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Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects of Amphetamine Abuse

Last Updated: November 03, 2022

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Amphetmines are psychostimulant drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and obesity. However, amphetamines are often misused for their euphoric effects or to enhance intellectual or athletic performance.

High doses of amphetamines can produce severe side effects, such as cardiac arrest, breathing issues, seizures and even death. Long-term use of amphetamines can negatively affect a person’s physical and mental health and also lead to addiction. Amphetamine addiction is characterized by the inability to control drug use despite its negative effects on social relationships, work and life in general.

What Causes Addiction to Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are drugs with a high addiction potential, and long-term use can cause physical dependence on the drug. Dependence occurs when the body adapts to drug use, making regular use of the drug necessary to function normally. Long-term use of amphetamines also causes tolerance, meaning that larger amounts of the drug are needed to achieve the same effects.

Severe dependence on amphetamines may result in the development of an addiction. Addiction involves an inability to control drug use despite its negative consequences. People are often unable to control drug use because of withdrawal symptoms that can occur when they stop. When drug effects wear off, people may experience adverse effects such as irritability, depression and intense drug cravings. These withdrawal symptoms often prevent attempts to stop drug use.

Symptoms of Amphetamine Abuse

Amphetamines mimic the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is involved in the fight-or-flight response. Many amphetamine misuse symptoms involve the sympathetic nervous system, causing increased heart rate, higher blood pressure and muscle activation.

Physical Symptoms

Some of the physical symptoms of amphetamine abuse include:

  • Increased energy
  • Dryness of mouth and bad breath
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headaches
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Hot or cold flushes
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Itchy skin

Behavioral Symptoms

Some of the behavioral signs of amphetamine abuse include:

  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Euphoria
  • Talkativeness
  • Insomnia
  • Tremors
  • Performing repetitive, meaningless movements
  • Jaw clenching
  • Anxiety, irritability and aggression

How To Tell If Someone Is Addicted to Amphetamines

The symptoms of amphetamine abuse are generally easily recognizable. Some of the signs of amphetamine addiction include:

  • Spending an excessive amount of time involved in drug-related activities, such as acquiring the drug, using the drug and recovering from drug use
  • Neglect of social and work-related responsibilities
  • Lack of interest in other activities
  • Stealing or borrowing money
  • Lack of care about physical appearance and hygiene
  • Physical signs, such as loss of weight, dilated pupils and skin sores
  • Behavioral signs, such as jaw clenching, insomnia and anxiety

Amphetamine Addiction Self-Assessment Quiz

This quiz from The Recovery Village may also be helpful in evaluating whether a person is addicted to illicit drugs, including amphetamines.

Side Effects of Amphetamine Abuse

Most of the short-term effects of amphetamines are due to the excessive activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight-or-flight response). Other secondary side effects may occur due to increased levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. Some of the severe symptoms of amphetamine abuse include heart attack, seizures and psychosis. Long-term use of amphetamines can result in severe dependence and tolerance.

Short-Term Side Effects

Some of the short-term side-effects of amphetamines include:

  • Increased breathing rate or irregular breathing
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dryness of mouth
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decreased appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Aggression
  • Seizures
  • Psychosis involving hallucinations, paranoid delusions and disorganized speech

Amphetamine use, especially at high doses, can lead to cardiovascular issues involving irregular heartbeat and high blood pressure. This may lead to aortic dissection, coronary vasospasm and heart attack.

Long-Term Side Effects

Long-term use of amphetamines can lead to physical dependence, which may become severe enough to result in addiction. Besides dependence and addiction, long-term amphetamine use can negatively affect physical and mental health.

Most of the information regarding long-term side effects comes from studies involving high doses of amphetamines. Because of this, the long-term effects of amphetamines are not completely understood.

Some of the effects of long-term amphetamine use include:

  • Damage to brain neurons, which can lead to depression, anxiety and impulsive behaviors
  • Higher risk of psychiatric disorders, including depression and anxiety.
  • Cognitive deficits involving memory and attention
  • Higher risk of psychotic behavior resembling schizophrenia. People who are predisposed to psychotic disorders like schizophrenia are at a much higher risk
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular diseases like coronary heart disease, cardiomyopathy and cardiac arrest
  • Increased risk of cerebrovascular toxicities including stroke due to hemorrhage and reduced blood flow
  • Weight loss, dental decay and skin sores

Amphetamine Abuse Statistics

According to a CDC report on 2017 U.S. drug-related deaths, 10,333 overdose deaths involved psychostimulants with misuse potential (amphetamines, methamphetamine, methylphenidate, caffeine and MDMA). In contrast, there were 7,542 psychostimulant-related deaths in 2016, indicating a 33.3% increase in psychostimulant-related deaths from 2016 to 2017.

The same report indicated that psychostimulants were involved in 556 deaths caused by drug overdose in Ohio in 2017, compared to 243 deaths in 2016. This shows that deaths due to psychostimulants doubled from 2016 to 2017. According to a separate study, psychostimulants such as amphetamines were involved in 9 deaths in 2010 as opposed to 509 deaths in 2017. This represents an increase of more than 5,000% between 2010 to 2017.

Amphetamine Overdose

Although many believe that amphetamine overdoses occur at high doses, an amphetamine overdose can occur even at relatively low doses. Deaths due to amphetamine overdose are often caused due to cardiac arrhythmias, hypertension, respiratory failure and seizures. Other causes of death may include kidney failure, stroke and brain hemorrhage.

Treatment for amphetamine overdose generally involves managing symptoms as they arise. This includes addressing life-threatening symptoms, such as using respiratory support to treat a compromised airway or treating an irregular heart rate with defibrillation. If the patient has psychotic symptoms, restraints may be needed to prevent self-harm or harm to others.

Benzodiazepines are generally the first line of treatment for amphetamine overdose and are used to treat anxiety, agitation and seizures. Antipsychotics may also be used to treat agitation and anxiety. Similarly, other medications may be used to treat or manage specific symptoms. There are no antidotes available for amphetamine overdose.

Amphetamine Overdose Symptoms

Some of the common physical symptoms of amphetamine overdose include:

  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Breathing irregularities
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Palpitations and chest pain
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Liver or kidney failure
  • Breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue (relatively rare)

Some of the psychological symptoms involved during an amphetamine overdose may include:

  • Extreme anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Excited delirium involving emotional confusion and extreme anxiety, agitation, panic or aggression

Facing Amphetamine Withdrawal and Detox

Long-term use of amphetamines can lead to the development of physical dependence and addiction. Ending drug use after developing dependence can cause adverse withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms of amphetamine withdrawal generally involve:

  • Irritability
  • Agitation
  • Depression
  • Increased appetite
  • Excessive sleepiness
  • Intense drug cravings

These withdrawal symptoms can be severe and often lead to relapse. In certain cases, psychotic symptoms involving paranoia, hallucinations and confusion may also be involved. Psychotic symptoms can be life-threatening due to the possibility of self-harm or harm to others.  Medically assisted detox can help people cope with withdrawal symptoms through the use of medications and behavioral approaches. Treatment at a detox facility only involves the elimination of the drug from the system. It should be followed by treatment at a rehabilitation facility to address issues underlying the drug use.

If you or a loved one suffers from amphetamine addiction, The Recovery Village Columbus can help. Our experienced medical professionals provide evidence-based treatment for drug addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. Contact us today to find a treatment program that can work for you.


Our Recovery Advocates are ready to answer your questions about addiction treatment and help you start your recovery.