Amphetamines Addiction and Abuse

Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction: Causes, Symptoms, Side Effects and Treatment

Amphetamine is a chemical compound used medically to stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) and, in various forms (often illegal), recreationally to produce feelings of euphoria, heightened sensation and extra energy.

In legal circumstances it is usually prescribed by doctors for the treatment of narcolepsy, asthma and attention hyper deficit disorder (ADHD) or hyperactivity. Two common examples of legal forms of amphetamine are Ritalin and Adderall. Although prescribed by doctors, they are often misused (especially by young adults) for their appetite-suppressing properties and their ability to stave off exhaustion. For example, people who take these drugs to lose weight or stay awake (for studies) often get caught in the web of abuse and dependence.

Illegal amphetamines include drugs such as “speed” and methamphetamine (“crystal meth”) which are increasingly frequently used recreationally despite their highly addictive natures and the extreme health risks they pose.

If you’re addicted to amphetamines, you can overcome dependence with the right treatment and care. Likewise, if you know someone struggling with dependence on the drug, the following information can guide you to help them towards recovery.

What are Amphetamines?

To overcome dependence, it is important to first understand the nature of the drug and how it affects the mind and body. So, what are amphetamines?

Amphetamine is the shortened name for alpha-methylphenethylamine. It is a powerful CNS stimulant, commonly used for medical purposes. For example, it is used to treat narcolepsy, hyperactivity and obesity. Although the addiction liability is currently listed as “moderate”, amphetamine is a Class B drug in the UK.

The drug comes in liquid, paste, powder, crystal or pill forms. The routes of administration for amphetamines for medical use are oral and intravenous. However, for recreational users, the drug can be taken via insufflation (blowing into a cavity), oral, intravenous, intramuscular and rectal routes.

Amphetamine abuse causes psychological dependence in the user. This means they experience a series of mental disturbances, such as psychosis, anxiety or depression when the drug is absent.

Different Forms of Amphetamines

Amphetamines were originally developed for medical use. Over time, various forms of the drug emerged, for both medical and recreational purposes.

These are several primary forms of amphetamine currently used (and abused) today:

Amphetamines (speed, Dexedrine, Benzedrine): Naturally, amphetamines accentuate blood-flow by increasing heart rates and blood pressure. This also constricts blood vessels, raises body temperature and triggers the body’s fight or flight decisions. In excess quantities, amphetamine can pose life-threatening disturbances to the function of the cardiovascular system.

Methamphetamine (crystal ice, meth, crystal meth): Methamphetamine is a synthetic compound, universally recognized as a highly addictive drug with neurologically damaging effects. The molecular structure of meth makes it extremely addictive and can alter the chemistry of the brain almost immediately.

Meth or ice (in its solid, crystalline form) is also known as one of the drugs with the highest risks when it comes to harmful, long-term effects to the brain, which may be irreversible -even long after abstinence. Methamphetamine is highly dangerous and illegal.

Methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin): Concerta and Ritalin are brand names for methylphenidate, a product of amphetamine. Doctors prescribe it for narcoleptic patients and people suffering from hyperactivity. Methylphenidate is legal in many countries. However, drug authorities have also issued a safety warning about the consequences of abusing this drug.

Adderall: Adderall is the brand name of the product obtained from combining dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, both CNS stimulants. While Adderall has been approved in many countries for narcolepsy and ADHD treatment, authorities have also issued critical warnings about the dangers of its abuse. Some cardiac and cardiovascular problems have been linked to Adderall dependence.

Amphetamine’s Back Story: a Worldwide Abuse Problem

Amphetamine was first discovered in 1887, and was commonly used as a nasal decongestant at the time. In the Second World War, amphetamines were administered to soldiers to increase their endurance, boost alertness and enhance moods. Through the years, the drugs have been used as an athletic performance booster, cognitive enhancer, weight-loss assistant and an aphrodisiac.

Increasingly, amphetamine became abused

recreationally, and it became obvious that its side-effects are often damaging to the mind and body. Chronic users often end up becoming addicted. There are ongoing efforts to educate people and stop worldwide indiscriminate use.

Amphetamine Abuse Causes

Many addictions don’t have one specific cause. Amphetamine abuse is attributed to various inter-related factors, including:

Genetic: Children who live with a genetically pre-disposed relative that struggles with amphetamine addiction are more likely to develop an addiction in future.

