Amphetamines are a type of drug that stimulate the nervous system. Doctors prescribe amphetamines for conditions such as ADHD, obesity, narcolepsy, and depression. Misusing amphetamines, or taking them in a different way than a doctor prescribes, can lead to amphetamine addiction.
In 2020, about 5.1 million people in the United States reported misusing prescription stimulants, such as Adderall, within the past year. Reports indicate that children as young as eighth grade have misused prescription medications for ADHD.
Doctors can prescribe amphetamines to people living with ADHD, among other conditions. People may also use the drugs in an unprescribed manner, such as to stay awake for a study deadline or to suppress appetite. Though prescribed amphetamines are legal, taking the drugs without a prescription is illegal in the U.S.
Misuse of prescription drugs, including amphetamines, can lead to addiction. The proper name for addiction to a substance is substance use disorder (SUD).
A person may have a number of risk factors for SUD. Everyone’s journey with recovery is different, but asking a healthcare professional, family member, or friend for help is usually the first step.
This article will explore:
- what addiction is
- addiction causes
- what amphetamines are
- amphetamine types
- how misuse and SUD may occur
- addiction signs and symptoms
- how addiction progresses
- outlook and recovery
According to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS), health professionals define addiction as “not having control over doing, taking or using something to the point where it could be harmful.”
This is not the same as substance dependency — the physical symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal. “Addiction” is the term for long-term behavioral, physical, and social changes a person may experience as a result of substance misuse.
A person living with an addiction may find that they cannot control their use of a particular substance or activity, such as drinking alcohol, smoking, using recreational drugs, or gambling.
Many substances or behaviors that can cause addiction make a person feel good for a short time. A person may seek to repeat the good feeling and come to rely on the substance or activity.
When someone misuses a substance consistently over time, they may find that they need more and more of the substance to feel the same degree of euphoria. A person can find it hard to stop taking a substance, which usually implies that they are physically dependent on the substance. This can progress to addiction.
An individual’s brain chemistry changes during regular misuse of a substance or activity. The brain’s reward circuit changes, reducing a person’s ability to exercise self-control and leading to strong urges to continue.
These changes to the brain mean that a person may always be at risk of using a substance again, even if they have not used it for a long time.
Because of this, a person living with addiction is not “weak” or “lacking in willpower.” A person can manage this chronic, progressive health condition with appropriate treatment, just as people can manage many other health conditions.
Amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system. These medications are part of the phenethylamine group, which includes drugs that can cause hallucinations, enhance a desire for social contact, or act as stimulants.
Amphetamines are available as colorless oils, salts, powders, or pills.
Drug misuse is when a person takes a medication in a different way than a doctor prescribes. Misuse of drugs can include:
- taking medication that a doctor has prescribed for someone else
- taking medication for the high or rush
- not taking medication as prescribed — for example, smoking or injecting it instead of taking it orally
It is difficult to predict whether a person will develop SUD. Some of the risk factors are:
- Environment: Financial situation, pressure from peers, quality of life, early exposure to drugs, stress, sexual or physical abuse, and parental support can affect a person’s risk of developing SUD.
- Genetics: A person’s genes can affect their risk, as can their ethnicity, their gender, and any mental health conditions they may have.
- Development: Critical developmental stages can affect a person’s risk of developing addiction, especially when genetic and environmental factors are involved.
More serious possible symptoms include:
- anger or hostility toward others
- irregular heartbeat
A person who is approaching amphetamine toxicity may experience:
- trouble breathing
- chest pains
- nausea or vomiting and abdominal pain
A person may require physical restraint or sedation to avoid self-harm or harm to others. A person may have a stroke, heart problems, or liver or kidney damage due to misuse of amphetamines.
- Intoxication: A person experiences intoxication and a high or euphoria through misuse of drugs.
- Withdrawal: A person experiences negative effects after the high. This might take the form of a come-down or other effects as a result of the intoxication.
- Preoccupation or anticipation: A person seeks the next high.
Chemical changes in the brain help the cycle repeat until the person cannot escape the cycle. Long-term use or increasing pursuit of a high may lead to SUD.
A person developing SUD may find that they:
- develop health problems such as high blood pressure and heart palpitations
- have difficulty concentrating at work or school
- have difficulty maintaining relationships
- need increasing amounts of the drug to get the same effect
If a person suddenly stops taking the drug, they may experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
If a person suspects that they may have a drug misuse problem, then they should consult a medical professional. It is important for people to remember that they do not need to feel embarrassed about seeking help.
It is also important to give a healthcare professional all the facts so that they can work with a person to develop the best possible treatment plan for them as an individual.
No tests can determine drug misuse or addiction, but a medical professional can discuss a person’s substance use with them and assess possible risk factors that support the possibility.
A person may call or text a helpline as an easier first step.
Seeking help for addiction may seem daunting or even scary, but several organizations can provide support. If you believe that you or someone close to you is struggling with addiction, you can contact the following organizations for immediate help and advice:
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): 800-662-4357 (TTY: 800-487-4889)
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Prescription drug monitoring programs track the prescribing and dispensing of controlled medications to people. However, these programs have been more successful in some states than others.
Healthcare professionals can incorporate questionnaires about prescription drug use during health checks to help identify people who may need help.
A person should make sure that they take their prescription drugs as their doctor instructs and read any leaflet information to check for potential interactions with alcohol and other drugs. A person should only take medication that a doctor prescribes for them and should store their medications safely.
People should discard medications that are past their expiration date safely through Food and Drug Administration collection sites or by following government guidelines.
Pharmacists can answer questions about medication and help people understand medication instructions. Because they are the primary people dispensing medications, they can watch for falsified prescriptions or drugs that people refill too often.
There is a link between mental health and drug misuse or SUD. A person should seek professional help if they have concerns about their mental health.
Treatment centers on the person who is living with addiction. Treatment may be long-term and may involve periods of difficulty as a person adjusts to their life without substance use.
Treatment aims to help a person stop misusing drugs and improve their relationships with family, work, and society. A person needs quick access to effective treatment. Behavioral and talk therapies can often help.
Many people find support groups helpful. A person may also need treatment for mental health conditions.
If a person has been misusing more than one substance, the medical and therapeutic professionals designing their treatment plan will address each substance separately. A person may need treatment in a therapeutic community in which they will stay at a residence for a long period.
A person can take a long time to adjust to life without substance use. Many therapy programs continue for a lifetime. A person may take years to be able to manage without the substance, and they may return to using a substance for some periods of time.
In order to maintain recovery and a good outlook, a person will need:
- good support from people they are close to
- strategies that allow them to resist the urge to return to old habits
- treatment for any other health conditions they have, including mental health conditions
- a person or people they can open up to and be honest with about their misuse or addiction
It is important that a person does not feel ashamed about seeking help or following a program to support their recovery.
There are many reasons a person may fall into a pattern of amphetamine misuse or develop SUD.
A person’s first step toward recovery is to reach out to a friend, family member, or healthcare professional to seek help. A lot of support is available. A person may need help for different types of substances or for mental health conditions alongside substance misuse.
A person can recover from drug misuse or SUD and improve their relationships, professional life, sense of self, and physical and mental health.
Treatment focuses on the person who is living with the addiction. With the right support, many people who have experienced SUD go on to live happy lives with strong relationships and positive health outcomes.