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What are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a group of drugs that stimulate the central nervous system. They are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and obesity. In the past, this drug was used to treat nasal congestion, depression and obesity. Recreationally, amphetamines are used as a performance and cognitive enhancer, an aphrodisiac and euphoriant. Amphetamines can be legal or illegal and come in liquid, powder or crystal form. Around the world, this drug is closely monitored due to its health risks and high potential for addiction. Here in the United States and across the globe unauthorized possession and distribution of amphetamines are tightly monitored and punished. The chemical properties of prescription amphetamines such as phentermine or dextroamphetamine vs. illegal amphetamines like methamphetamine are so similar, that even experienced users have reported difficulty telling the difference between the two drugs when taken.

First marketed in the 1930s as Benzedrine, amphetamines were used in over-the-counter inhalers to treat nasal congestion. The use of this drug progressed, and by 1937 amphetamine was available by prescription in tablet form. At that time, it was used to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy as well as the behavioral condition known as minimal brain dysfunction (MBD); today known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Amphetamines were used during World War II to keep solders on their feet and alert to fight. It was at this time that both dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methamphetamine (Methedrine) became easily attainable.

In time, more and more people were using amphetamines for a wide range of conditions. With the increase in their use, more and more individuals began to abuse this medication. There came a point in history when amphetamines were a "cure all" for everything; from helping truckers stay awake on their long routes, weight management, improving athletic performance and their ability to train longer, as well as for treatment depression. Eventually, as the rise in amphetamine abuse spread, users were taking the drug intravenously. These abusers became part of a subculture known as "speed freaks". In time it became clear that the abuse of this drug and the dangers it posed to its users far outweighed many of amphetamines therapeutic uses. There have been a number of changes to how these medications are prescribed. Today, physicians prescribe amphetamines more sparingly and typically for a very short list of conditions: ADHD, narcolepsy, some forms of depression and obesity. With such a high potential for abuse, most doctors seek other treatment methods before choosing to prescribe prescription amphetamines for their patients.

Brand name amphetamines are: Adderall, Desoxyn, Desoxyn Gradumet, Dexedrine, Dexedrine Spansule and DestroStat. These medications are frequently prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD); this type of medication appears to have a calming effect on individuals with ADHD. Persons diagnosed with this condition even report afternoon sleepiness while on these medications.

Amphetamines affect individuals who do not have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in the following ways:

  • an increased sense of wakefulness
  • attention
  • concentration
  • decreased appetite
  • energy
  • improved mood
  • self-confidence
  • sociability

While many studies have been conducted on the benefits and side effects of amphetamines on ADHD, it is up to the individual to decide if taking this medication is right for them. Common complaints and side effects of taking prescription amphetamines for ADHD include:

  • decreased appetite
  • difficulty falling asleep
  • headache
  • increased blood pressure
  • stomachache

Additional side effects for children who take amphetamines include slower growth rates that may hinder their overall adult height; the prescribing doctor should watch closely for this side effect.

The signs of a prescription amphetamine or illegal amphetamine overdose are:

  • aggressiveness
  • confusion
  • diarrhea
  • feelings of restlessness
  • hallucinations
  • irregular heartbeat
  • nausea
  • panic
  • rapid breathing
  • seizures
  • tremors
  • vomiting
  • Withdrawal effects of prescription amphetamines and illegal amphetamines include:
  • "the shakes"
  • anxiety, agitation, irritability
  • cravings for amphetamines
  • depression (inactivity, fatigue, altered mood)
  • increased appetite
  • nausea or vomiting
  • paranoia
  • poor concentration
  • stomach cramps
  • tiredness or increased sleep, but of poor quality
  • bad dreams

These symptoms are often very intense for the first ten days or so. They gradually reduce over the weeks following the initial withdrawal phase; however, many individuals still struggle with cravings and mood disturbances for months after quitting amphetamines.

What are amphetamines? The most well known illegal amphetamines are methamphetamine and crystal meth. How the user takes the amphetamine determines how quickly they will feel its effects. When these drugs are used intravenously, smoked or snorted their effects are felt within less than a minute. However, when the drug is swallowed it can take up to thirty minutes for the user to experience effects. Typically, the effects of these types of amphetamines can last anywhere from four to six hours.

When a small amount of methamphetamine or crystal meth is used it causes heightened alertness, dry mouth, suppressed appetite, loss of interest in sleep and an increase in:

  • alertness
  • breathing
  • concentration
  • energy
  • heart rate and blood pressure
  • libido
  • pupil size
  • stamina

The psychological effects of taking crystal meth, methamphetamine or other illegal forms of amphetamine include:

  • confidence
  • excitability, wanting to talk a lot
  • feeling good
  • greater self-awareness
  • hyperactivity
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • visual awareness

As the individual continues to use illegal amphetamines, they often experience many of these negative side effects from the drug:

  • changes to brain function (potentially permanent)
  • itchy sores on the skin
  • less resistance to infections
  • malnutrition
  • mood swings and depression
  • psychosis
  • sleep problems

Additionally, individuals who are addicted to amphetamines typically struggle with social, legal, financial and emotional problems.

Adverse and overdose symptoms of amphetamine abuse often take place when an individual has consumed a large amount of the substance. However, people differ in their reaction to amphetamines and adverse or overdose symptoms can take place at relatively low doses of this substance.

Adverse and overdose symptoms include, but not limited to:

  • aggression
  • anxiety
  • collapse and convulsions
  • distorted body image
  • fever and sweating
  • headache, blurred vision and dizziness
  • high blood pressure
  • irregular heartbeat
  • loss of coordination
  • nausea and vomiting, stomach cramps
  • paranoia
  • psychosis
  • repetitive movements
  • tremors
  • unpredictable behavior

Illegal amphetamines such as meth are highly addictive and create a compulsion in the user to habitually consume the drug. What was a recreational activity, every few weeks or just on the weekend - becomes daily, if not more than once a day. The user begins to experience physical and psychological changes to their body as it adapts to regularly having amphetamines in their system. As their body begins to expect the drug, it builds a tolerance to its effects. While the user's tolerance goes up, so does their intake of meth to achieve the same effects they once felt with less. However, this increase in amphetamine consumption increases the likelihood of the unpleasant effects listed above.

A person is addicted to amphetamines when they have loss control over their use. Their time is spent thinking about the drug, finding the money to buy the drug, obtaining the drug, getting high and then recovering from the negative effects of using amphetamines. When an individual has become dependent on amphetamines, it is nearly impossible for them to cut down or stop on their own; even when they are aware of the problems their drug use is creating in their life. The good news is that across the country there are drug rehab programs able to help addicted individuals make a real and lasting recovery from amphetamine addiction.

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