Amphetamines have a high addiction potential and chronic use can lead to the development of physical dependence on the drug as well as requiring increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired effect.
Abuse of prescription amphetamines or chronic use of illicit amphetamines can lead to amphetamine addiction involving drug use despite negative consequences on health along with their social and professional life.
How are Amphetamines Abused?
Amphetamines are generally available in the form of pills, crystals, liquid or in powder form. Prescription amphetamines are generally available in the form of pills (or liquid) and taken orally when abused by college students attempting to improve their academic performance. Although amphetamine and methamphetamine pills can be swallowed, pills and powder may be dissolved in water and injected, especially when taken illicitly.
Illicit amphetamines like speed are also snorted or smoked using a pipe.
Amphetamine Abuse Symptoms
Unlike other drugs, signs of amphetamine abuse and addiction tend to be easily identifiable. Amphetamines belong to the psychostimulant drug class and result in increased mental activity. The common symptoms of amphetamine abuse and addiction often include increased talkativeness, excessive speech, inability to sleep and a loss of appetite.
There are several physical signs that a person may be abusing amphetamines. Physical signs of amphetamine abuse can be:
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate
- Elevated body temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
Long-term use can lead to the development of physical dependence on the drug with amphetamine intake necessary for the individual to function normally. Furthermore, larger amounts of amphetamines are required to produce the desired effects of the drug, resulting in drug tolerance developing. Thus long-term use can result in physical addiction to amphetamines.
In addition to physical signs, there are several behavioral signs of amphetamine abuse. Behavioral signs of amphetamine abuse include:
- Increased talkativeness
- Nervousness or restlessness
- Aggressive behavior
Side Effects of Amphetamine Abuse
Common acute side effects of amphetamine abuse involve mood and emotional disturbances. Other side effects generally include gastrointestinal and cardiovascular effects. Long-term effects of amphetamine abuse can be addiction and physiological, cognitive and behavioral deficits — some of which may be permanent.
There are several short-term side effects of amphetamine abuse, some of which can be serious. Some of the more common short-term side effects of amphetamine abuse include:
- Loss of appetite
- Psychosis with paranoid delusions or hallucinations
- Dilated pupils
- Muscle pain
- Increased blood pressure and heart rate, irregular heartbeat
- High doses of amphetamines can cause serious cardiovascular events including stroke and myocardial infarction that may lead to death
Chronic use of amphetamines at high doses results in drug dependence and tolerance. Drug dependence involves the adaptation of the body to drug use and the need to continue drug intake to function normally in daily life. Drug tolerance also develops with continued use with higher doses of amphetamines required to produce the effects of the drug. Repeated drug use can lead to the development of addiction as well as having neurotoxic effects resulting in deficits in intellectual abilities. The neurotoxic effects generally involve brain regions with a higher density of dopamine and serotonin neurons.
Some of the long-term effects of amphetamine abuse include:
- Weight loss
- Mood disturbances – anxiety, depression
- Psychosis involving paranoia, hallucinations and delusions
- Violent behavior
- Cognitive deficits: memory loss, deficits in thinking, learning and decision making
- Tooth decay and tooth loss
- Increased risk of cardiovascular events like stroke and arrhythmias
Addiction caused by chronic use can also result in negligence toward one’s social and professional obligations and cause irreparable damage to personal and professional relationships.
Polysubstance abuse involves the use of multiple substances that intensifies the effects of a single drug. The consequences of polysubstance abuse are often adverse with alcohol being commonly used in combination with other drugs. Simultaneous use of alcohol with prescription amphetamines or illicit amphetamines can increase the chances of alcohol poisoning. The stimulating effects of amphetamine may allow consumption of higher volumes of alcohol and result in liver and muscle damage. The interaction between amphetamines and alcohol can also potentiate the effects produced by amphetamines. Similar interactions are also observed with cocaine and opiates like heroin.
High doses of amphetamine can often result in psychosis with symptoms that are similar to that of schizophrenia. Amphetamine-induced psychosis may also occur due to long-term use of the drug. The symptoms of amphetamine-induced psychosis generally subside over a period of less than one week, but there are cases where they persist for three weeks or longer.
Schizophrenia patients and individuals with schizotypal traits are at a higher risk of developing psychosis after amphetamine use. Although amphetamines can cause psychosis regardless of such a prior history, certain healthy individuals may also be more vulnerable to developing psychosis after amphetamine use. After an initial incidence of drug-induced psychosis, psychological stress may be sufficient to trigger a psychotic episode even during abstinence. Methamphetamine dependence is associated with an 11-times higher likelihood of developing psychosis in comparison to the rates observed in the general population.
