Amphetamine Addiction : What Are the Symptoms, Effects, Treatment and Recovery?

Amphetamine. Amphetamine pills. Amphetamine drug.

Amphetamine abuse is a major challenge across the globe. Prescription stimulants like Adderall and Dexedrine and illicit amphetamines like methamphetamine (meth, crystal meth) are highly addictive substances with major consequences on one’s life and health. Understanding more about these drugs will allow you to recognize the signs of addiction and how to get help.

What are Amphetamines ?

Amphetamines are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that increase in certain types of brain activity, resulting in high levels of energy, focus, confidence and euphoria. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states that most amphetamines are listed as Schedule II substances, indicating their high potential for abuse.

According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, amphetamines were developed in Germany in the late 1800s but it wasn’t until the 1930s that their stimulant properties were discovered when they started to be used to treat nasal congestion as an over-the-counter inhaler called Benzedrine. It wasn’t long before amphetamines were being used for weight loss, depression and alcohol hangovers. Today, they are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

Types of Amphetamines & Methamphetamine

Despite the medical benefits of amphetamines, some types are produced and sold illegally. Many people take these drugs to enhance productivity at school or work, athletic performances and recreational purposes. Most people who use amphetamines for these purposes do not have a prescription.

Prescription amphetamines are stimulant medications used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. They speed up metabolism and increase alertness. People also use these medications for non-prescribed purposes, such as to get high or stay awake.

Types of common prescription amphetamines:

  • Adderall (addies, bennies, beans, crosses, hearts)
  • Dexedrine (dexies, kiddie-speed, uppers, pep pills, black beauty)
  • Vyvanse (v-twin, steamo, zaded, vicky)

Methamphetamines are illegal synthetic drugs that are used recreationally with more rapid and lasting effects than amphetamines.

Types of methamphetamines:

Speed: also called ‘crank’, usually comes as a white pill or powder that can be snorted, smoked or injected.

Base: is a brownish-yellow oily substance and is usually injected. It often contains various additives, making it the least pure form.

Crystal meth: commonly known as ‘ice’, is the purest and strongest form and comes as a rock or glass like shards. It can be snorted, smoked or injected. Its effects last up to 24 hours. It is produced in chemical ‘super labs’ to preserve its potency with few additives.

Yaba: produced in Southeast and East Asia and now readily available in parts of the US,, this is a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine and comes in reddish or green pill form that is taken orally or smoked but can also be snorted and injected. Yaba means ‘crazy medicine’ in Thai.

How Are Amphetamines Used?

Amphetamines can be abused in a number of ways. Most people who use prescription amphetamines take the pills orally. The pills can also be crushed and snorted, producing a faster, stronger high. Smoking is also an option but many chronic users of methamphetamine prefer to dissolve the powder in water and inject it as it creates a more intense high.

Why is Meth So Addictive?

Meth use, like other amphetamines, causes increased focus and productivity, decreased appetite, enhanced sociability and can cause feelings of pleasure. These pleasurable effects last longer than other drugs such as cocaine but users often still try to maintain their high by taking more, leading to not eating, sleeping and tending to responsibilities. One of the key differences between meth and amphetamines is that more meth enters the brain as compared to amphetamines, making it a more potent stimulant.

Signs of Amphetamine Abuse

There are a number of signs of amphetamine abuse, including physical and mental symptoms and changes in behaviours:

  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Insomnia and sleep disturbances
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Mood swings, irritability, aggression
  • Paranoia and anxiety
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations
  • Spending more money and time seeking out the drug
  • Prescription not lasting for the duration
  • Relationship problems
  • Loss of interest in activities

Dangers of Amphetamines

Amphetamines cause changes in the way the brain behaves and can destroy gray matter in the brain as well as dopamine receptors which are the pleasure receptors. This fundamentally changes the way the brain works, making it impossible to feel pleasure without the drug. This leads to depression and feeling suicidal and as a result, cravings become even stronger. A vicious cycle of abuse.

Aside from the dangers of addiction, there are other risks to be aware of including:

  • Cardiovascular issues, including stroke, heart attack, and heart failure
  • Weight loss and malnutrition
  • Sleep problems and insomnia
  • Risk of injury from partaking in dangerous activities

Side Effects of Amphetamine Use

There are a range of short and long-term side effects associated with amphetamine use including:

  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature
  • Loss of muscle control, muscle spasms or tics
  • Sleep disturbances, fatigue and insomnia
  • Mood swings, irritability, aggression
  • Depression, anxiety and suicidal feelings
  • Lack of appetite and weight loss
  • Dental problems
  • Skin issues
  • Paranoia, hallucinations

With the long-term use, these symptoms become amplified. High blood pressure can cause damage to the heart and high body temperatures can damage organs. Lack of appetite can lead to malnutrition, damaging the organs and brain. Severe dental disease is a result of bad eating habits and a lack of saliva and leads to infections and teeth loss. Using meth can also cause skin damage due to the hallucinations of something crawling under the skin which makes people pick their skin causing sores and infections.

Crystal Meth Use Among the LGBTQ+ Community

Crystal meth use among the LGBTQ+ community has been a concern since the late 1990s when gay and bisexual men in New York began using it as an aphrodisiac, mistakenly believing it can enhance their experiences. In general, gay men have higher levels of drug and alcohol addiction than their straight counterparts. Meth  is the second most used substance among members of the LGBTQ+ community after cannabis and use has become somewhat of an epidemic, particularly in metropolitan cities.

Use among MSM (men who have sex with men) has become intertwined with nightlife and sexual culture. The gay community are the largest users of ‘party drugs’ with crystal meth being by far the most popular. ‘Speedballing’ combines meth with sedatives and has detrimental effects on the body. The most popular cocktail for the gay community is meth and GHB or Viagra. Other drugs like special K, ecstasy, heroin and poppers are often used as well.

Through platforms like Grindr and Tinder, sex parties have become very prevalent and unfortunately, reports indicate that the majority of party guests engage in unprotected sex.

Treatment and Therapies for Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction

Treating amphetamine addiction is often challenging due to the changes in brain chemistry and structure that result with chronic use. The severe depression and overall loss of pleasure that occur when meth use stops makes it hard to avoid relapse.

Unlike the use of methadone for opioid use disorders, there is no medication-assisted treatment (MAT) for stimulant use disorders. There is no actual physical dependency to amphetamine, it’s more psychological and habitual. That being said, treatment does help. Therapies can help people understand their use, identify triggers and underlying issues and co-occurring disorders and provide tools to change behaviours.

Therapies effective in amphetamine treatment include:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) teaches people to find connections between their thoughts, feelings and actions and increase awareness around how these things impact recovery.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches skills that are effective in helping people to stop using, including distress tolerance, emotional regulation, interpersonal effectiveness and mindfulness.

Motivational Interviewing (MI) helps people take responsibility for themselves and their actions while envisioning a future free of substance abuse.

Family therapy helps to improve relationships by addressing marital and financial problems and conflict between children and parents.

Group therapy helps to put your own problems in perspective by talking and listening to others. It provides an important sense of belonging and community while holding members accountable.

12-Step groups like AA and NA provide members with a strong community of peers that helps in maintaining long-term recovery.

If you or someone you love are struggling with amphetamine abuse, look for a reputable, research-based treatment program, such at The Hills in Chiang Mai Thailand. The team can help address your issues and set you up with the tools you need to live a life free of amphetamine abuse. To learn more about The Hills and the many benefits of going to beautiful Thailand for treatment, give the team a call today.

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Dr. Sutthipan Takkapaijit

Dr. Sutthipan Takkapaijit

Clinical Psychiatrist

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