What are amphetamines?
Amphetamines are prescription stimulants that are used to treat Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Used as a study aid, to stay awake, and to suppress appetites. Prescribed as Adderall®, Concerta®, Dexedrine®, Focalin®, Metadate®, Methylin®, Ritalin®. Amphetamines are drugs. They can be legal or illegal. They are legal when they are prescribed by a doctor and used to treat health problems such as obesity, narcolepsy, or ADHD. Unfortunately, the misuse of the drug can lead to substance abuse or amphetamine addiction.
Amphetamine is a DEA Schedule II controlled substance. Substances in the DEA Schedule II have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.
Amphetamine, a compound discovered over 100 years ago, is one of the more restricted controlled drugs. It was previously used for a large variety of conditions and this changed until this point where its use is highly restricted. Amphetamine, with the chemical formula alpha-methylphenethylamine, was discovered in 1910 and first synthesized in 1927. After being proven to reduce drug-induced anesthesia and produce arousal and insomnia, the amphetamine racemic mix was registered by Smith, Kline, and French in 1935.
Amphetamine structure presents one chiral center and it exists in the form of dextro- and Levo-isomers. The first product of Smith, Kline, and French was approved by the FDA in 1976. During World War II, amphetamine was used to promote wakefulness in soldiers. This use derived into a large overproduction of amphetamine and all the surplus after the war finalized ended up in the black market, producing the initiation of illicit drug abuse. Amphetamines are illegal when they are used without a prescription to get high or improve performance. In this case, they are known as street drugs, or recreational drugs, and using them can lead to addiction.
Types of Illegal Amphetamines
There are different kinds of street amphetamines. Common ones and some of their slang terms are:
- Amphetamine: goey, louee, speed, uppers, whiz.
- Dextroamphetamine (ADHD medicine used illegally): dexies, kiddie-speed, pep pills, uppers; black beauty (when combined with amphetamine).
- Methamphetamine (crystal solid form): base, crystal, d-meth, fast, glass, ice, meth, speed, whiz, pure, wax.
- Methamphetamine (liquid form): leopard’s blood, liquid red, ox blood, red speed.
They can be used in different ways:
- Dabbed onto the gums
- Inhaled through the nose (snorted)
- Injected into a vein (shooting up)
Illegal amphetamines come in different forms:
- Pills and capsules
- Powder and paste
Amphetamines are stimulant drugs. They make the messages between your brain and body move faster. As a result, you are more alert and physically active. Some people use amphetamines to help them stay awake on the job or to study for a test. Others use them to boost their performance in sports.
Amphetamine addiction also causes the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical that is involved with mood, thinking, and movement. It is also called the feel-good brain chemical. Using amphetamines may cause pleasurable effects such as:
- Joy (euphoria, or “flash” or “rush”) and less inhibition, similar to being drunk
- Feeling as if your thinking is extremely clear
- Feeling more in control, self-confident
- Wanting to be with and talk to people (more sociable)
- Increased energy
How fast you feel the effects of amphetamine addiction depends on how they are used:
- Smoking or injecting into a vein (shooting up): Effects (the “rush”) start right away and are intense and last a few minutes.
- Snorting: Effects (the “high”) start in 3 to 5 minutes, are less intense than smoking or injecting, and last 15 to 30 minutes.
- Taken by mouth: Effects (“high”) start in 15 to 20 minutes and last longer than smoking, injecting, or snorting, depending on how much is taken.
Amphetamine addiction regularly can lead to significant health and lifestyle problems such as:
- ‘Amphetamine psychosis’ (including hallucinations and paranoia)
- Extreme weight loss and malnutrition
- Dry mouth and dental problems
- Regular infections (such as colds and flu) – due to reduced immunity
- Mood swings, panic attacks, anxiety, depression
- Drug dependence – this may include an increase in use or relying on other drugs (such as sedatives) to balance the effects
- Out of character behaviour – aggression and violence
- Heart and kidney problems
- Increased risk of stroke
- Increased risk of contracting sexually transmissible infections (STIs) due to unprotected sex
- Financial, work, study, legal and relationship problems – including trouble concentrating and reduced performance.
Amphetamine Side Effects
Harmful Effects of Amphetamines
Amphetamine addiction can harm the body in many ways, and lead to:
- Appetite decrease and weight loss
- Heart problems such as fast heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and heart attack
- High body temperature and skin flushing
- Memory loss problems thinking clearly, and stroke
- Mood and emotional problems such as aggressive or violent behavior, depression, and suicide
- Ongoing hallucinations and inability to tell what is real
- Restlessness and tremors
- Skin sores
- Sleep problems
- Tooth decay (meth mouth)
People who use these drugs, especially methamphetamine, have a high chance of getting HIV and hepatitis B and C. This can be through sharing used needles with someone who has an infection. Or, it can be through having unsafe sex because drug use can lead to risky behaviors. Amphetamine addiction can cause birth defects when taken during pregnancy. Also, street drugs are not safe during breastfeeding.
