Amphetamines - Treatment for Amphetamine Abuse

Many illicit drugs are classified Schedule I because they have no known medical use (even if one is found later), meaning that they are used only for recreational purposes and have a high potential for abuse.  A drug’s placement on the US schedule listing means that the substance shows some potential for abuse or addiction (on a five step continuum from very high to low).  Amphetamines are classified as Schedule II drugs because they have a medical purpose (such as the use of Adderall for people with Attention Deficit Disorder-ADD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder-ADHD) and they pose a lower risk for addiction than Schedule I drugs.  Amphetamines, like other Schedule II drugs, can also lead to “use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence.”  A large classification of drug types, amphetamines are among the most dangerous drugs used today.

History of Amphetamines

Amphetamines, were chemically synthesized for the first time in 1887 in a German lab.  A use for the chemical compound was not realized at the time and the drug did not come into commercial use until 1934.  At that time it was used to create an inhaler since it stimulant properties acted to increase bronchodilation.  During World War II, military from both the Axis and Allies used amphetamine to help soldiers fight the fatigue of battle and used to enhance performance.  Further study of the drug after the war revealed that it was also highly addictive and a likely candidate for abuse.  Due to this research, the United States made amphetamine a schedule II drug in 1971.

Amphetamine Uses

Throughout its history, amphetamine has been used by athletes, soldiers, students, anyone who needed a “boost” as a performance enhancer.  Amphetamine and other stimulants work to increase dopamine (a neurotransmitter that produces feelings of pleasure and focus) levels in the brain.  When used in a therapeutic manner it is given to a patient and the dosage is varied until a proper therapeutic point is reached.  The doctor is looking for the correct physical or emotional response without producing the euphoric effects that can lead to unscheduled use and addiction.

The most common prescribed use of amphetamine today is as Adderall.  People with ADHD are unable to focus on any task for more than a short period of time, so they need medical help to achieve a balance that allows them to function normally.  People with ADHD are actually under-stimulated which means that they have to constantly stay active to try and achieve a normal level of stimulation.  Adderall and other drugs, such as Ritalin, act to increase stimulation to a normal level which allows the individual with ADHD to function normally.  If the drug is used properly, it can be of great benefit.

The problem is that people understand the stimulating effects of amphetamines and use them without a doctors help.  Self-medication is problematic in several ways.  An individual who uses the drug to enhance performance, but is not under a doctor’s care will often overuse.  When this happens, they increase the level of dopamine too quickly and achieve a euphoric effect.  It is at this stage that the individual realizing the feeling they can achieve through use of amphetamine is likely to keep using and increase the amount they use as the effect lessens.  Amphetamine pills, like many other illicit drugs that are constructed by illegal labs and not by pharmaceutical companies, are often combined with binders and other filler products that can be very harmful to those taking them.  In the case of amphetamine, these fillers have been known to block capillaries thus decreasing blood flow to extremities.  The reason that this drug is rated as Schedule II is that while it can be very beneficial, it can also produce an overwhelming effect that leads to abuse and, in some users, addiction.

In recent years, the diversion of prescription Adderall and Ritalin has been an increasing problem.  Since these drugs are readily available (many youth and teens are treated with them for ADD and ADHD), a market has developed in which the prescription amphetamine is sold and then abused by other people.  Because Adderall and Ritalin are relatively pure, manufacturers of illicit amphetamine will often take the pure product, crush it and add fillers to produce more.  People will also sometimes crush the tablets and snort them, or combine the crushed amphetamine with water and inject it.  Snorting is the most common method of ingestion since it is simple and effective.  However, injecting the substance provides a quicker and longer lasting ‘high’, so this method is gaining in popularity.  Studies show that as many as one in ten youth and teens have used this illicit form of amphetamine.

Short-Term Effects of Amphetamines

Any stimulant will increase certain bodily functions that accompany a rise in dopamine levels.  Among these are increased blood pressure, a rise in core body temperature, sleeplessness and elevated heart rate.  While these will likely occur initially even when the dose is therapeutic, these levels will tend to balance out as a correct does for the individual is reached.  However, in someone taking the drug without medical supervision, these symptoms can persist and be harmful.

Long-Term Effects of Amphetamines

With increased unsupervised usage come a greater range of problems.  These issues may persist and lead to permanent damage.  Long-term effects include: extreme anger, paranoia, a decreased appetite which can become serious even to the point of malnutrition, cardiovascular irregularities and stroke.  An individual who experiences these symptoms may also have withdrawal if they try to wean themselves off of the drug.  These symptoms are characterized by hostility, irritability, sleeplessness, depression and anxiety.  Due to the seriousness of the medical complications during withdrawal, it is always advisable to seek professional help when attempting from amphetamine addiction.

Athletes who use the drug without supervision have found that in small doses the drug does improve focus and thus performance.  Unfortunately, chronic use can undermine these desired effects.  Not only are there medical complications such as increased pulse rate and blood pressure which negatively affect performance, but prolonged use can cause the muscles to breakdown.

For those wishing to increase focus in the classroom, increased use of the drug can lead to a gross impairment of cognitive function.  This means that the flood of dopamine achieved will help increase focus for a time, but will eventually have the exact opposite effect as that desired.

Many medications can be very beneficial if used correctly and under a doctor’s care, but these same substances can cause dangerous adverse effects when abused.  Dosage should be determined by a qualified professional after a careful study of the individual’s reactions to the substance have been observed.  Unsupervised use is not recommended because it can lead to cardiovascular complications, stroke, extreme sleep disturbance and death in extreme cases.

The greatest present danger of amphetamine abuse and addiction is among young people who abuse prescription Adderall and Ritalin.  These drugs are beneficial to those with ADHD and ADD, but can be sold, crushed and abused for their euphoric effects.  That is why professionals and parents need to make sure that they are controlling the dispersal of these pills and supervising their use constantly.  It can be a very beneficial drug, but it is also a substance that can be very harmful when abused.

NSIGHT Psychology and Addiction is an emotionally focused treatment program that emphasizes the underlying mental health and emotional issues that precede and reinforce addiction in order to create lasting change.