Amphetamines, which sometimes are also referred to by the slang terms uppers, bennies, and greenies, are a category of central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that increase energy and produce a sense of peacefulness and pleasure. The term amphetamines can also be used as a general term to describe three substances: amphetamine, dextroamphetamine, and methamphetamine (which, in turn, is also commonly referred to as meth, crystal, and crystal meth).
Learn about amphetamines and substance abuse
Amphetamines interact with the body by triggering the release of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, which is associated with pleasure and motivation. Amphetamines also block the storage, destruction, and reabsorption of dopamine, which sustains the initial rush that users experience.
In the United States, amphetamines are categorized as Schedule II controlled substances, meaning they have limited medical uses and a high risk of dependence. Available only via prescription, medications that contain amphetamines are primarily used today to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. In the past, amphetamines were used to treat obesity and depression, though those practices have fallen out of favor among most reputable practitioners.
The most common amphetamine-based prescription ADHD medications include Adderall and Ritalin. Dexedrine, Evekeo, and Vyvanse, which also contain amphetamines, are other medications prescribed to patients who are dealing with ADHD. Along with Provigil, the five ADHD meds may also be prescribed to treat narcolepsy.
Because they promote focus, attention, energy, and pleasure, amphetamines are also enticing targets for recreational abuse. Amphetamine abuse is also fueled by familiarity and ease of access, as many people have been prescribed amphetamine-based meds to deal with symptoms related to ADHD. When abused, amphetamines may be swallowed, snorted, injected, or smoked.
Though amphetamines can be safe for long-term use when taken as directed by a qualified prescribing prescription, they are addictive substances that can inflict a wide range of negative effects when misused for purposes of self-medication or abused for recreational purposes. Fortunately, however, there are treatment options for amphetamine addiction available.
Amphetamine addiction statistics
Experts estimate that about 15 million Americans have used amphetamines for non-medical purposes, and that nearly 600,000 people in the Unites States engage in amphetamine abuse on an ongoing basis. The World Health Organization (WHO) has described amphetamine abuse as a growing phenomenon, and has reported that, in several nations, amphetamine abuse occurs more often than heroin and cocaine abuse combined.
In the 10-year period from 1995 to 2005, amphetamine-related admissions to drug treatment programs increased by more than 100%, rising from 4% of all admissions in 1995 to 9% of all admissions in 2005. In approximately the same timeframe, emergency room visits that directly resulted from amphetamine use increased by about 60%.
Causes and Risk Factors
Causes and risk factors for amphetamine addiction
The following are examples of genetic and environmental influences and risk factors for engaging in amphetamine abuse:
Genetic: Family history of mental illness and drug abuse is a strong predictor of future problems with a substance use disorder. Research involving twins and adopted children indicates that genetics play a significant role in determining whether or not a person will struggle with substance abuse and addiction. Having a parent or sibling who has a substance use disorder may increase a person’s risk for developing a similar problem by as much as 50%.
Environmental: The prevalence of ADHD medications has been cited as a primary environmental influence on the rising rates of amphetamine abuse. As more young people have familiarity with and access to these drugs (either their own or those that have been prescribed to a friend), the likelihood that they will use them for recreational or self-medicating purposes continues to rise and may persist into adulthood.
- Family history of substance abuse and/or mental illness
- Prior substance abuse
- Personal history of mental illness
- Socioeconomic status
- Stress-management problems
- Low self-esteem
- Poor self-image
- Academic failure
- Education level (for older teens and young adults, the abuse of amphetamine-based ADHD medication is significantly higher among college students than among non-students)
- Gender and ethnicity (amphetamine abuse is said to be most common among white males)
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of amphetamine addiction
Amphetamine abuse is likely to reveal itself via a wide range of symptoms, depending upon the nature and severity of the problem. For example, long-term methamphetamine abuse will look different than short-term Adderall abuse. That said, the following are among the common signs that may indicate a problem with amphetamine abuse:
- Doctor shopping (trying to get multiple prescriptions for the same or similar medication)
- Borrowing ADHD medications from friends or family members
- Becoming secretive and/or deceptive regarding one’s whereabouts, activities, and associates
- Visiting illegal online pharmacies
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased heart rate, including heart palpitations
- Increased body temperature
- Excessive perspiration
- Loss of appetite
- Increased concentration
- Increased confidence
- Heightened level of alertness
- Hyperactivity, jitteriness, and other signs of an overabundance of energy
- Feelings of grandiosity
- Heightened desire for sex
- Irritability and agitation
- Sense of pleasure to the point of euphoria
Amphetamine addiction and co-occurring disorders
It is not uncommon for individuals who have been abusing amphetamines to also be dealing with co-occurring disorders, such as the following:
- Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
- Anxiety disorders
- Bipolar disorder
- Major depressive disorder
- Persistent depressive disorder
- Specific learning disorder
Effects of amphetamine addiction
When used as directed under proper medical supervision, amphetamines can have a beneficial effect. However, when abused, the impact can range from distracting to dangerous to deadly. The following are among the common long-term effects of amphetamine abuse:
- High blood pressure
- Heart damage
- Vitamin deficiency
- Extreme weakness
- Dizziness / lightheadedness
- Erratic, unpredictable behavior
- Liver damage
- Kidney damage
- Damage to teeth and gums
- Disorientation and confusion
Withdrawl & Overdose
Effects of amphetamine withdrawal and overdose
Effects of amphetamine withdrawal: Depending upon the type, amount, and potency of a particular amphetamine, cessation of use can trigger the onset of several symptoms of withdrawal. Withdrawal symptoms that can develop within 24 hours of last use and last for weeks may include:
- Strong drug cravings
- Agitation and irritability
- Lucid dreaming
- Fatigue to the point of exhaustion
- Increased appetite
- Hypersomnia or insomnia
- Tics, twitches, and spasms
Effects of amphetamine overdose: Type, potency, and length of use can also influence the onset and severity of amphetamine overdose symptoms. Overdose, which occurs when a person ingests an amount or strength of a substance that exceeds the body’s ability to metabolize it, can be both painful and dangerous, and should prompt immediate medical attention:
- Heat attack
- Renal (kidney) failure
- Hallucinations and delusions