But, these drugs carry a high risk of abuse and many people are addicted to them. And unfortunately, being addicted to Adderall, Dexedrine, or another similar drug can have disastrous effects on the body and brain.
In this article, we’ll discuss what amphetamine abuse is, how is leads to addiction, and how addicts can receive treatment. We’ll also dive into what makes these drugs so addictive in the first place and how to tell if your loved one is abusing their prescription.
Hopefully, we can help those who are chemically dependent on these drugs to get the help they need.
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What are these drugs? What are they used to treat?
These drugs are synthetic chemicals often found in prescription medications. Usually, they’re administered by doctors to help patients regulate their mood or stimulate the central nervous system. This is why they are known as “stimulants”.
Because they have a medical purpose, most amphetamine drugs are legal. They’re classified as a Schedule II substance under the United States Drug Enforcement Agency’s (DEA) drug classification system. Essentially, the Schedule II title means that they have a medicinal function but also carry a high risk of abuse.
Amphetamines are a form of “speed”. They’re closely related to methamphetamine (crystal meth) and have similar effects to cocaine.
There are some that are entirely illegal. Methamphetamine (crystal meth, ice, Tina), for example, is one subgroup that has no medical purpose. However, the drug Desoxyn is a legal drug that’s show to be very similar to crystal meth.
Although certain drugs in the group are legal while others are illicit, they are all addictive. Legal amphetamines like Adderall and Dexedrine are known to cause addiction in the people who abuse them.
Originally, these drugs were developed as an alternative to ephedrine. It was intended for use by surgeons to lower blood pressure during surgery.
These day, amphetamines are used to treat medical conditions like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. They are also used as a “study drug” by students or other people who need to stay awake or focus for a long period of time.
They do so by stimulating the central nervous system (CNS). As a result, they’re able to activate certain receptors in the brain that might otherwise remain dormant.
This activation process happens through a flood or neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine.
As anyone who studies addiction knows, dopamine is the neurotransmitter that causes pleasure. Humans love things that feel good. So, many people end up using these drugs for recreational purposes.
The most popular prescription amphetamine drugs are:
While these drugs are able to increase alertness and focus, they can also have some negative side effects.
A few of the most common side effects of amphetamines include:
In severe cases, users may experience extreme side effects such as:
College students, for example, often use them to stay up late and study for a test. If they have trouble focusing, they may even receive a prescription from a doctor. These drugs tend to take effect immediately and provide a jolt of energy that helps people to focus on tedious material.
But, many people overuse Adderall to perform better. They often take more than the recommended dose in hopes that it will help them stay up extra late.
When this type of behavior is repeated, it can lead the user to become dependent on the drug. But, because the individual is using the drug for a useful purpose, they may not realize how dangerous their behavior is.
Here’s how you can distinguish responsible use from drug abuse:
Drug abuse can quickly turn into an addiction. If you or someone you know participates in any of the activities outlined above, you may need to seek help. Without intervention, the problem could get worse.
This class of drugs has a long and complex history in the United States. They became very popular in first half of the 20th century, when they could be purchased without a prescription. For the next two decades, they were marketed as drugs for obesity, depression, and narcolepsy.
Amphetamines were also prescribed to the military during World War II. They enabled soldiers to stay up for many hours with very little sleep. It is estimated that nearly 200 million doses were distributed to the troops.
More than 2 million doses were given to the military during World War II.
Some experts credit these drugs for boosting American productivity during the post-war period. As many people returned from war and went back to work, the drugs gave them the energy to fight off depression and be productive.
But, recreational drug users also started to take interest in them. During the 1960’s, they started to gain popularity in the drug cultures of San Francisco and other cities. For the first time, users started to snort, smoke, and inject them. Motorcycle gangs and drug cartels began to manufacture their own speed (including the earliest types of crystal meth).
Over the years, the DEA put initiatives into place to limit the amount of illegal production. Of course, those efforts were somewhat futile. There were more than 549 meth lab seizures in 1990 and more than 2,100 in 1999. In 2017, more than 20 years later, more than 10,000 Americans died from an overdose on meth or another psychostimulant.
