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Amphetamines are stimulants that affect the central nervous system. They are best known for enhancing the user’s mood and temporarily boosting his or her mental and physical capabilities.

Although pharmaceutical companies manufacture the majority of amphetamines legally, users can easily find these drugs on the black market. Brands like Adderall, Benzedrine, Dexedrine, and Vyvanse have the greatest name recognition as both prescription and recreational drugs.   

Amphetamines are often confused with methamphetamines because of their similar names and chemical structures, but there are some key differences. In brief, methamphetamines are stronger, faster-acting and long-lasting stimulants. They are also more harmful. However, this does not mean that amphetamine abuse is not dangerous on its own. Both amphetamines and methamphetamines can cause great damage to the user’s mental and physical health.

When are amphetamines prescribed?

Although amphetamines started as a nasal decongestant, doctors today most commonly prescribe them to people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to help manage their focus. Others diagnosed with narcolepsy may also take amphetamines in an effort to better stay awake throughout the day.

A small percentage of obese clients may take the drug under medical supervision as part of a greater weight loss and exercise program. Additionally, doctors have recently considered the drug to alleviate certain symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

Recreationally speaking, amphetamines are popular amongst young adults looking to study without getting distracted. Some students also take it before an athletic competition in the hopes of improving their concentration and energy levels. Others just like the way it makes them feel.  

How are amphetamines taken?

Medicinally, users take amphetamines orally, but recreational users utilize a variety of approaches, including mashing up the pills to smoke or snort them. Some may even prefer to inject amphetamines because they can feel the effects instantaneously as the drugs hit their bloodstream. The majority of recreational users, however, take the pills orally.

You may hear the following terms in reference to recreational amphetamines:

  • Speed
  • Uppers
  • Bennies
  • Powder
  • Truck Drivers
  • Hearts
  • Jelly Beans
  • Wakeups
  • Goey
  • Whiz

Are amphetamines addictive?

Addiction is uncommon at prescribed levels, but recreational users risk becoming dependent. After repeated exposure to large quantities of amphetamines, the brain and body begin to crave more of the drug, potentially sending the user into an addiction cycle. With addiction comes withdrawal symptoms, which can be severe. Withdrawal symptoms typically include soreness, fatigue and hunger, along with strong cravings for another fix of amphetamines. Most recovering addicts also report irritability, paranoia and depression. 

Can you mix amphetamines with other substances?

Medical professionals strongly discourage taking amphetamines with alcohol or other substances. However, many recreational users take this risk. Because the drug stimulates the body, users can generally drink more booze than they could otherwise. However, that also leaves them particularly vulnerable to the effects of binge drinking. Users risk blacking out and losing consciousness, falling, or engaging in unsafe behaviors such as drinking while driving or having unprotected sex. 

Some users take amphetamines with depressants to try to “cancel out” some of the negative side effects. While this combination may sometimes help conceal certain symptoms, it can also take a toll on one’s overall health. Combining amphetamines with alcohol can cause irregular heart beat, raised body temperature and increased blood pressure. Users without a tolerance to these drugs can overdose if mixing high doses with cocaine. Chances of a fatal overdose increase even further with the addition of heroin and alcohol.    

What symptoms should you look for in people you suspect of abusing amphetamines?

Mood is one of the biggest indicators of amphetamine abuse. Users may seem elated while on the drug, but remarkably temperamental after coming down. If you notice frequent and extreme mood swings, that may indicate amphetamine use.

Energy levels may provide another indication. While on amphetamines, people are active and enthusiastic, staying busy and often foregoing sleep. Off these drugs, users may slip into fatigue. Also look out for weight loss or an overall loss of appetite, since people on stimulants like amphetamines have an easier time skipping meals.  

Concerned loved ones should pay special attention for symptoms like trembling, irregular heartbeat, vomiting, diarrhea, and cramps, as they may indicate an overdose that warrants medical attention. The good news is that overdoses are rarely fatal, so long as the individual receives timely medical treatment.

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Can addiction and withdrawal be treated?

Users who have taken doses as prescribed may experience limited withdrawal symptoms when discontinuing the drug, usually not lasting more than a day. However, for those who have abused the drug in large doses, that withdrawal period can last for weeks. Treatment will therefore typically begin with a detox to safely reduce and eventually eliminate the drug from one’s system. 

Although no medicinal remedy exists to manage amphetamine addiction, personalized inpatient treatment can help clients regain their health and rebuild their lives without amphetamines. Treatment often includes psychotherapy, including cognitive behavioral therapy, to help clients manage the anxiety, stress and social pressures that often prompt amphetamine use.

If you or someone you know suffers from amphetamine addiction, know that there is help. Call us to learn how to take the first step.

Written By: Sprout Editorial Team

The Sprout Health Group editorial team is passionate about addiction treatment, recovery and mental health issues. Every article is expert-reviewed.