Biological: Research has shown that people with certain irregularities in the brain’s reward pathway tend to actively seek out pleasurable substances like amphetamine to feel more normal.

Environmental: Impressionable children can learn addictive behaviour by simply watching addicted people around them. In certain households where amphetamine is abused, teens may pick up the habit. Similarly, peer pressure constitutes an environmental cause for abuse.

Psychological: It is possible for people who are addicted to stimulants to suffer from undiagnosed and untreated psychological disorders. For instance, perfectionists who want to overperform and over-deliver may abuse the drug to remain on top of their game.

Why Are Amphetamines So Addictive?

Amphetamines affect the nervous system, and using them increases your energy levels and sense of well-being, making you feel more self-confident and active in social situations. This euphoric effect drives many people to use the drug excessively.

Like many stimulants of the central nervous system, the ‘rush’ from using amphetamine is strongly addictive and can drive you to use it repeatedly. The brain consists of nerve cells (neurons) that relay information across each other through chemicals known as neurotransmitters. Amphetamines act by inducing the production of norepinephrine and dopamine. Their functions include regulating alertness, blood flow, muscular coordination, motivation and reward.

It is this rewarding feeling that drives repeated usage. People who use amphetamines frequently tend to develop tolerance. This means they can up their dosage with subsequent uses. The chase for that ever elusive ‘initial high’ begets a psychological craving that indicates dependence. Eventually, your brain will adjust to accept amphetamine as part of its chemical structure; your body builds tolerance to the drug and dependence kicks in. Without the drug, the body goes into withdrawal.

Methods of Use

For medical use, amphetamines may be taken orally or intravenously. When used recreationally, the drug can be ingested orally, intravenously, intramuscularly, or in some cases rectally. When amphetamine is snorted or inhaled, it is very quickly absorbed into the mucous membrane, making its effect felt instantly. A study in 2012 revealed that 8% of prescription drug abusers used inhalation as a primary method of use.

Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction: Signs, Effects and Symptoms

The effects of amphetamine usage can be divided into short- and long-term effects. The short-term effects are the immediate signs which can be observed within minutes of taking the drug.

Short-term effects can seem attractive at first, but when the drug begins to wear off, some unpleasantness can be felt. For most users of amphetamine, desired short-term effects include increased confidence, stamina, keen concentration and heightened sex drive. It may cause excitability and hyperactivity. In most cases, there is little interest in sleep.

As the drug wears off, the downside of it is felt. Excessive doses can be stressful on the heart, because you are making it do more work than it should handle.

Other effects include:

  • Parched mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability

The best way to help a family member or loved one is to recognise the signs and symptoms of amphetamine abuse early. Responding quickly can prevent severe consequences in the future. If you’re unsure about your own usage behaviour, a self-test can prove an effective diagnosi

Short-Term Effects of Amphetamine Abuse

When amphetamine is abused, some harmful effects of the drug are noticed within a short period. Arresting the habit during this time is critical for full recovery.

Mood Psychological: Unnecessary mood swings; happy and excited one minute, sad and depressed the next. Inconsistent demeanour in social settings.

Physical: Constant cravings, increasing tolerance, frequent perspiration, reduced appetite, heightened alertness and pin-point pupils.

Behavioural: Taking more than the recommended dose, struggling to quit, losing interest in things you love, inability to perform simple tasks and so on.

Long-Term Effects of Amphetamine Abuse

When amphetamine abuse occurs over a prolonged period, the effects can be devastating. Besides changes in physical appearance, there are several health problems that could develop. Amphetamine abuse is primarily a psychological dependence, and its long-term effects affect the mind significantly.

Psychological: Paranoia, anxiety, delusions, hallucinations, amphetamine-induced psychosis.

Physical: Malnutrition, severe weight loss, convulsions, chronic chest pain, cardiac problems, constant headaches, skin disorders, breathing complications, coma, and death.

Behavioural/Social: Repetitive behaviour, poor social demeanour, inability to maintain relationships, anger outbursts, isolation and unwillingness to attend family events.

