are tightly controlled by pharmacies and hospitals in an effort to reduce improper access to these substances. Despite these protections, patients should be closely monitored when taking prescription amphetamines for ADHD and other conditions.

Amphetamine for ADHD

Adderall is one of the most commonly used amphetamine medications prescribed for use with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Both the short-acting and long-acting forms are approved for treating ADHD. It helps people with ADHD by increasing dopamine levels, which reduces impulsive behaviors and increases the person’s ability to focus and concentrate. 

Amphetamine Dosage and Administration

The immediate-release formulations of amphetamines (Dexedrine and Adderall) are generally administered twice daily, as opposed to extended-release formulations of amphetamines (Dexedrine XR and Adderall XR), which are administered once daily. 

Exact dosage depends on whether the patient is an adult or a child, the condition the medication is being used to treat and other health considerations.

Amphetamine vs. Methylphenidate

Methylphenidate can also improve symptoms of ADHD, but it carries a higher risk of dependence. It can also cause insomnia in some people.

Amphetamine vs. Dextroamphetamine

Dextroamphetamine is a type of amphetamine used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. It is used less frequently due to its high risk for addiction and abuse.

Amphetamine Side Effects

Most of the short-term side effects of amphetamines are due to excessive activation of the sympathetic nervous system and the elevation of dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain.

Some of the side effects and symptoms of amphetamine use include:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased body temperature
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Memory loss
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Aggression

High doses of amphetamines may result in psychotic behavior that is similar to that observed in individuals with schizophrenia. Amphetamine-induced psychosis may involve delusions, hallucinations and unorganized speech.

Amphetamine Overdose

Overdosing on amphetamine can occur because of the drug’s effects on the heart and brain. Individuals who overdose need immediate and aggressive medical care.

Amphetamine Overdose Symptoms

Signs of amphetamine overdose include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Heart attack-like symptoms, such as chest pain, distress, and confusion
  • Dramatic changes in blood pressure
  • Intense stomach pain
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Kidney failure

The appropriate medical treatment for amphetamine overdose depends on the type of amphetamine taken and the symptoms.

Amphetamine Use Statistics

As of 2020, roughly 1.5 million individuals ages 12 and older reported facing a meth use disorder, while roughly 758,000 reported misusing prescription stimulants.

Amphetamine Use in Ohio

The number of doses of prescription stimulants (solid doses only) used increased from 2.47 million in 2012, to 3.05 million in 2018 in Ohio. Also, 556 deaths caused by drug overdose in Ohio involved psychostimulants in 2017. 

In contrast, psychostimulants were involved in 243 deaths in 2016, indicating a 130% increase in deaths due to psychostimulants in 12 months.

Amphetamine Addiction Treatment in Columbus, OH 

The Recovery Village provides comprehensive addiction care with programs focused specifically on amphetamine addiction.

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