Amphetamine Abuse

Amphetamine abuse is a serious issue for many individuals. Amphetamines are stimulant drugs which can be both illicit and prescribed by doctors. No matter how these drugs are obtained, the possibility for abuse is high and can lead to many other issues like addiction, money problems, health risks, and even death. Understanding amphetamine abuse may help you before these issues come about or it may allow you to help someone you love who is abusing these powerful drugs.

Who Abuses Amphetamines?

According to the ADF, “Amphetamines are synthetic psychostimulant drugs that speed up the workings of the brain.” There are both illegal and legally prescribed amphetamines, and the abuse of the latter can sometimes lead to the use and abuse of the former. While amphetamines can help those with disorders like ADHD, abuse of the drugs is a big problem.

“According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2011, 11 percent of people ages 4-17 have been diagnosed with ADHD” (NIDA). While the disorder can affect adults as well, many children and teens are diagnosed with it, causing them to be prescribed amphetamines as treatment. This can be beneficial, but many young people abuse their amphetamine medications for the effects they cause. They can stay up later and sometimes not sleep at all. Because of a lack of knowledge and supervision, teens and children diagnosed with ADHD are at risk for amphetamine abuse.

Others abuse the drug without even being prescribed it. They buy or get prescriptions from friends and share the drug in order to stay up later, get high, and even study for tests. “Because they suppress appetite, increase wakefulness, and increase focus and attention,” many college students abuse amphetamines. In fact, according to MIT, “Diverted prescription stimulants (mainly, amphetamines like Adderall and Dexedrine) are second only to marijuana in their popularity with this age group.”

The groups who are most at risk of abusing amphetamines are:

  • College and university students
  • Children and teens diagnosed with ADHD
  • Those who have abused stimulants in the past

Effects of Amphetamine Abuse

Health Risks

Amphetamine abuse can cause many health risks. For example, these drugs “can increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature and decrease sleep and appetite” (NIDA). These are all issues that are made worse with the abuse of amphetamines. Over time, they can affect a person’s health negatively, causing:

Amphetamine Abuse

Amphetamine abuse can cause weakness and malnutrition.

  • Stroke
  • Problems with breathing
  • Ulcers
  • Skin problems and disorders
  • Fainting
  • Weakness
  • Verbal and/or motor tics
  • Malnutrition
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Heart attack
  • Convulsions
  • Coma
  • Death

According to CESAR, amphetamine abuse can also cause “mood or mental changes” and “physiological and behavioral disorders.” The NLM lists some of the psychological side effects caused by amphetamine abuse, which may include:

  • “Believing things that are not true”
  • “Feeling unusually suspicious of others”
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Hostility
  • Hallucinations
  • Mania
  • Toxic psychosis

Both your mental and physical health are at risk when you abuse amphetamines. A person who has been abusing them for a long time will only experience worse and worse symptoms caused by their abuse and will continue to become more dependent on the drug.

Overdose

Certainly one of the most severe health risks caused by amphetamine abuse, overdose on amphetamines is common, especially due to the amount of tolerance built up by those who abuse it. Those who are rushed to a hospital for amphetamine and other types of stimulant overdose “need careful monitoring for seizures, cardiac arrhythmias, stroke, and pulmonary complication” (CHCE).

The signs of amphetamine overdose, according to the NLM, are as follows:

  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Restlessness
  • Panic
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Quick or difficult breathing
  • Shaking of a part of the body which the person cannot control
  • Weakness or aching of the muscles
  • Dizziness
  • Depression
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Blurry vision
  • Dark colored urine (red or cola-colored)
  • Quick or irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Someone who is experiencing these symptoms as a result of amphetamine overdose should be treated immediately. If you see someone with these symptoms, call 911 and stay with the person until help arrives. “At high doses, [amphetamines] can lead to serious cardiovascular complications,” according to the NIDA, including stroke and heart failure.

According to the ADF, “Overdose is usually due to taking amphetamines with other drugs, especially depressant drugs such as sleeping pills, opiates and antidepressants.” This can be especially dangerous, as the use of both types of drugs can enhance one another and make it even more likely for a person to experience deadly consequences from amphetamine abuse. For example, opioids can cause severe respiratory depression which will only become more dangerous when coupled with the effects of the amphetamines.

