Amphetamine Abuse & Addiction Effects, Signs & Symptoms

Amphetamines are a type of central nervous system stimulant. They provide a sense of increased wakefulness, energy, attention, concentration, sociability, self-confidence, improved mood, and decreased appetite. They are frequently prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in both children and adults. Amphetamines appears to have a calming effect on individuals with ADHD and sometimes afternoon sleepiness has been observed in adults with the condition. Amphetamines are also used to treat narcolepsy, treatment resistant depression and obesity. When overused these medications can be addictive. Additionally, some individuals without ADHD may use amphetamines during times when high levels of productivity are required.  The increase in the ability to perform and accompanying psycho-social effects often leads these individuals to continue taking amphetamines even after the demand for productivity has passed.

Statistics

Twelve month incidence rates were estimates at .2% for both the 12 – 17 and 18 and older age groups.  While these estimates were the same for both genders in the 18 and older age group for those ages 12-17, gender effects were reported with girls (.3%) having higher rates or amphetamine type stimulant disorder than males (.1%). While admissions for treatment were roughly the same for males (54%)and females (46%) who did not use the substance intravenously, male were 3-4 times more likely to use amphetamines intravenously than females. 12 month incidence rates were found to be higher among those age 18 – 29 (.4%) compared to those ages 45 – 64 (.1%). For 12-17 year olds, Amphetamine type stimulant abuse estimated prevalence rates were highest among Caucasians and African Americans (.3%), compared with Hispanics (.1%) and Asian Americans (.01%).  In this age group, Amphetamine abuse was practically absent in Native Americans.  In those ages 18 and above, however, the highest estimated prevalence rates were found among Native Americans and Native Alaskans (.6%) compared with Caucasians (.2%) and Hispanics (.2%). This particular type of substance abuse disorder was virtually non-existent in African Americans, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Past year prevalence rates of non- medical use of amphetamines across all children through college age was estimated at 5%-9% with past year prevalence rates of the disorder estimated at 5%-35% of across all individuals of college age.

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Co-Occurring Disorders

The most frequently disorders that co-occur with stimulant use disorders are other substance abuse disorders, in particular substances with sedative properties which are commonly used to avoid the negative effects experienced when the stimulant begins to wear off. With Amphetamine abuse, the most common type of co-occurring substance abuse is marijuana. Other co-occurring disorders include:

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Antisocial Personality Disorder
  • Gambling Disorder
  • Neurological Disorders

Causes of Amphetamines Dependence

Genetic: If you have a parent with an amphetamine use problem, it is possible you inherited a susceptibility to develop the same disorder. In addition, temperament, the inherited building blocks of personality, can predispose you to develop a problem with amphetamine use. Individuals who are open to novelty, are curious and frequently experiment with ways to increase happiness, prefer feeling overactive rather than underactive, and have difficulties coping with delayed gratification are more likely than their peers to develop an amphetamine use disorder

Brain Chemistry: In the brain, amphetamines cause the release of chemicals called catecholamines, in particular dopamine.  The effects of dopamine are especially strong in areas of the brain responsible for producing pleasure, which is known as the “reward pathway.”  The effect produced on this pathway heavily contributes to addicting quality of amphetamines.

Social:  Many people begin taking amphetamines to lose weight. In today’s society we still are bombarded with images suggesting the ideal body type is thin. For girls, their self-image is largely affected by body perception. During puberty when it is natural for girls to gain weight, they often diet.  When they reach a point when they can’t seem to lose more weight and feel weak due to lack nutrition, many discover amphetamines. For boys, body image is also important and male models are also thin. In addition, many boys engage in sports that require a lower body weight such as track or a sport where lower weight will give them an advantage such as wrestling where losing a few extra pounds will put them at the top of the next lower weight class. For both males and females, amphetamines also provide the added benefit of increasing energy and performance.

Another social cause of amphetamine use disorders are factors related to comfort in social interactions.  Many people in the US experience social anxiety. Amphetamines can make people feel more comfortable interacting in social situations and become more talkative.

