A Guide to Amphetamine Addiction

Amphetamine started out in the UK as Benzedrine, used to treat a whole range of disorders including: fatigue, epilepsy, migraine, depression and ADHD.

As a synthetic stimulant, it works on the central nervous system to create feelings of euphoria, confidence, wakefulness, focus and in some cases a heightened libido.

If you, or someone you love is struggling with amphetamine use, this guide will explain what amphetamine addiction is, the signs of symptoms and the dangers associated with long term amphetamine abuse. Once you understand what amphetamine addiction is and you recognise the various patterns of behaviour associated with amphetamine abuse, it may be a good time to seek treatment for amphetamine addiction.

What is Amphetamine Addiction?

Due to its stimulant capabilities amphetamines may cause a psychological dependence, you tend to feel more alert, energetic, confident and cheerful and less bored or tired whilst using the medication.

Addiction happens when your mind & body are dependent on the medication to get high or improve performance, your tolerance of the medication means you need higher doses to achieve the same effects.

You may go through withdrawal when you stop taking amphetamine, these withdrawal reactions could include:

  • Strong craving for the drug
  • Having mood swings that range from feeling depressed to agitated to anxious
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • Increased appetite
  • Sleep disturbances.
man high on amphetamines

Amphetamine Addiction VS Abuse

Amphetamine addiction is a chronic, relapsing substance use disorder characterised by:

  • Compulsive drug seeking behaviours
  • Continued use despite harmful consequences
  • Changes in behaviour that affect work and social commitments.

Addiction is considered a brain disorder, although this is highly contested. What is important to note is that addiction is a treatable condition with the right support.

Amphetamine abuse is when:

  • Your use of illegal drugs, prescription or over-the-counter drugs are for purposes other than those for which they are meant to be used, or in excessive amounts.
  • You use amphetamines recreationally at parties or festivals, but do not feel the need to take them to cope with daily life

Though very similar, addiction and abuse have one vital difference – the ability to stop using the drug.

What Makes Amphetamine Addictive?

Amphetamines cause the brain to release dopamine. Dopamine is a feel-good brain chemical that is involved with mood, thinking, and movement. Using amphetamines may cause pleasurable effects such as:

  • Joy (euphoria) and less inhibition, similar to being drunk
  • Feeling as if your thinking is extremely clear
  • Feeling more in control, self-confident
  • Wanting to be with and talk to people (more sociable)
  • Increased energy.

Amphetamines are used (sometimes illicitly) to help you stay awake on the job or to study for a test.

Commonly abused amphetamines:

  • 1. Dexedrine – Prescribed to treat narcolepsy, ADHD
  • 2. Methylphenidate (Concerta, Ritalin) – Prescribed to treat ADHD
  • 3. Methamphetamine (base, crystal, d-meth, fast, glass, ice, meth, speed, whiz, pure, wax, leopard’s blood, liquid red, oxblood, red speed) – Class A Illicit Drug
  • 4. Speed

How Amphetamine Addiction Develops

Addiction doesn’t happen all at once or overnight, your body has to first build up a tolerance to the medication, then develop a craving – abuse of the medication often starts first through continued use, can be influenced by a genetic predisposition to addiction, trauma or pre-existing mental health issues.

Repeat Exposure

As a stimulant, amphetamine is highly addictive because of how your brain chemistry is affected. Changes in dopamine levels affect the reward areas of your brain and reinforces amphetamine use.

When your brain is repeatedly exposed to amphetamines, your reward centre becomes accustomed to the presence of amphetamine and once you start to struggle to feel those positive effects, the ability to stop using becomes difficult.

Trauma & Pre-existing Mental Health Conditions

The symptoms of amphetamine addiction can exacerbate the symptoms of any existing mental health conditions you may have—including anxiety, depression, bipolar and PTSD.

Having both an addiction as well as suffering from a mental health issue is called a Dual Diagnosis, many studies have shown that, in many cases, users with a dual diagnosis of mental and substance use disorders have histories of abuse both sexually and physically as well as trauma.

You may feel you are blocking troublesome psychiatric symptoms by using amphetamines (i.e., self-medicating) and this thought process makes it difficult to stop using the drug.

A Family History of Addiction

Whilst neurological and physical effects of addiction have been widely documented and studied, the genetic risk factors for amphetamine abuse in genetics remains challenging and often contradictory.

The ‘Nature vs Nurture’ saying is better phrased as a ‘Nature and Nurture’ in the case of addiction as research has shown a strong correlation between the environment you grew up in (family, social, education & economic) and the actual gene sequencing within your body.

Generally, positive family influences, such as family bonding and consistent rules, appear to reduce the risk of drug abuse among teens, while negative family influences tend to increase risk. The same is true of positive and negative peer factors

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    the signs and symptoms of amphetamine addiction

    Signs & Symptoms of Amphetamine Addiction

    If you are concerned that you may be misusing or abusing amphetamines, some of the potential signs and symptoms associated with problematic stimulant use, may include:

    • Frequently dilated pupils – the pupils become wider or more open
    • Talking almost incessantly or rambling
    • Having more energy than usual
    • Loss of appetite
    • Insomnia
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Paying less attention to your personal hygiene
    • Having erratic moods
    • Losing interest in hobbies or interests that you used to love
    • Using substances in a pattern lasting hours or days, followed by long periods of sleep.