Amphetamine-Induced Psychosis Symptoms
Symptoms of amphetamine-induced psychosis include:
- Paranoid delusions
- Auditory and tactile hallucinations (like insects crawling on the skin)
- Violent behavior
- Irrational beliefs that random occurrences in the world have a special personal significance
Causes of Amphetamine Addiction
Amphetamine addiction is generally caused by using high doses of amphetamine. This development may occur due to the misuse of amphetamine medications prescribed for the treatment of disorders like ADHD or abuse of illicit drugs. Although precise causes of amphetamine addiction are unknown, both environmental and genetic risk factors play an important role in determining the susceptibility of an individual to developing amphetamine addiction.
Certain variants of genes associated with the function of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and norepinephrine, are linked to an increased risk of amphetamine abuse. Drug use in the family or by peers also increases the risk of amphetamine abuse. Co-occurring psychological disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder can also increase the likelihood of occurrence of substance abuse disorders, including amphetamine addiction.
Amphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms
Like most drugs of abuse, abstaining from amphetamine use after chronic use can also result in withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal symptoms associated with abstinence from amphetamine use tend to be relatively less severe than other psychostimulant drugs like cocaine. Withdrawal symptoms of amphetamine addiction include:
- Mood disturbances
- Intense drug cravings
- Inability to focus
- Sleep disturbances
- Headaches and body pain
- Vivid, unpleasant dreams
Amphetamine Abuse Statistics
According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) conducted in 2017, about 1.6 million (0.6% of the total population) individuals used methamphetamine in the United States during the year prior to the survey. About half of this population (774,000 individuals) reported using methamphetamine in the month prior to the survey. About 0.4% of individuals over the age of 12 had a methamphetamine abuse disorder, according to the 2017 NSDUH report. In a similar survey conducted in 2012, about 1.2 million or 0.4% of the population reported using methamphetamines in the previous year. Abuse of prescription stimulants, including amphetamines and amphetamine-type substances, was reported in 1.8 million individuals over the age of 12.
Amphetamine Abuse and Treatment Trends in South Florida
In the state of Florida, among the deaths investigated by the state medical examiners in 2016, there was an increase in the presence of amphetamine (65%) and methamphetamine (104%) at the time of death. An increase in instances, relative to the previous year, where amphetamine (112 more) and methamphetamine (171 more) were the cause of death was also observed.
Similarly, in the southeastern Florida region, although the indicators of abuse were low, there was an increase in the occurrence of amphetamine and methamphetamine in the first half of 2016 relative to the similar period in the prior year. In 2016, 4% of admissions for treatment of drug abuse were for methamphetamine in the entire state, with lower rates in the southeastern Florida region.
Amphetamine and methamphetamine are often used in the nightclub and rave scenes. Individuals using drugs for recreational purposes are often unaware of the amount of drug consumed, leading to amphetamine toxicity. Toxicity may also occur due to a rapid increase in drug levels in the system caused by smoking, snorting or injection.
The prescribed dose of therapeutic amphetamines is generally between 5 to 60 mg and any amount over this has the potential to cause an amphetamine overdose. The prescribed dose varies from person to person depending on how sensitive they are to amphetamines and the effects of an identical dose of amphetamines may vary from person to person. Consistent with this ruling, the lethal dose has been shown to vary from 1.5 mg to many times higher than the prescribed dose. The effects of amphetamine overdose can have life-threatening consequences and may cause death. People should immediately call 911 if an amphetamine overdose is suspected.
Amphetamine Overdose Symptoms
Symptoms of amphetamine overdose involve many of the symptoms observed after acute amphetamine use but are more severe. Overdose can cause loss of consciousness and even death. Some of the physical symptoms of amphetamine overdose include increased heart rate and blood pressure, vomiting, dilated pupils, difficulty maintaining balance, seizures, hyperthermia and nausea.
Psychological symptoms involve drug-induced psychosis, agitation, excited delirium, anxiety and panic. Cardiovascular events like stroke and arrhythmia are common and may cause death. Other reasons for death related to amphetamine overdose include kidney failure, brain hemorrhage, seizures and respiratory failure.