Prior to 1990, ADHD wasn’t a well-known condition. As it became a household name toward the beginning of the 90’s, doctors began to hand out this diagnosis more frequently.
As a result, more and more children were given amphetamine prescriptions. According to Lawrence Diller, a pediatrician and author, the number of ADHD diagnoses rose from 900,000 to five million between 1990 and 1998. Each of those individuals received some form of amphetamine to treat their condition.
More than 6% of children take prescription stimulants.
And the number of diagnoses grew over time. By 2011, more than 6% of children in the United States were taking Adderall, Ritalin, or another stimulant. Diller has gone so far as to give the title “The Addicted Generation” to the kids who came of age during this era.
Obviously, not everyone who takes prescription drugs will abuse them. But, because they carry such a high risk of abuse, it’s easy for normal users to slip into a habit of overusing. And even those who don’t overuse may have difficulty detoxing if they ever decide that they want to stop.
This is a highly addictive class of drugs. It’s very easy for users to become addicted to prescription drugs like Adderall or Ritalin. And, obviously, methamphetamine can hook people in a very short time.
If someone uses for long enough, or takes too many drugs, they may find themselves unable to function without the drug in their system.
As we started to discuss above, these drugs release dopamine into the user’s brain. This chemical causes the brain to experience joy or pleasure.
When produced naturally, joy and pleasure are good things. However, they aren’t so good if they’re generated by synthetic substances.
Normally, a person has to accomplish something for their brain to produce dopamine. They have to exercise, or make someone laugh, or even just eat some food. The human body is designed to generate dopamine whenever we do something good. It does this to encourage us to repeat those activities. Scientist’s call this the brain’s “reward system”.
But, not all rewards are earned. Essentially, taking amphetamines and other dopamine-generating drugs is a way to trick the brain. By giving us a rush of neurotransmitters, they make the brain feel that we’ve done something good.
As a result, the brain recognizes the act of taking drugs as a good thing. It causes “cravings” to remind us to take more drugs. When a user continues to feed those cravings, they become dependent on the substance.
Addicts need to keep upping their dosage over time. Otherwise, they won’t be able to feel the drug’s effects any more.
If an amphetamine addict starts by taking 5mg of Dexedrine or Vyvanse, they will feel satiated for a while. However, they’ll develop a tolerance for the drug. Over the next few weeks, they’ll need to use more to achieve the same effect.
Eventually, the addict require drugs to get out of bed in the morning. They might not be able to function otherwise. And, if they want to get high, they’ll need to take a lot more than they did when they first started.
Oftentimes, prescription drug addicts resort to crushing their pills and snorting them. This eliminates the “time-release” element of their drug and gives it to them all at once.
Or, a user may transition to a stronger drug. A prescription drug addict who has built up their tolerance might seek out crystal meth or cocaine to achieve a stronger high.
An addict will experience several side effects. There are short-term side effects as well as long-term ones.
The individual may not experience all of these, but they are sure to experience some of them.
When someone is addicted to Adderall or another stimulant, they’ll show several signs and symptoms. These signs are both physical and behavioral.
These drugs take a toll on the human body. So, you may be able to identify an addiction by the physical symptoms. Some physical symptoms to look out for are:
Dilated pupils: Dilated pupils occur when the central nervous system is excited. For example, they get larger in fight-or-flight scenarios. This allows us to take in more light and to see better. Because amphetamines also stimulate the CNS, our pupils enlarge when we take these drugs.
Weight loss: The CNS is closely linked to metabolism. Whenever it’s stimulated, the individual’s metabolism speeds up. As a result, addicts tend to lose weight rapidly. In the past, doctors actually prescribed amphetamines to help people lose weight. The federal government nixed this practice once they figured out how addictive these drugs are.
