How To Identify Amphetamine Use and Abuse

What exactly are amphetamines?

Amphetamines represent a class of synthetic drugs that has psychoactive effects on the Central Nervous System (CNS). They are also stimulants, more commonly known as uppers.

Although, they are primarily used in treating ADHD syndrome (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) and narcolepsy, they have found their, somewhat different, use in everyday lives of at least 13 million Americans – students, musicians, sportsmen, even scientists; in a word, those who deal with the hectic tempo of life on an everyday basis.

ephedrineWhen misused or chemically altered, Amphetamines are addictive substances with severe side-effects.

Amphetamine is short for alpha-methilphenethylamine and is structurally related to adrenaline and ephedrine, a stimulant of herbal origin (which was used to treat asthma for centuries in China).

Aside from prescribed amphetamines in the form of tablets or capsules, you can also come across those synthesized in ‘underground labs’ and illegally distributed. These can be swallowed, snorted or injected, even smoked.

Prescribed amphetamines include:

  • Adderall (for treating ADHD, but sometimes used to treat depression and obesity)
  • Dextrostat (ADHD and narcolepsy)
  • Desoxyn (ADHD and obesity)
  • ProCentra (ADHD and narcolepsy)
  • Vyvanse (ADHD)
  • Benzedrine (ADHD and narcolepsy)

When you use them in prescribed doses, amphetamines are not habit-forming; but excessive use leads to addiction.

What are common street names of Amphetamines

types-of-amphetaminesYou may come across  dozens of street names for amphetamines (some of them are quite picturesque):

  • Black Mollies
  • Blue Mollies
  • Bumblebees
  • Lightning
  • Jelly Bean
  • Lid Proppers
  • Pep Pills
  • Eye Openers
  • Wake Ups
  • Leapers
  • Marathons
  • Sparkle Plenty
  • Sweets
  • Etc.


What exactly do Amphetamines do?

The effects of amphetamines are said to be similar to those of cocaine, with one distinct difference – they last longer.[1] Both are considered to be ‘uppers’, which basically means that they trigger certain energy-boost, hence their appeal.

  • They act as appetite suppressants.
  • Fatigue is quite effectively reduced by amphetamines.
  • Abusers have a certain feeling of alertness, their concentration is higher and they feel they are more in control, which explains amphetamines’ prevalence among students and those with strenuous lifestyle.
  • A significant positive effect is recorded on a person’s self-esteem and confidence, which often results in a more sociable behavior.
  • A certain number of users have reported a euphoric sensation.

Unfortunately, these, so appealing effects of amphetamines don’t come cheap. Abusers develop a tolerance to amphetamines rather quickly, and with it – the addiction. Very soon you wouldn’t be able to  get through the day without your daily dose, and while this is happening, the drug makes serious damages to your body and mental health, some of them even permanent. It also requires a drug detox program in order to come off the drug safely.

Learn to recognize early signs of amphetamine abuse

Some of the short-term symptoms include these:

  1. Increased or otherwise impaired heart rate, as well as breathing rate
  2. High blood pressure
  3. Headache
  4. Insomnia
  5. Impaired coordination
  6. Higher temperature
  7. Fever, sweating
  8. Impaired vision and dizziness
  9. Uncontrollable movements (tremors, shakes, but also tics)
  10. Convulsions
  11. Impaired speech

The reason amphetamines are so dangerous lies in their potentially fatal outcome, even from the very first use; they act on your blood pressure increasing it and on the heart; this can easily result in stroke and it is not uncommon.

Long-term use of amphetamines is known to impair both, physical and mental health equally; it affects all the major body organs and systems and causes permanent brain damages. As you may notice on numerous forums, there are thousands of people suffering from adverse effects of amphetamines, desperately seeking help and support in how to recover from addiction.

Long-term effects of amphetamine abuse:

  • Possibly the most adverse of which is the addiction itself.
  • Built tolerance
  • Gastrointestinal complications, like ulcers, malnutrition and uncontrolled weight loss
  • Liver damage
  • Heart disease, including heart attack, cardiomyopathy (weakened or enlarged heart), high blood pressure
  • Neurological damages, such as permanent brain damage, memory loss, impaired cognitive process, confusion, impaired speech
  • Psychological damages involve depression, hallucinations, hypochondria, delusions of power, antisocial behavior, and probably the most severe amphetamine psychosis.