Amphetamine Overdose Treatment
Treatment for amphetamine overdose involves the doctor making an assessment based on the symptoms or a drug screening test using a urine sample. There is no direct treatment or antidote for amphetamine overdose and most treatments are supportive, meaning they simply ameliorate the symptoms of overdose. This may involve clearing the drug from the system by pumping the patient’s stomach. Monitoring of heart rate and breathing rate is often necessary and cardiac dysrhythmias may require treatment with medications or defibrillation.
How to Help Someone Addicted to Amphetamine
Individuals suffering from a substance abuse disorder like amphetamine addiction may try to discontinue their drug use but often fail due to the adverse withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings. It is likely necessary to guide individuals to professional medical help and therapy and then support them through the recovery process. One way to initiate the step towards the person’s recovery is to stage a well-planned intervention with the help of close family and friends.
An intervention is a carefully organized event to make the individual with the substance abuse disorder realize that their addiction is affecting both their own life and that of people close to them. The purpose of the intervention is to make the subject aware of how their actions have affected their loved ones with actual examples. Care must be taken not to blame or accuse the individual of their destructive behavior and instead, efforts should be directed at making them aware that the addiction is at the root of such behaviors.
A specific treatment plan with information about rehabilitation programs should be offered to the person the intervention is for. Friends and family involved in the intervention should not enable their loved one’s addiction.
Amphetamine Addiction Treatment Options
The most effective interventions for the treatment of amphetamine addiction involve some type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that involves identifying harmful thoughts and behaviors and learning to cope with these thoughts. There are no pharmacological drugs approved for the treatment of amphetamine addiction, and treatment generally involves individual and group therapy and participation in support groups. Some of the treatment options for amphetamine addiction and abuse include:
- Detox: Detox is the first step toward treating the addiction and involves the detoxification of the body after chronic drug use. This process involves the discontinuation of drug use and generally results in withdrawal symptoms including depression, anxiety and intense cravings that may lead to relapse. Enrolling in a medical detox facility for amphetamine addiction can help the individual cope with the withdrawal symptoms with the necessary medical supervision.
- Residential: Residential rehabilitation facilities involve 24-hour care and offer intensive treatment in the form of individual and group behavioral therapy. Residential or inpatient rehab offers a drug-free and structured environment to help the individual overcome their amphetamine addiction.
- Outpatient: Outpatient rehabilitation allows individuals to continue with their education, occupation or family lives while receiving therapy for their amphetamine addiction. This process may involve visiting the clinic a few times a week but does not provide intensive treatment and structure involved in residential rehab. Outpatient treatment may be useful for light users or for individuals to receive treatment after having finished inpatient rehabilitation. The latter is necessary for maintaining a sober lifestyle.
- Dual Diagnosis: Amphetamine addiction is often observed in individuals with a co-occurring psychological disorder. Simultaneous treatment or dual diagnosis treatment of both substance abuse and mental disorders tend to be more effective than individual treatment for each disorder.
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Key Points: Understanding Amphetamine Abuse
Keep the following key points in mind when considering amphetamine abuse:
- Amphetamines are highly addictive and must only be used at the prescribed doses
- Short-term effects of amphetamine abuse include anxiety, hyperactivity, seizures and amphetamine-induced psychosis
- Amphetamines should only be used for therapeutic use as prescribed
- Long-term use of amphetamines can cause addiction, deficits in intellectual ability, mood and emotional problems involving anxiety and depression, among other potential issues
- Long-term amphetamine abuse can result in dependence on the drug and result in withdrawal symptoms upon abstaining from amphetamine use
- The withdrawal symptoms involving depression and drug cravings can lead to setbacks
If you struggle with a substance use disorder like amphetamine addiction, reach out to The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help. You deserve a healthier future, call today.
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Bramness, Jørgen; et al. “Amphetamine-induced psychosis-a separate diagnostic entity or primary psychosis triggered in the vulnerable?.” BMC Psychiatry, December 2012. Accessed July 9, 2019.
McKetin, Rebecca; et al. “The prevalence of psychotic symptoms among methamphetamine users.” Addiction, October 2006. Accessed July 9, 2019.
Bousman, Chad; et al. “Genetic association studies of methamphetamine use disorders: a systematic review and synthesis.” American Journal of Medical Genetics Part B: Neuropsychiatric Genetics, December 2009. Accessed July 9, 2019.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. “2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.” 2017. Accessed July 9, 2019.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “Medical examiner’s commissioner report.” November 2017. Accessed July 9, 2019.
National Drug Early Warning System. “Drug use patterns and trends 2017: Southeastern Florida.” November 2017. Accessed July 9, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a 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 provider.