Amphetamine abuse has become a major challenge facing the people of our nation. Prescription stimulants like Adderall and Dexedrine, along with illicit amphetamines like methamphetamine and ecstasy, are highly addictive and disruptive when used as recreational drugs. Understanding more about these medications and drugs and how they work in the body creates an ability to recognize the signs of addiction, so individuals can learn how to get help in treating this challenging issue.
Amphetamine is a synthetic stimulant-type medication. It stimulates or excites the central nervous system, which results in a feeling of higher energy, focus, confidence, and, to a degree, euphoria. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, amphetamine was first synthesized in Germany in the late 1800s; however, its stimulant properties were not really discovered until about the 1930s, when it began to be used to treat nasal congestion.
As time went by, amphetamine began to be used to treat a variety of conditions, from alcohol hangovers to weight loss. It was also used to treat two conditions for which it is still known today: hyperactivity in young people (including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and narcolepsy, a condition in which people fall asleep suddenly. Occasionally, it is used to treat depression.
Multiple prescription medications contain amphetamine or its two active components, including:
Dexedrine is made from dextroamphetamine, which is one of the two active components of amphetamine, as described by the Food and Drug Administration; the other component is levoamphetamine. Dextroamphetamine is stronger than levoamphetamine, and it’s even stronger than amphetamine itself. Another well-known drug that is similar in structure to amphetamine but much stronger in effect is methamphetamine – an illicit stimulant that has a powerful euphoric effect and is highly addictive and dangerous. In addition, the club drug known as ecstasy, Molly, or MDMA is a type of amphetamine that has a mind-altering effect.
Amphetamine is abused in a number of ways. Of course it is possible just to take the pills and experience a mild high that way. However, some people crush the pills and snort them, creating a faster, stronger high. One of the quickest ways to get high from amphetamine or methamphetamine is to dissolve the powder in water and inject it. This method gets the drug into the bloodstream and to the brain almost immediately, creating an intense high.
Students often abuse amphetamine through off-label use as a study aid. These individuals consider that the high energy and focus that result from using the drug can help them perform better on tests and in school. However, an article from TIME discusses a study that showed students who use amphetamines do not perform any better; in fact, they often perform worse. Nevertheless, the drug does make people feel like they can focus more and do better even if the opposite is true. More significantly, this level of abuse can lead to more severe, illicit use of the drug to get high.
There are multiple ways of recognizing amphetamine abuse, including physical and mental symptoms and changes in behavior as described by Healthline:
In the case of methamphetamine, dental problems, skin sores, and severe weight loss are highly visible signs that the drug is being abused, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse
The destructive properties of these drugs make people who abuse them feel depressed and even suicidal when they are not using the drug. As a result, cravings to keep using the drug can be very strong, making it difficult to stop use.
Along with the addictive potential, there are risks that occur when using amphetamines for recreational purposes. These include:
As described above, among the major dangers of using these drugs are the structural changes that can occur in the brain as a result. As described by a study in Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, amphetamines can destroy gray matter in the brain as well as dopamine receptors, fundamentally changing the way the brain functions, which can affect the person’s ability to stop use and avoid relapse.
There are other short-term and long-term issues associated with amphetamine abuse that are related to the effects of these drugs on the body, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abusex, including:
With methamphetamine, these problems can be even more exaggerated, leading to severe dental disease because of bad eating and lack of saliva, which leads to major infections and loss of teeth, as described by the American Dental Association. In addition, using meth can lead to skin damage due to hallucinations that something is “crawling” under the skin, leading people to pick at sores that then, due to damaged blood circulation, do not easily heal.
As described by CESAR, many people who use amphetamine engage in polydrug abuse because of the perception that other drugs enhance the effects of the amphetamine. In particular, alcohol and marijuana are used. Sometimes, sedatives like heroin are used with amphetamines for an enhanced effect.
Using multiple drugs complicates the ability to detox and recover from substance abuse. However, it is possible to effectively treat addiction to amphetamine or similar drugs, as well as the polydrug abuse that often occurs with these substances.
Treating amphetamine abuse and addiction can be challenging because of the changes in brain structure that occur with chronic use. The sometimes severe depression and loss of pleasure that occur when use of the drug is stopped can be a major obstacle to avoiding relapse. Nevertheless, therapies that help people understand and adjust their behaviors based on triggers of drug use can contribute to the individuals being able to get and stay on the path to recovery. These therapies include:
By working with a reputable, research-based treatment program, individuals who have struggled with amphetamine abuse or addiction have a greater chance of moving forward in recovery and starting a future free from amphetamine abuse.