Amphetamine overdose can be fatal, and it is in many cases. It happens due to a built-up tolerance, where the body ‘asks’ for more and more of the drug; a person simply gets carried away and takes a much higher dose.

If you notice any of these signs, contact your physician immediately:

  1. Fever, chills and profuse sweating
  2. Muscle spasms
  3. Convulsions
  4. Absence of urination
  5. Impaired breathing
  6. Nausea
  7. Blue lips and fingernails
  8. Fluctuating blood pressure
  9. Chest pains
  10. Aggressive behavior
  11. Striking agitation
  12. Coma

Especially risky situations

People with high blood pressure or any other heart condition are in somewhat greater danger of experiencing severe side effects.

Although, the effect of amphetamines on the fetus has not yet been observed; it is known that the amphetamine can be passed to a child through breast milk. Therefore, it is highly advised to avoid breastfeeding when on amphetamines.

Those who are under antidepressant treatment should avoid taking amphetamines, because the combination can cause a fatal outcome. This especially refers to MAOI (Monoamine oxidase inhibitors).

Also, if you suffer from hyperthyroidism, you should avoid using amphetamines at all cost; high blood pressure (hypertension) and your condition caused by the overactive thyroid, don’t go well together and can have severe consequences.

Getting off of amphetamines

Depending on the level of the addiction, amphetamine withdrawal symptoms can be quite serious, ranging from:

  • Craving
  • Depression
  • Mental confusion
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Disturbed sleep episodes that can last for 48 hours
  • Anxiety
  • Uncontrollable hunger to
  • Psychosis

Where there’s a danger from more severe withdrawals, it is recommended in-patient treatment option, which is heavily supervised by medical experts.

Out-patient treatment program is devised to provide support and counseling services to recovering addicts, and it may be the best option for those who suffer from somewhat milder withdrawal symptoms.

Also available is dual diagnosis treatment. It is recommended to those who, apart from their addiction, suffer from other mental conditions, such as depression or anxiety, ADHD. This option includes psychotherapy, counseling and medication therapy.

It goes without saying that certain support groups, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, can present a great help to recovering addicts, however should not be the sole source of recovery assistance.

The difference between amphetamine and methamphetamine

Although related, to some extent, amphetamine and methamphetamine are actually quite different. Meth is a derivate of the amphetamine. This basically means that amphetamine is a parent drug to meth; once inside the user’s body, meth breaks into amphetamine when metabolized.[2]

Developed in 1950’s, it was originally used to treat depression, alcoholism, Parkinson’s disease and obesity. It became popular rather quickly and it hasn’t lost its appeal to date. According to one study from 2000, 5% of the Americans used it or were still using it at the time of research; it is believed this number to be significantly greater.[3]

During this period (from its beginnings to these times), adverse effects of methamphetamine have been observed and considered much too dangerous to a person’s health (the effects of methamphetamines are known to be much stronger, act quicker and are more addictive); so, while amphetamine can be prescribed by a doctor for certain conditions; methamphetamine has become an illegal drug everywhere in the world.[4]

 ‘Interesting’ facts about amphetamines

    • Amphetamines were used in World War II quite a lot, by both sides, Allied and Axis, to enhance the performance of the troops.[5]
    • A little known fact is that Adolf Hitler was methamphetamine addict. He also used cocaine eye-drops. (I guess this explains a lot!)[6]
    • Another well-known amphetamine addict was America’s favorite star – Judy Garland. She developed her dependency at an early age, and this, combined with extensive use of barbiturates to help her sleep, contributed to her untimely death at the age of 47.[7]


About the Author:

Kara Crow is a substance abuse treatment consultant. She joined The Recovery Way last year and has been working to develop and implement new treatment strategies, and to analyze addiction treatment services. Learn more about her here and connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, Google+.

Kara Crow – who has written posts on The Recovery Way.

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