Breathing trouble: Amphetamine abuse is known to cause breathlessness. These drugs cause respiratory troubles. Over time, that can lead to shortness of breath, chest pains, and hyperventilation. This occurs because stimulants cause the heart to work harder than normal. As their blood pressure rises, they aren’t able to breathe as easily.
Dry mouth/nose: One side effect of amphetamines is shrinking in the blood vessels. When the blood vessels shrink, the body produces less sweat and saliva.
So, an addict tends to experience dryness in their mouth, nose, and even skin. This effect is compounded by respiratory issues, which may cause the user to breathe in more air. The air can dry out their nose and mouth.
Dental problems: Crystal meth is famous for causing dental problems. But, prescription amphetamines can do the same thing. Both drugs cause drying in the salivary glands. The makes the mouth a breeding ground for germs. After a while, these germs eat away at the teeth and cause “meth mouth”.
Hyperactivity: Amphetamines are often prescribed to hyperactive children. But, too high of a dose can actually cause the user to become hyperactive. They stimulate the nervous system, after all. This can make the user extremely restless, hyper, and overactive.
Irregular sleeping habits: Students often take Ritalin, Desoxyn, and Adderall to stay up all night. It helps them study. Partiers take it to avoid sleep, too.
As with most drugs however, the comedown is hard. Crashing after Adderall is quite common. If a user is unable to get a constant fix of the drug, they may experience bouts of insomnia followed by long periods of sleep.
Ignoring responsibilities: Drug addicts often ignore school and work. They tend to neglect their families, too. The drug becomes the most important thing in their life. And maintaining a drug addiction takes a lot of time.
Between using, obtaining fixes, and recovering from hangovers, addiction can occupy nearly all of an addict’s waking hours. They usually don’t have time to feed their habit and meet responsibilities simultaneously.
Bouts of Depression: An amphetamine crash can be crippling. After the brain is flooded with dopamine, the brain’s levels sink down to a lower point than they started. This can cause depression in the user.
If someone is addicted, though, they’ll probably find a way to obtain more drugs. Their mood will improve until they’re out of drugs again.
Anxiety and paranoia: Anxiety is a common side effect of an overactive nervous system. This is because our CNS kicks into gear when we think we’re in danger.
In turn, an amphetamine addict may get very anxious. In extreme cases, they may become paranoid. Meth addicts, and even Adderall addicts, can start to think that people are out to get them.
Loss of interests: It’s common for drug addicts to lose interest in their hobbies. Things that they used to enjoy become unimportant. Unfortunately, hobbies can’t generate the same amount of dopamine that drugs can. So, the addict might get more enjoyment out of getting high.
Sometimes, amphetamine addicts might use to supplement their hobbies. They may take Ritalin so that they can focus on music and computers. This symptom isn’t a surefire sign, but could point toward a potential addiction.
Financial instability: Drugs are expensive. If someone has a bad habit, they’ll spend a lot of money on using. They may not have money for other things, even if they have a steady job.
If the problem is really bad, they may steal other people’s drugs. Or, they might steal money and property to exchange for drugs.
Seeing multiple doctors: Many people obtain their drugs through doctors. Eventually, the doctor may cut them off or refuse to increase the dose.
When this happens, addicts may resort to “doctor shopping”. This is the term we use when an addict sees multiple doctors to get multiple prescriptions. Doctor shopping is illegal and irresponsible. Taking multiple prescriptions is highly dangerous.
Talking about amphetamines: Drug addiction is an obsession. The addict’s drug of choice occupies most of their thoughts. If someone talks about a drug a lot, they may have it on their mind already.
Of course, there are some addicts who keep their habit a secret. And, there are those who are fascinated by drugs but don’t use them. But, if someone takes a medication and frequently talks about it, this could be a sign of a problem.
No one ever plans to become an addict. Most people only realize that their addicted after the problem gets out of hand.
This is especially the case with people who are dependent on amphetamines. After all, most of these drugs are prescription medications. Others simply use them to stay up and study.
But, even those who use drugs for studying can become addicts. Eventually, the habit catches up with them.