Amphetamine Overdose

If you use amphetamine frequently, there’s a risk of overdose. An overdose occurs when someone suffers a medical emergency from deliberately or accidentally consuming a larger dose than is prescribed. Common signs of an overdose are:

  • Seizures
  • Chest pain
  • Increased temperature (perspiration and fever)
  • Severe anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Violent outbursts
  • Nausea
  • Poor muscle coordination

The Effects of Amphetamine Addiction

Amphetamine abuse eventually leads to addiction. An addiction occurs when your body can no longer function without the drug. Since the brain has built a dependence on amphetamine, its absence registers as an anomaly. Your body starts reacting negatively, as it believes something is ‘missing’. This withdrawal causes you to seek the drug for relief.

Other damaging effects of amphetamine abuse include:

  • Permanent cognitive impairment
  • Brain structural anomalies
  • Emotional instabilities
  • Physical health issues
  • Social problems (isolation from family gatherings)

Amphetamine Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you know is suffering from amphetamine addiction, it is important to get help immediately. Dependence can be treated. The sooner you begin, the less complicated it will be.

Commitment to recovery is essential; unless you make up your mind to quit the drug, full recovery may never happen. For this reason, physicians conduct a short consultation session to ascertain your level of commitment. During the meeting, they will suggest the type of facility you will need.

There are two major types:

  • Inpatient rehab facility
  • Outpatient rehab facility

The type of facility you choose will depend on your level of dependence and overall schedule.

Detoxing from Amphetamines

The first step of treatment is detoxification. Not all facilities have a detox centre. If that is the case, you can detox at a hospital or clinic before checking into rehab for complete recovery.

Amphetamine detox is the removal of every trace of the drug from your body. To achieve this, you must go through withdrawal. It’s not going to be an easy process, because withdrawal can be an extremely unpleasant experience.

Detox may last any time from a few hours to a number of days. This varies with different individuals, because people’s dependence levels differ according to their history, usage patterns, body mass index, metabolism and other individual factors.

Amphetamine Withdrawal

If you are dependent on amphetamine, withdrawal is a common reaction to the absence of the drug in your body. Since the brain has altered its structure to recognise amphetamine as critical to its functioning, it triggers uncomfortable reactions when you don’t use it.

Withdrawal can start from three to twelve hours or more, depending on your level of dependence. It is a critical part of detoxification and complete recovery cannot occur without withdrawal.

Amphetamine Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you know is suffering from amphetamine addiction, it is important to get help immediately. Dependence can be treated. The sooner you begin, the less complicated it will be.

Commitment to recovery is essential; unless you make up your mind to quit the drug, full recovery may never happen. For this reason, physicians conduct a short consultation session to ascertain your level of commitment. During the meeting, they will suggest the type of facility you will need.

There are two major types:

  • Inpatient rehab facility
  • Outpatient rehab facility

The type of facility you choose will depend on your level of dependence and overall schedule.

Detoxing from Amphetamines

The first step of treatment is detoxification. Not all facilities have a detox centre. If that is the case, you can detox at a hospital or clinic before checking into rehab for complete recovery.

Amphetamine detox is the removal of every trace of the drug from your body. To achieve this, you must go through withdrawal. It’s not going to be an easy process, because withdrawal can be an extremely unpleasant experience.

Detox may last any time from a few hours to a number of days. This varies with different individuals, because people’s dependence levels differ according to their history, usage patterns, body mass index, metabolism and other individual factors.

Amphetamine Withdrawal

If you are dependent on amphetamine, withdrawal is a common reaction to the absence of the drug in your body. Since the brain has altered its structure to recognise amphetamine as critical to its functioning, it triggers uncomfortable reactions when you don’t use it.

Withdrawal can start from three to twelve hours or more, depending on your level of dependence. It is a critical part of detoxification and complete recovery cannot occur without withdrawal.

Effects of Withdrawal

People who are addicted to amphetamines often display severe physical and psychological discomfort. Abrupt cessation of the drug produces unpleasant effects.

They include:

  • Depression (fatigue, inactivity, mood swings)
  • Poor sleep patterns (several hours)
  • Nightmares
  • Increased appetite
  • Agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and lack of focus

Detox from amphetamines should be conducted in the presence of trained medical professionals in a controlled environment. Accredited rehab facilities provide patients with 24-hour medical care to make withdrawal bearable. Treatment may involve analgesics and sleep medication to ease the pain.