    While it can be difficult to identify or admit when you are struggling with amphetamine abuse, if numerous signs and symptoms listed above are present, misuse may be a factor.

    Diagnosing Amphetamine Addiction

    Proper diagnosis of stimulant use disorder should be made by a medical professional, based on a you exhibiting 2 or more of the several criteria found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ (DSM-5) regarding substance use disorder.

    Examples of these criteria include:

    • 1. Using substances in larger amounts over a longer period of time
    • 2. Unsuccessful attempts at cutting down or controlling use of substances
    • 3. Craving substances
    • 4. Continued use despite knowing it could be physically dangerous
    • 5. Giving up or reducing time spent engaging in social, recreational, or occupational situations.

    Drug Abuse Screening Test (DAST 10) involves 10 questions which relate to substance use
    only, and does not include alcohol or tobacco. Depending on the score of between 1 – 10 will determine the level of substance abuse risk.

    (https://www.rdash.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/DAST-10-Policy-v3.2.pdf)

    a man high on amphetamine

    The Dangers of Amphetamine Addiction

    Amphetamines can harm the body in many ways, and lead to:

    • Appetite decrease and weight loss
    • Heart problems such as fast heart rate, irregular heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and heart attack
    • High body temperature and skin flushing
    • Memory loss problems thinking clearly, and stroke
    • Mood and emotional problems such as aggressive or violent behavior, depression, and suicidal ideation
    • Ongoing hallucinations and inability to tell what is real – toxic psychosis with hallucinations and paranoid delusions may be produced by a single dose as low as 50 milligrams if no drug tolerance is present
    • Restlessness and tremors
    • Skin sores
    • Sleep problems
    • Tooth decay (meth mouth)
    • Immune system effects – you could get more colds, flu and sore throats.

    Usage of these drugs, especially methamphetamine, increase your chances of getting HIV and hepatitis B and C, through sharing used needles with someone who has an infection or, it can be through having unsafe sex because of the drugs effects on your inhibitions and libido.

    Although the normal lethal dose in adults is estimated to be around 900 milligrams, habitual use may increase adult tolerance up to 1,000 milligrams per day.

    Most amphetamines are controlled as Class B drugs under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
    Maximum penalties for possession are 5 years imprisonment plus a fine and for supply they are 14 years imprisonment and a fine.

    Methamphetamine is a Class A drug. Possessing methamphetamine leads to a maximum sentence of 7 years and/or a fine. Possession with intent to supply, supplying and production all have a maximum sentence of life imprisonment and/or a fine.

    teenagers taking amphetamine and smoking

    Amphetamine Use in Teens

    ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed conditions in children and adolescents, amphetamine medication like methylphenidate may be prescribed as a treatment course to help with the symptoms of ADHD, any time these medications are used in a way that is not intended, it’s considered abuse.

    Academic pressures are the main trigger for teens and young adults to abuse stimulants, for a better ability to concentrate, increased energy, more confidence and an ability to pull all-nighters to study.

    Studies involving rodents have shown an increased risk of amphetamine effects persisting into adulthood even if medication use has ended, these effects include a tendency toward risk taking behaviour & a sensitivity to amphetamines even if the medication hasn’t been taken for years.

    (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111103120446.htm)

    Amphetamine Use in Pregnancy

    Stimulants like amphetamines can cause

    • Congenital abnormalities
    • Miscarriage
    • Premature labour
    • Smaller than average babies.

    Drug use should be stopped immediately, without any drug substitution, because of risk to the baby.

    Babies born to mothers who continue to take stimulants during pregnancy show a withdrawal syndrome characterised by

    • Shrill crying
    • Irritability
    • Repeated sneezing.

    Amphetamine Use and Employment

    Amphetamine misuse while working can inhibit your performance (despite the hyper focused and energising effects) causing:

    • unexplained or frequent absences
    • a change in behaviour
    • unexplained dips in productivity
    • more accidents or near-misses
    • performance or conduct issues.

    It can also have legal implications especially if your job entails driving for the company as the UK traffic law prohibits driving while consuming or having consumed illegal drugs.

    Penalties for drug driving

    If you’re convicted of drug driving you’ll get:

    • a minimum 1 year driving ban
    • an unlimited fine
    • up to 6 months in prison
    • a criminal record.

    Your driving licence will also show you’ve been convicted for drug driving. This will last for 11 years.

    man getting help for amphetamine addiction

    Getting Help for Amphetamine Addiction

    There are a number of amphetamine addiction treatment options in the UK.

    Residential rehabilitation is the most beneficial option for the treatment of amphetamine addiction.

     

    Your unique needs are taken into consideration when structuring a treatment plan and treatment may include a combination of medical care (including detox), counselling, behavioural therapy, vocational training and other services to best support you throughout recovery.

    In cases where a Dual Diagnosis (addiction co-occurring with mental illness) or poly-drug abuse is an issue they need to be treated concurrently for the best outcome.

    The NHS and UK Charities also offer outpatient care for the treatment of amphetamine addiction.

    You can start with your GP who may refer you to a local service, or visit the NHS website for a list of free services.