Fortunately, it is possible to recover from an addiction to drugs like Adderall, Ritalin, and Desoxyn. It’s even possible to recover from a methamphetamine addiction.
It takes work, though. In order for an addict to quit using these drugs, they need to commit to the recovery process. They’ll need to go through detox and learn to live without the drugs in their system.
In order for an addict to get clean, they have to detox. This is the process in which they expel all of the drugs from their body. An addict starts by stopping all use. Then, they sweat (and sometimes vomit) the drugs out.
Detoxing from Adderall or another amphetamine is not fun. It’s not pleasurable. In fact, it can be quite painful. The addict will go through withdrawals in their journey to get clean.
But, it’s a necessary step. Without detoxing, the user will never be able to get sober.
When someone uses amphetamines for a long time, their body becomes dependent on it. Their brain is trained to believe that the drug is necessary for survival. Without it, they start to feel anxious and even nauseous.
If they attempt to quit, their body won’t respond kindly. They will sweat profusely. They may vomit. They may even have diarrhea.
And, they’re likely to get anxious. Their brain will make them crave the drug worse than ever before.
Some other amphetamine detox symptoms include:
Withdrawal symptoms vary from person to person. Some people may experience all of these side effects. Others experience only a few. The severity of withdrawal depends on a number of factors including age, liver health, and the amount they used.
Each amphetamine has a different half-life. So, they all stay in the body for a different amount of time.
The half-life of Adderall is between 9 and 14 hours, for example. This means that 9+ hours after taking their dose, the user’s body will have eliminated 50% of the amount they took.
If someone takes the drug for many years, it could take more than a week for them to get the drug out of their system.
This is important to understand. A drug’s half-life impacts the detox timeline. The longer a drug stays in the body, the longer detox lasts.
Typically, amphetamine withdrawal looks something like this:
First 48 hours: In the first two days, the addict will experience strong cravings. They will crash. They may feel anxious or depressed. They are likely to get very hungry and tired.
During this time, it’s crucial for the addict to fight their cravings. If they succumb to a relapse, they may dive back into their addiction. They should attempt to rest as much as possible.
2-7 days: The addict will become increasingly irritable throughout the first week. They may become nauseous. They may vomit or have diarrhea. The cravings will persist and the addict will have trouble focusing.
The addict should continue to fight their cravings. They need to remember that this is the right decision.
7-30 days: It should take little more than a week to detox. However, withdrawal symptoms could persist for several months. While the nausea will end, the anxiety is likely to continue.
Some of this anxiety is a physical symptom. The brain is in the process of rewiring itself to function without amphetamines. However, some of this anxiety is an emotional side effect. The addict may regret the way that they acted when they were using.
Professional detox is a great resource for people who have a problem with amphetamine abuse. These facilities work with the individual to alleviate their withdrawal symptoms.
When an addict tries to quit “cold turkey”, they run the risk of relapsing. This happens often. Individuals believe that they have the power to quit but end up going back when the withdrawal symptoms kick in.
In a professional detox program, amphetamine addicts are separated from drugs. They’ll have no access to Adderall, crystal meth, or whatever else they are addicted to. This allows them to focus on staying clean.
Plus, the doctors will do their best to manage the addict’s side effects. This can make the whole process a little less painful.
Detox helps addicts overcome their physical symptoms. However, addiction has an emotional side, too. Prolonged drug use can leave us feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Plus, addicts are often dealing with psychological trauma or co-occurring disorders that existed prior to their bout with drugs.
Addiction rehab is a resource that attempts to treat these conditions. These programs improve the addict’s emotional health.
In drug rehab, addicts spend their time with therapists, counselors, and physicians. They attend a rigorous schedule of individual counseling sessions and medical check-ups. They also meet with other recovering addicts in group support sessions.
Each of these resources is intended to help improve the addict’s health. Check-ups ensure that the person is progressing physically. Therapy helps them to recover emotionally. Group therapy gives the addict access to a network of other people who’ve lived through a similar situation.