Getting Through Withdrawal from Amphetamine

Withdrawal is the reason most people fear treatment. Like many other addictive substances, amphetamine withdrawal is an unpleasant experience, and shouldn’t be approached lightly.

First, talk to a physician. They will inquire about your use history. Information – such as how long you have been using, the typical dosage, your last attempt to quit and so on – will help the doctor make adequate preparations for detoxification.

Withdrawal should occur in an appropriate environment. Whether at home or in a clinic, there must be round-the-clock medical care available. Prior to detoxification, start tapering your usage. Tapering is the reduction of dosage over a period. It helps the body adjust, so that withdrawal isn’t too uncomfortable. The doctor can guide you with the proper tapering doses.

Treatment and Therapy: Options for Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction

After detoxification, rehabilitation therapy is the next stage of treatment. If your dependence level is high, it is more suitable to check into an inpatient rehab facility. However, if you are less dependent on amphetamines, an outpatient rehab service is suitable; this also allows you to follow a regular work or school schedule.

Therapy involves meeting with an addiction specialist to identify the root cause of your drug abuse. The professional will also help you learn positive behaviours to overcome cravings and prevent relapse. Other features of rehab include group sessions with other patients, as well as activities such as exercising and personal crafts.

Therapy options include:

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
  • Cognitive Behavioural Play
  • Aversion Therapy
  • Meditation Therapy

In rehab, you’ll also build a strong support network to help you when you leave the facility.

Building a New, Sober Life

After rehab, you will be released into society as a clean, sober person. It is always a good feeling to start afresh, but it’s not always as easy as it seems. Temptations will come, and you will experience cravings now and then. It’s up to you to practice the techniques you learnt in rehab to fight off the urge. Fortunately, you won’t be doing so on your own. With a strong support network, you’ll always have somebody to talk to when you feel challenges coming.

Sobriety is an everyday effort, but recovery groups are designed to ensure you have the support you need. It is also advisable to avoid being alone; isolation breeds grounds for relapse. Stay with a trusted friend or family member in the early weeks of sobriety.


FAQs

What is Amphetamine?

Amphetamine is short for alpha-methylphenethylamine. It is a powerful central nervous system stimulant, often used for medical treatment: for example, it can be used to treat narcolepsy, hyperactivity and obesity. It is also used recreationally in a number of forms. Although the addiction liability is currently listed as ‘moderate’, amphetamine is classified as a Class B drug in the UK. Users of the drug have a high chance of abusing it.

Why are Amphetamines Addictive?

Amphetamine is a CNS stimulant with the ability to increase alertness, enhance moods and drive focus. This feeling of euphoria produces a sense of wellbeing that many people find attractive. Because of this, there’s a tendency to repeat usage multiple times, just to experience the related high. With subsequent abuse, the brain forms a tolerance to the drug and the user forms an addiction, with adverse consequences.

How are Amphetamines Abused?

Amphetamines can be abused in two ways: recreationally or by exceeding a doctor’s prescribed dose. Abuse leads to drug tolerance and dependence. Common forms of administration are oral ingestion (for pills), intravenous injection, snorting the powder through the nose (insufflation), and smoking. The mode of ingestion also affects the speed of the drug’s effect in taking hold.

What does it Mean to Be Addicted to Amphetamines?

Amphetamine addiction means you are unable to live normally without using the drug every few hours. People who are dependent on amphetamine tend to experience severe withdrawal when they don’t take the drug after some time. Typical signs of addiction include increased dosage, restlessness, anxiety, paranoia, poor sleep patterns and irritability.

How Do I Reduce the Risk of Abuse?

For non-patients, it’s always safer not to use in the first place. However, the following methods are equally helpful:

  • Don’t inject it to reduce risk of infection
  • Stick to the doctor’s prescription always – use smaller amounts
  • Don’t mix with substances such as alcohol or other stimulants
  • Avoid using in isolation

Is Amphetamine Illegal and What are the Repercussions?

Medically prescribed amphetamine is not illegal, because it is used to treat ailments such as ADHD and narcolepsy. However, using without a doctor’s prescription attracts serious legal implications. Amphetamine is a Class B drug: making, keeping, selling or giving it away is against the law. In the UK, possession attracts a penalty of up to five years in prison or a fine (or both). Conversely, selling it could get you 14 years in jail or an unlimited fine, or both.

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