Life Stressors and Lack of Coping Strategies: Many men’s and women’s lives are filled with real or perceived stressors that appear to build up with no end in sight. Some individuals have difficulty tolerating stress due to never having learned adequate coping strategies. Even for individuals who have coping skills to rely upon, when experiencing numerous, uncontrollable stressors over a period of time, the sense that they have no ability to alter the occurrence of these stressful life circumstances leads to a state of helplessness. Some of these individuals begin taking amphetamines to escape from the world for a while, and upon discovering how better things appear to be and how much more tolerable stress seems, continue taking the substance until an addiction develops

Employment Factors: Today’s world has become extremely fast paced, and frequent technological advances can increase stress levels for those who aren’t able to keep up. Many of these individuals feel unable to compete for or keep the better jobs currently trending in our society. Additionally, in addition to job related factors, the ability to fit in and be perceived as a team player or maintain the persona of the boss also adds to the stress of remaining competitive in today’s job market. In order to increase energy, alertness, concentration, self-confidence and sociability, many individuals will begin taking Amphetamines. The addiction process in this situation is often rapid due to the fast acting nature of the substance and positive effects experienced in areas many people want to improve. Over time, the psychological addiction surpasses the physical one, as any success achieved is attributed to the effects of the drug not the capabilities of the individual.

Signs and Symptoms of Amphetamine Use Disorder

Signs and Symptoms of Amphetamine Abuse include:

  • Mood/Psychological symptoms:
    • Despite psychological problems caused or worsened by amphetamine use the individual continues to use the substance
    • Improved mood or euphoria
    • Increased sociability and self confidence
  • Physical symptoms:
    • Craving
    • Despite physical or health problems caused or worsened by the drug the person continues to use the amphetamine
    • Tolerance – The individual needs to take more of the substance to achieve the desired effects or continuing to take the same amount results in decreasing effects.
    • Increased Respiration
    • Increased blood pressure
    • Dilated pupils
    • Increased energy, decreased fatigue
    • Increased alertness
    • Decreased appetite
    • Increased body temperature
  • Behavioral symptoms:
    • The drug is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than intended
    • Attempts to cut down are unsuccessful
    • A great deal of time is spent obtaining, taking or recovering from the substance
    • Continued use of the substance despite the Inability to fulfill role responsibilities at home, work or school
    • Giving up important activities
    • Use in situations the individual knows are dangerous
  • Social symptoms:
    • Relationship problems caused or worsened by amphetamine use, yet the individual continues to take the drug
    • Difficulty with social problem solving
    • When large amounts are used: over-talkativeness, manic like social presentation and failure to read social cues
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Amphetamine Use Disorder

Over time the effects of amphetamine use can become increasingly problematic.  These include:

  • Aggression, Violent Behavior or Hostility
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Emotional numbing with sadness, fatigue and social withdrawal
  • Entitlement regarding obtaining positions of power or influence
  • Convulsions
  • Lowered social inhibitions leading to engaging in behaviors with negative consequences
  • Altered sexual behavior – often increased sexual promiscuity but may lead to decreased sexual activity as well
  • Unrealistic evaluation of ones abilities, talents and level of leadership at work or school
  • Hallucinations especially hearing voices or conversations that aren’t real
  • Delusions
  • Amphetamine-caused psychosis
  • Confusion
  • Repetitive behavior
  • Impaired Judgment
  • Anger outbursts
  • Incoherence
  • Loss of important relationships
  • Problems at school or work
  • Legal problems
  • Malnutrition
  • Muscle Tension
  • Chest pain, Tachycardia or irregular heart beat
  • Cardiovascular system failure
  • Stomach Pain and Nausea
  • Frequent Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Blurred vision
  • Skin disorders
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Withdrawal Symptoms

Amphetamine withdrawal symptoms are similar to those related to the other stimulants.  These include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Fatigue, exhaustion, difficulty staying awake
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia at night
  • Increased appetite
  • Psychomotor retardation or agitation
  • Anxiety
  • Short term memory loss
  • Inability to concentrate, pay attention or remain alert
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Frustration over perceived decreased ability to function in most areas of life
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