What Are the Long-term Psychological Effects of Amphetamine Abuse?

Addiction

Amphetamine addiction is truly dangerous and can cause addiction very quickly. These drugs are habit-forming, and while they can usually be abused for some time before full-blown addiction sets in, they begin working on the brain as soon as a person takes the first dose.

According to the NIDA, “When taken in doses and via routes other than those prescribed, prescription stimulants can increase brain dopamine in a rapid and highly amplified manner… thereby disrupting normal communication between brain cells and producing euphoria and, as a result, increasing the risk of addiction.” Illegal amphetamine drugs like meth react the same way. Some of the issues that go along with addiction to amphetamines are:

  • Tolerance
    • A person will become tolerant to the effects of amphetamines after taking them for a while. This means that the same amount of the drug they originally took will no longer cause the same effects, and the individual will likely take more in order to achieve them.
  • Dependence
    • Someone who becomes dependent on amphetamines will not be able to feel normal without them. They will often abuse the drug every day or more than once a day just to feel normal and not even feel the effects of getting high anymore. Dependence leads to withdrawal symptoms when the person suddenly stops taking the drug.
  • Withdrawal
    • A person can experience withdrawal symptoms when they suddenly stop taking amphetamines. According to the NHTSA, the withdrawal symptoms of amphetamine are:
      • Lack of energy
      • The inability to experience pleasure (anhedonia)
      • “Waves of intense craving”
      • Depression
      • Hypersomnolence or an excessive amount of sleep
      • Fatigue
      • Exhaustion
      • Apathy
      • Irritability
      • Disorientation

Addiction to amphetamines can cause many problems in a person’s life. Someone may experience relationship problems or family issues because their addiction will soon be noticed by loved ones. Some people lose their jobs or see a decrease in their grades. Many people who abuse these drugs believe that amphetamines will help them become smarter or get better grades, but actually, “research has shown that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t” (NIDA).

Addiction to amphetamines can also cause:

  • Psychosis similar to schizophrenia
  • Monetary issues when all the person’s money goes to buying more amphetamines
  • Abuse and addiction to more intense amphetamine drugs like methamphetamine and even other stimulants like cocaine
  • Legal issues
  • Risky behavior like driving while under the influence or unsafe sex
  • The need for 24-hour treatment and care to recover from the addiction

Amphetamine addiction also causes cravings that can last for a very long time, even months after addiction treatment and recovery. Amphetamine addiction will last with you for a very long time, and it becomes more and more likely the longer you abuse amphetamines.

How Do I Know if Someone is Abusing Amphetamines?

There are many telltale signs of amphetamine abuse. Generally, people who abuse the drug do so in binge-crash cycles, where the user takes lots of the drug in order to stay awake and alert for several days. “When binge episodes end, the abuser ‘crashes'” and will sometimes sleep off the effects for an excessive amount of time (CESAR). Then the amphetamine abuser will start the cycle over again.

If you are concerned that someone in your life is abusing amphetamines, look for these signs.

  • The person only wants to spend time with others who abuse amphetamines (or other drugs), and therefore, their friend circle changes dramatically.
  • The person becomes hostile, aggressive, or angry when you mention your concerns about their drug abuse to them.
  • The person seems very awake, high energy, and excited one day (or for several days) and suddenly displays the opposite soon after, acting lethargic, tired, irritable, and sluggish.
  • The person loses too much weight and becomes extremely malnourished.
  • The person is very secretive and hides amphetamines around the house.
  • The person needs to take amphetamines to get out of bed in the morning or in order to feel normal.
  • The person is unhappy unless able to take amphetamines.
  • The person behaves very strangely, acting manic, experiencing hallucinations, or otherwise displaying symptoms of mental disturbance or schizophrenia.
  • The person has a very strange sleep schedule, sleeping at the wrong hours or not sleeping for several days.

These signs put together show a person who is severely abusing amphetamines. Certainly at first, they may believe that the abuse of the drug will not hurt them, that they are just taking it to stay up and writing a paper or study for a test.

But the abuse of amphetamines can lead to many other issues and makes amphetamine addiction so much more likely. Amphetamine abuse is dangerous and can require treatment, so it is best to seek help as soon as possible in order to avoid worse consequences in the future.

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