Amphetamines are a class of drugs that include prescription medications such as Adderall and Dexedrine, as well as “street” drugs like methamphetamine. Amphetamines are stimulants that increase energy and concentration and have a high potential for abuse. Amphetamines also increase libido, decrease appetite, and can increase self-esteem.
Prescription drugs that contain, or metabolize into, amphetamine include Adderall, Dexedrine, Dextrostat, Desoxyn, Didrex, ProCentra, and Vyvanse. Amphetamines are often used in medical settings to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and obesity. Recreationally, amphetamines are used as a performance enhancer and known as “speed.”
Physical effects of amphetamines can include:
- dilated pupils
- blood shot eyes
- dry mouth
- rapid heart rate
- hypertension (high blood pressure)
- excessive sweating
- blurred vision
- dry and/or itchy skin
- heart attack
Long term amphetamine use can result in depression and suicide as well as serious heart disease, amphetamine psychosis, anxiety and violent behaviors. Symptoms of amphetamine psychosis include hallucinations, delusions, thought disorder, and even sometimes catatonia. About 15% of people suffering from amphetamine psychosis fail to make a full recovery even after all amphetamine use is stopped.
Amphetamines can be smoked, snorted, swallowed, or injected. The route of administration is a big factor in the abuse potential of amphetamines. Studies have shown that the more quickly the blood level of the drug rises, the more intense the “rush” and potential for abuse and addiction. Intravenous injection is the fastest route of drug administration, causing blood levels to rise the most quickly, followed by smoking, snorting, and ingestion (swallowing).
Like most drugs with a high potential for abuse, amphetamines trigger the “reward pathway” in the brain. This is the pathway that is activated in response to pleasurable events, like eating chocolate or having sex. When these types of events occur, a neurotransmitter (chemical in the brain) called dopamine is released. Likewise, when drugs like amphetamine are metabolized, the brain produces a surge of dopamine. This creates a feeling of euphoria.
With continued use over time, the brain adapts to the constant influx of dopamine by becoming less responsive to it. The reward pathway is over-stimulated, so it reacts by eliminating some of its dopamine receptors. As a result, it takes more of the amphetamines to produce the same results. This is known as tolerance.
When an individual becomes tolerant to amphetamine, they will experience symptoms of withdrawal if they stop using the drug or significantly decrease their dose abruptly. Amphetamine withdrawal symptoms include feelings of anxiety, craving, depression, agitation, excessive sleeping, and suicidal thoughts.