Amphetamines are a kind of stimulant that impact the body’s central nervous system, which is responsible for all bodily functions. Because these drugs can alter brain chemistry, they may cause or exacerbate existing mental health problems such as anxiety and depression. Users who have a family or personal history of mental illness are particularly vulnerable. Some amphetamines, like Dexedrine, are manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. They are prescribed to children and adults with medical conditions like ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, obesity and narcolepsy. However, because of their euphoric effects, amphetamines are often abused for recreational purposes. These drugs can be powerfully addictive — especially in people who use them without medical supervision.
When a person uses amphetamines, their brain receives a rapid burst of the “feel good” brain chemical, dopamine. Over time, if the brain continues to regularly receive an unusual, artificial surge of dopamine, it becomes accustomed to the chemical rush, creating physical dependency. Thus, withdrawal occurs if the dependent user goes without amphetamines.
The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies amphetamines as Schedule II substances, which indicates that while the drugs may have a legitimate medical use, they carry a high potential for abuse and also for severe psychological and physical dependence. Schedule II drugs are considered dangerous substances when used without the supervision of a doctor. However, even when used medically, amphetamines can cause serious problems. No matter how amphetamines are taken, addiction can occur easily.
When amphetamine abuse is taking place, tangible signs are often present. For example, you may notice your loved one wearing new, smaller clothing items. Amphetamines are appetite suppressants, so many users simply forget to eat because they do not feel hungry. This can lead to weight loss and the need for a smaller-sized wardrobe. For the same reasons, you may also find untouched meals and unfinished snacks or notice a lack of groceries in the refrigerator.
Amphetamines like Adderall are manufactured in pill form and are intended for oral ingestion. However, many addicts use alternative consumption methods to achieve a more intense high faster; snorting or injecting are most-common ways of abuse. Both of these methods involves crushing pills, so you may find powdery remnants of crushed amphetamine pills on the bathroom sink or on handheld mirrors. The powder may be white, light blue or dark blue, depending on the particular drug’s formulation.
- Snorting Signs – Addicts tend to use certain tools when snorting drugs, such as mirrors, straws and tightly-rolled cash bills. The user may also get a bloody nose frequently.
- Injecting Signs – In order to inject amphetamines, an addict must dissolve the crushed pills into a liquid like water and then fill a syringe with the solution. You may find mixing materials like cups, and injecting paraphernalia like needles and rubber hoses or belts. The user may have needle marks at injection sites like the inner arm.
- Smoking Signs – People who smoke amphetamines often use a glass pipe. They also may melt and inhale the drugs using a metal spoon. If you notice the unusual smell of amphetamine smoke and see a glass pipe or spoons with dark burn marks on the bottom, your loved one may be using amphetamine.
Amphetamines carry significant side effects that impact both your mind and body. Much of the time, the physical symptoms of amphetamine abuse are quite visible. Some common ways amphetamine abuse manifests physically include:
- Energy Changes – You may notice frequent bursts of unexplained, extreme energy that last for periods anywhere from 1 – 4 hours. Energy changes take place immediately after smoking or injecting amphetamines, and about 40 minutes after ingesting or snorting the drugs. After the effects wear off, an energy “crash” quickly follows.
- Increased Heart Rate and Breathing – Nicknamed “speed,” amphetamines speed up many of the body’s processes that the central nervous system controls. This includes breathing and heart rate, which may become noticeably quicker after using the drug.
- Insomnia – Amphetamines cause so much brain chemical activity that it becomes difficult for the mind and body to be “quiet.” Thus, insomnia is among the most common side effects of speed abuse.
- Restless Behavior – Extreme levels of energy can cause restlessness to the point of constant leg shaking and even physical tremors. This may also manifest as repetitive itching and scratching (which results in skin problems), and also clenching and grinding of teeth.
- Weight Loss – Amphetamines suppress the appetite. Over time, this causes weight loss.
- Altered Sexual Behavior – Oftentimes, amphetamine abusers experience an increase in sex drive due to the high level of dopamine that is flooding their brain.
- Dehydration – Amphetamines are dehydrating to the user, and it is difficult to drink enough water to mitigate those effects. When a person is abusing amphetamines in large doses, this problem only grows, causing dehydration headaches and dry mouth.
It is difficult to stop abusing stimulants once you have started, but long-term stimulant abuse can lead to a very grave and chronic brain disease: addiction. As the body adjusts to an amphetamine, it develops a need for more of the substance in order to achieve the same effects, such as euphoria. This tolerance eventually results in dependency, when a person needs to continue taking amphetamines to avoid painful withdrawal symptoms. Even in the short term, dependency can be a slippery slope down into addiction. Addiction is just one of many problems that extended amphetamine abuse can cause. Other serious physical ailments long-term amphetamine abuse can cause include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Chronic insomnia
- Tooth decay and loss
- Frequent immunity-related illness
- Kidney complications
- Lung problems
- Increased risk of cardiovascular problems, such as stroke, heart attack, etc.
- Possible increased risk of dopamine-related disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease
- Increased risk of needle-related infections
- Repetitive motor activity
- Skin problems, such as acne and infection from open sores related to scratching at skin
- Vitamin deficiency
- Electrolyte imbalance
- High body temperature and heat injury
- Inability to feel pleasure from anything else
Long-term amphetamine abuse can also cause serious psychological problems, including the following:
- Decreased cognitive abilities
- Inability to concentrate
- Amphetamine-induced depressive disorder
- Behavioral disorders.
Even if addiction does not develop, amphetamine dependence can lead to unpleasant symptoms when you try to stop taking the drugs. Detox can lead to amphetamine withdrawal, which is marked by the following:
|Fatigue and loss of energy||Sleeping too much or too little|
|Apathy / Dysphoria||Slowed motor activity|
|Depression||Unexplained weight gain|
|Suicidal ideation||Vivid nightmares|
|Inability to feel pleasure||Nausea and vomiting|
Like other drugs of abuse, amphetamines can cause overdose if a user takes too large an amount. Stimulants raise blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature, all of which can be dangerous if they reach high levels. Especially when combined with other substances, like alcohol or additional stimulant drugs, amphetamines pose a very real overdose risk. If a person takes too much of an amphetamine drug, keep an eye out for the following overdose symptoms. Amphetamine overdose can cause death. If you notice any or all of the following, seek emergency help right away:
- Increase in heart rate or breathing
- Extreme sweating / Hypothermia
- Convulsions, Tremors or extreme shakiness
- Stroke or Massive Heart attack
- Chest and/or stomach pains
- Unexplained aggression / anger
- Extreme, uncontrollable anxiety
- Psychosis or Hallucinations
- Paranoid delusions
- Slurred speech
You may be able to treat amphetamine overdose at home using calming, stabilizing measures like reassurance, hydration and as calm an atmosphere as possible. Additionally, depending on the level of severity, treatment may also require medications. In many cases, doctors will administer relaxing drugs such as benzodiazepines in order to prompt a medication-induced sedation. If psychosis is present, antipsychotic medications may be prescribed. Calcium channel blockers, alpha-blockers and beta-blockers may also prove helpful for amphetamine-related rapid heart rate.
The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.