These aren’t the same as side effects. Withdrawal symptoms happen only after you stop taking a medicine. Side effects happen when you’re using it. If you’ve taken Adderall for a long time or have misused it, you might have one or more of these after you stop:
- Depression, irritability, or other changes in mood
- A hard time sleeping
- Unusual tiredness (fatigue)
- Stomach aches or cramping
Sometimes, symptoms of stimulant withdrawal can make you seem hungover or drunk (intoxicated). Again, this happens more often with people who don’t use the medication as directed. Signs of withdrawal usually show up a day or two after you stop taking it. They may last a few days to several weeks — it’s different for everyone.
If you’ve taken the drug for a long time, your body and brain may have started to depend on it. The more often you took it, the harder it can be to stop. A few other things can affect how long your symptoms last and how bad they are:
- Your genes
- Your health history, especially mental health
- Your family’s history of drugs or amphetamine addiction
Is Amphetamine Addictive?
You usually do not get addicted to prescription amphetamines when you take them at the right dosage to treat your health condition. Addiction happens when you use amphetamines to get high or improve performance. Amphetamine addiction means your body and mind are dependent on the drug. You are not able to control your use of it and you need it to get through daily life.
Amphetamine addiction can lead to tolerance. Tolerance means you need more and more of the drug to get the same high feeling. And if you try to stop using, your mind and body may have reactions. These are called withdrawal symptoms, and may include:
- Strong craving for the drug
- Having mood swings that range from feeling depressed to agitated to anxious
- Feeling tired all day
- Not able to concentrate
- Seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
- Physical reactions may include headaches, aches and pains, increased appetite, not sleeping well
Amphetamine Addiction Treatment
Treatment begins with recognizing there is a problem. Once you decide you want to do something about your drug use, the next step is to get help and support. Treatment programs use behavior change techniques through counseling (talk therapy). The goal is to help you understand your behaviors and why you use amphetamines. Involving family and friends during counseling can help support you and keep you from going back to using (relapsing).
If you have severe withdrawal symptoms, you may need to stay at an inpatient treatment program. There, your health and safety can be monitored as you recover. At this time, no medicine can help reduce the use of amphetamines by blocking their effects. But, scientists are researching such medicines.
As you recover from amphetamine addiction, focus on the following to help prevent relapse:
- Keep going to your treatment sessions.
- Find new activities and goals to replace the ones that involved your drug use.
- Spend more time with family and friends you lost touch with while you were using. Consider not seeing friends who are still using.
- Exercise and eat healthy foods. Taking care of your body helps it heal from the harmful effects of drug use. You will feel better, too.
- Avoid triggers. These can be people you used drugs with. They can also be places, things, or emotions that can make you want to use again.
Amphetamine addiction is a complex issue that requires long-term treatment – not a quick fix. Therefore, the first step in drug abuse treatment is to seek help from your medical provider or a trained professional.
Reclaim Your Life From Amphetamine Addiction
At We Level Up Washington, our primary focus is providing comprehensive mental health treatment for individuals facing co-occurring mental health issues associated with amphetamine addiction. While we do not directly provide detox services for amphetamine addiction, we offer professional and safe treatment options to address the underlying mental health disorders that often accompany addiction. Our compassionate counselors are available to provide you with relevant information and support. Your privacy and confidentiality are of utmost importance to us. Contact us today to begin your journey toward recovery and improved well-being.
We Level Up Washington Mental Health Center: Primary Mental Health Treatment with Secondary Co-Occurring Treatments
At We Level Up Washington, our primary focus is providing comprehensive mental health treatment for individuals facing conditions such as amphetamine addiction. While we do not directly provide detox services, we offer secondary treatment programs that address co-occurring addiction-related mental health disorders.
Our evidence-based approach to mental health treatments aims to improve your overall well-being and help you overcome the challenges of amphetamine addiction. Contact us today for a complimentary mental health evaluation and take the first step towards a transformative recovery journey.
Inpatient medical detox and primary addiction treatment services may be available at affiliated facilities within the We Level Up Treatment Centers network.
 Berman, S., O’Neill, J., Fears, S., Bartzokis, G., & London, E. D. (2008). Abuse of amphetamines and structural abnormalities in the brain. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1141, 195–220. https://doi.org/10.1196/annals.1441.031