Amphetamines and Addiction Treatment
Amphetamines and Addiction Treatment
What is an Amphetamine?
Amphetamines are medications and street drugs that speed up the central nervous system. Manufacturers make them legally in the United States to treat medical conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.1 People also abuse amphetamines illegally, either by themselves or by mixing it with other drugs such as cocaine.
Amphetamines have been in the United States since the 1930s. Doctors first marketed the amphetamine Benzedrine as a medicine to relieve nasal congestion. Later versions of amphetamine included pills that people took to try to beat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.
What Substances are Considered Amphetamines?
Examples of prescription amphetamines include:
Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Ritalin SR)
Amphetamine and Dextroamphetamine (Adderall)
Illegal laboratories also make amphetamines for sale on the street. Street names for amphetamines include:
Sometimes, illegal laboratories will combine amphetamines with other medications or drugs to try to make them more powerful.
How is it Used and Abused?
People may use amphetamines by taking them in pill form or injecting them. Some people may also smoke them.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA):
Of these individuals, an estimated 4.5 percent used them with a prescription, while 2.1 percent used them without a prescription.
Of the adults who used amphetamines illegally, an estimated 56.3 percent reported using them for “cognitive enhancement.”
When a person takes amphetamines, they experience effects that can include an increased sense of confidence and energy.3 They may also enhance their concentration, alertness, and visual and self-awareness. A person may also lose their appetite or lose interest in sleep. Eventually, they may crash because they haven’t slept for some time.
Some side effects of amphetamines include higher heart rates, problems sleeping, and appetite loss. They can also feel overwhelmingly tired.
Misconceptions About Amphetamines
A common misconception about amphetamines is because many are available by prescription, they aren’t harmful or addictive. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) classifies amphetamines as a Schedule II drug, which means they are addictive and have significant potential for abuse. This is the same drug class as painkillers.
Another misconception is that a pill a person purchases on the street is truly amphetamine. Illegal labs produce amphetamine that may be mixed with other substances to try to make the pills or powders look more real. Examples include caffeine, sugar, other drugs, or even binding agents like baking powder. It’s really hard to know what a pill contains just by looking at it, and its side effect could be really dangerous, especially if it contains other chemicals or drugs.
Amphetamine Health Risks
If a person takes excessive amounts of amphetamines, they may be at risk for overdose. In rare but possible instances, overdose can lead to death. Examples of amphetamine overdose symptoms include:
Dangerously high body temperatures
Rapid heart rate
In addition to overdose risks, a person is at risk for health complications from amphetamine abuse if they have heart problems. Very fast heart rates could harm a person’s heart and lead to potentially deadly heart rhythms. In addition, if a person abuses amphetamines by injecting them, they place themselves at greater risks for injection-related illnesses. These include Hepatitis C and HIV, as well as endocarditis.
People who abuse amphetamines for a long time are at an increased risk for developing a medical condition that is similar to schizophrenia. Doctors call this “amphetamine psychosis.”4 It causes a person to experience a sensation of paranoia as well as visual and auditory hallucinations. People may start to engage in skin picking and exhibit violent, bizarre, and erratic behavior.
In addition to health risks, a person can experience the side effects of addiction. These include financial, legal, and social problems.
A person can experience withdrawal if they abuse amphetamines in higher amounts or have taken it regularly for some time. Examples of withdrawal symptoms a person can experience include:
Problems sleeping well
Vivid and unpleasant dreams
Feelings of hopelessness and depression
Strong cravings for the drug
Because amphetamines are longer lasting in the body than cocaine and some other stimulants, a person may experience slightly longer withdrawal symptoms that may last up to 10 days. While the most severe symptoms go away after this time, a person may still experience changes in their mood and strong cravings for amphetamines for weeks, months, or years after quitting. This is why it is important a person seeks continued professional help for substance use disorders.
Treatment for Amphetamine Use Disorder
Treatments for amphetamine abuse are usually supportive and often include talk therapy. The FDA hasn’t approved medications to help with amphetamine withdrawals specifically. However, a person can still experience benefits from professional medical addiction treatment to cope with withdrawals and cravings as they get sober. Also, many people who abuse amphetamines may use other medications to try and counter-balance some of the amphetamine’s effects. Examples include sleeping pills, alcohol, or painkillers to help a person sleep.
Other treatments for addiction to amphetamines include psychotherapy or talk therapy. According to NIDA, the most commonly used behavioral therapies are cognitive-behavioral therapy and contingency management.5 These are helpful in treating people with an addiction to prescription stimulants by helping a person learn how to respond to stress and anxiety in more positive ways than using stimulants.
Contingency management specifically provides vouchers and other rewards for positive and drug-free behaviors. Examples include getting a restaurant gift card for a negative drug test or tickets to a movie theater for participation in group therapy. Researchers have found these approaches are very effective in motivating a person addicted to amphetamines to stay drug-free.