There are many types of amphetamine, including both prescription and recreational drugs, but all have the potential for abuse. If you believe you or a loved one has an amphetamine addiction, there are many treatment methods that have been shown to be effective for long-term recovery.

What is an amphetamine?

Amphetamines are stimulant drugs that speed up the body’s central nervous system. Medical professionals often prescribe amphetamines like Adderall and Ritalin to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to increase alertness and concentration [1].

Amphetamines obtained without a prescription are illegal; however, they are often used recreationally and socially or to improve academic/work performance. Illegally obtained ‘recreational’ amphetamines are often sold under street names such as speed, uppers, crystal, and black beauty [2].

What drugs are amphetamines?

Amphetamines are legal when prescribed by a doctor or medical professional to treat conditions such as ADHD, sleep disorder, and narcolepsy. Commonly prescribed amphetamines include dextroamphetamine (Adderall), methylphenidate (Ritalin) methamphetamine (Desoxyn).

When amphetamines are misused for non-medical purposes, they are illegal and often given ‘street’ names.

These can be very confusing and often overlap with generic and brand names. For example:

  • Amphetamine - Bennies, Crank, Ice, Speed, Uppers, Meth
  • Dextroamphetamine -Addies, Amps, Bennies, Study Buddies, Kiddie-Speed, Black Beauty
  • Methylphenidate - Diet Coke, Kidde Cocaine, Vitamin R, R-Ball, R-Pop, Rids
  • Methamphetamine - Crank, Crystal, Ice, Junk, Meth, Speed, Glass [2]

What is amphetamine addiction?

Amphetamine addiction is a substance use disorder that occurs when someone is physically or psychologically dependent on amphetamines to function in their daily lives. Whether amphetamines are prescribed or illegally acquired, misuse and overuse of amphetamines can lead to addiction.

Amphetamines are nervous system stimulants that increase the speed of the signals between your brain and body. The dopamine produced by amphetamines can lead to enjoyable effects like increased confidence, energy, and euphoria, making them highly addictive [2].

Although there is not one specific cause for the stimulant use disorder, there are several factors that could increase someone’s chance of developing stimulant addiction, including:

  • Regular, long-term use of non-prescribed medication
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Pre-existing mental health conditions
  • High levels of stress
  • A family history of drug or alcohol use disorders

A common cause of the disorder can be relying on amphetamines to improve performance. Sometimes referred to as ‘study drugs’, amphetamines can help you concentrate, stay focused, and stay up late to complete tasks.[3] Amphetamines are also often used to reduce appetite and lose weight quickly.[4]

Symptoms of amphetamine addiction

If abused, amphetamines can have serious short and long-term effects on the body and brain, including:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Restlessness and an inability to sleep
  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and an irregular heartbeat
  • High body temperature
  • Dental issues and tooth decay (meth mouth)
  • Mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and psychosis
  • Paranoia and confusion
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations, delusions, and inability to recognize reality
  • Increased risk of heart attack, stroke, suicide, and death [2]

Some warning signs to look out for in someone who might be addicted to amphetamines include:

  • Missing work or school
  • Inability to complete tasks to their usual standard
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Uncharacteristic violent and erratic behavior
  • Extreme mood changes that swing between happiness, excitement, and depression or hopelessness
  • Losing interest in hobbies, interests, or social interactions

Diagnosing amphetamine addiction

To diagnose amphetamine addiction, medical professionals will conduct assessments that will look out for these symptoms, in addition to blood tests, urine samples, and x-rays to ascertain the extent of the condition. Where possible, they will also ask questions about lifestyle, medical history, and substance abuse to understand the severity of the patient’s disorder.

Self-Diagnosis

Depending on the severity of the disorder, someone suffering from addiction might recognize symptoms and changes in their mental health, behavior, and appearance. The most significant indication of amphetamine addiction is the inability to function without taking them.

If you find yourself changing your lifestyle, avoiding activities in your usual schedule to facilitate your amphetamine use, or experiencing withdrawal symptoms if you don’t use amphetamines, this can be a sign that you have developed a dependence. A dependence is usually associated with withdrawal symptoms, which happen when you abruptly stop taking the substance.

In the case of In the case of amphetamine dependency, withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Strong cravings for amphetamines
  • Tiredness/fatigue
  • Mood swings and erratic behavior
  • Poor oral hygiene
  • Skin-picking
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there
  • Headaches, bodily aches and pains
  • Trouble concentrating and disturbed sleep
  • Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks

Treatment for amphetamine addiction

Effective treatment for amphetamine addiction can range from talking therapies to specialist inpatient rehabilitation. As with other forms of addiction, choosing the right treatment program is vital and will entirely depend on the individual. All treatment starts with identifying the fact that something is wrong and accepting help and support.

Different types of therapy can be used to help you talk through and confront behaviors and thoughts associated with your addiction. Some programs offer personal counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), while others may involve family, friends, or group therapy to support your rehabilitation and recovery.

For amphetamine addiction with severe withdrawal symptoms and mental health complications, an intensive, inpatient rehabilitation program may be necessary, where professionals can monitor the patient's progress in a safe environment throughout treatment.

Although there is currently no medication that can directly stop the use and effects of amphetamines, there are medication options to reduce withdrawal and craving symptoms [2].

How to help someone who is suffering with an amphetamine addiction

Supporting someone through recovery from addiction can be highly challenging. Treatment for amphetamine addiction isn’t one size fits all; different treatment options may or may not work for different people. It’s important that anyone suffering from the disorder, or suspects that they might be, speaks with a medical professional to ensure they receive the proper support. Doing so will give them the best chance of recovery and avoiding relapse.

To support someone who is being treated for amphetamine addiction, you can first and foremost encourage them to keep up with their treatment. It may help to encourage them to set goals, learn something new or simply spend more time with friends and family.

You can also help them establish a new routine with exercise, healthy food and avoiding things that might trigger relapse, such as spending time with people that enable their addiction [2].

FAQs about amphetamine addiction

How long do amphetamines stay in your system?

This is completely dependent on the individual and the amphetamine being taken. A person's age, body, gender, drug intake, and metabolism are all key factors.

Can you overdose on amphetamines?

Yes. Amphetamines stimulate and speed up your central nervous system and lead to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Taking too much can overwhelm your body and drastically increase your chances of experiencing a heart attack, stroke, coma, or even death.

What is the most misused amphetamine?

Methamphetamine. This can be found in crystal form (base, crystal, ice, fast, glass, wax) or liquid form (leopard’s blood, liquid red, ox’s blood) [2].

Resources:

  1. Mullen, J.M., Richards, J.R., & Crawford, A.T. (2022). Amphetamine Related Psychiatric Disorders. National Library of Medicine. StatPearls Publishing LLC. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482368/
  2. Substance use - amphetamines. (n.d.). Retrieved October 1, 2022, from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000792.htm
  3. Arria, A. M., Caldeira, K. M., Vincent, K. B., O'Grady, K. E., Cimini, M. D., Geisner, I. M., Fossos-Wong, N., Kilmer, J. R., & Larimer, M. E. (2017). Do college students improve their grades by using prescription stimulants nonmedically?. Addictive behaviors, 65, 245–249. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.addbeh.2016.07.016
  4. Jones, J R et al. “The effects of amphetamine on body weight and energy expenditure.” Physiology & behavior vol. 51,3 (1992): 607-11. doi:10.1016/0031-9384(92)90187-7