In addition to therapy, there is also plenty of downtime. Most rehab patients have access to exercise equipment, television, computers, and other amenities.
There are a few different types of rehab. Each of these is designed for a different type of amphetamine addict.
The two most common types are:
Inpatient treatment: This is a residential form of addiction treatment. In an inpatient program, those who suffer from a drug abuse problem live on-site at the rehab center. They live there for several weeks. Sometimes, they may stay longer.
Each day, the addict wakes up and eats breakfast with other patients. They spend the day meeting with therapists and doctors. They also participate in group discussions with other recovering addicts.
Over time, they learn how to live without using drugs. When it’s time to leave, they’re more prepared for a sober life than they might otherwise be.
Outpatient treatment: Outpatient rehab is similar to inpatient programs. However, patients in these programs live outside of the facility itself. They report to the facility everyday and meet with therapists for a few hours.
Addicts in outpatient programs get the same benefits as those in inpatient programs. But, they still have time to attend school or work. And, they have time to spend with their families.
Other types of drug rehab include:
Northpoint Recovery offers high-quality inpatient rehab services. We can offer the help and support you need.
The abuse of Adderall and similar drugs is a common problem. It’s particularly prevalent among millennials and younger Americans. After all, these are the generations who were prescribed more amphetamines than any other in United States history.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 3.5 million children were taking stimulants for ADHD by the year 2011. This number represented a drastic increase from years prior. In 2003, roughly 2.5 million children were taking them.
The abundance of kids on speed (or what is basically speed), is a cause for concern. As these children came of age in the decade after 2010, many of them found themselves with heavy drug habits.
Casey Schwartz is one person who developed an amphetamine addiction at a young age. Prescribed in 2005, the writer used the drug for more than 10 years before realizing it was a problem.
Describing her experience in an article for The New York Times Magazine entitled, “Generation Adderall”, Schwartz says, “…I could study all night, then run 10 miles, then breeze through that week’s New Yorker, all without pausing to consider whether I might prefer to chat with classmates or go to the movies. It was fantastic.”
The extreme sense of focus and attention were made even better by the fact that it caused her to lose weight.
However, as many amphetamine users quickly come to realize, these drugs have their downsides, too. Schwartz began to overuse her prescription. In fact, she took so much that she found it “easy to lose track of exactly how many pills I had swallowed [in a] day.”
Over time, the drug started to make her life worse instead of better.
Schultz’s problem only grew more dire as she progressed from her college years into adulthood.
“Nearly three years after getting the prescription…I found myself sobbing in a psychiatrist’s office in New Haven,” she writes, “…explaining to him that my life was no longer my own. I had long been telling myself that by taking Adderall, I was exerting total control over my fallible self, but in truth, it was the opposite: The Adderall had made my life unpredictable, blowing black storm systems over my horizon with no warning at all.”
Yet, like many people, she was unable to give it up. No psychiatrist or mix of antidepressants were able to ease her withdrawal pains. Each attempt at quitting was followed by a timely relapse.
She was 100% addicted to amphetamines and could do nothing about it.
It wasn’t until she sought professional help and dove into recovery that she was able to get clean. She reached out to an addiction specialist who had experience in helping people to wean off of amphetamines.
“I was 30 by the time I got off Adderall for good,” the author writes, expressing her regret at the end of the article. “This statement horrifies me even now, more than three years later, recognizing the amount of precious time I gave away to that drug.”
Recovery is possible. Northpoint Recovery wants to help you overcome your drug abuse habit.
An Adderall or Dexedrine addiction can leave you feeling hopeless. It can be overwhelming and painful. It can make you feel like you’ll never be normal again.
But you can turn it around.
At Northpoint Recovery, we’ve been lucky enough to see plenty of people get sober. We’ve helped them get back on the right path. We’ve watched as they overcame their amphetamine addiction and learned to live without it.
We want to do the same for you.
Our treatment center offers some of the finest detox and rehab services available in the Northwest. Located in Boise, ID, we provide professional inpatient treatment to addicts of all kinds.