Table of Contents
Amphetamines Addiction, Abuse, and Symptoms

TABLE OF CONTENTS

I. The Basics

This guide explains the effects, trends, and dangers of amphetamine use and provides an unbiased analysis of the medicinal and behavioral treatment methods for amphetamine addiction based on current research and publicly available statistics. In some cases, usage statistics are derived from general prescription stimulant use, which includes Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, and Dexedrine.

Primary Amphetamine Dangers

  • Addictiveness: Nutt et al. analyzed 20 substances to determine their addictive potential. The study included two types of amphetamines: amphetamine and methylphenidate. After Nutt et al. analyzed all 20 substances, they ranked them from the highest addictive potential to the lowest addictive potential. Amphetamine ranked seventh on the list while methylphenidate ranked 14th. These rankings indicate that amphetamines have a higher addictive potential than ecstasy or GHB.
  • Risk of overdose: In 2017, prescription stimulants were involved in more than 10,000 overdose deaths in the United States. Individuals who overdose on prescription stimulants may experience life-threatening symptoms, including seizures, dangerous changes in blood pressure, and an irregular heartbeat that causes a heart attack.
  • Unintended side effects: Amphetamines can cause some undesirable side effects, including mood swings, insomnia, headaches, dizziness, and abdominal pain. Serious side effects of amphetamines may include seizures, high blood pressure, psychosis, and a fast heart rate,
  • Legal risks: Amphetamines are Schedule II controlled substances due to their high addictive potential. Possessing methylphenidate, amphetamine, or another prescription stimulant without a valid prescription is usually considered a misdemeanor. A conviction for a first-time offense may be punishable by fines, participation in a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program, community service, and/or jail time.

Amphetamine Background Information

Derived FromNaturally derived from the Ephedra sinica plant
Ways UsedIngestion, crushing/snorting, injecting
Scientific Name1-phenylpropan-2-amine (amphetamine); methyl 2-phenyl-2-piperidin-2-ylacetate (methylphenidate)
Slang/Street Names for AmphetaminesAmps, Beans, Black and Whites, Bennies, Blue Boys, Black Mollies, Diamonds, Dominoes, Jolly Beans, Kiddie Coke, Nuggets, Road Dope, Speed, Uppers, R-Ball, Skippy
How Long in Bodily SystemHalf-life: 9-13 hours

 

Elimination in two to three days but may be up to a week in long-term users

Punitive Legal Measures: Using/PossessionIt is illegal to possess amphetamines without a prescription, as they are Schedule II controlled substances. Laws vary by state, but possession of amphetamines without a prescription is usually charged as a misdemeanor. Penalties for a first-time conviction may include fines, community service, court-ordered drug treatment, and/or jail time.
Punitive Legal Measures: Selling/DistributingA charge of selling or distributing amphetamines is more serious than a possession charge. Selling/distributing is usually charged as a felony, and a conviction may result in a prison sentence of 20 years or longer.
DEA Drug RatingSchedule II

II. Signs of Abuse

Behavioral Symptoms of Amphetamine Usage and Abuse

How amphetamines affect the brain

Amphetamines interrupt the normal communication that is supposed to take place between the neurons and the circuits of the brain. As a result, the amount of dopamine in the brain increases, causing a sense of euphoria. Dopamine is a chemical involved in the brain’s reward system. Chronic stimulant use also causes changes in the structure and function of the neurons, which may increase the risk of developing an addiction to stimulants.

Behavioral signs of amphetamine usage and abuse

The use of amphetamines can cause many behavioral changes in adolescents and adults. In adolescents, sudden changes in academic performance are one potential sign of amphetamine abuse. This includes failure to complete homework assignments, getting lower grades than usual, and refusing to participate in class. Quitting sports teams, school clubs, and extracurricular activities may also indicate that an adolescent is abusing amphetamines.

In adults, amphetamine abuse can lead to behavioral changes at home and at work. At home, the individual may start spending more time alone or refusing to tell family members what they are doing or where they are going. This type of behavior often occurs when an individual is trying to hide amphetamine use from loved ones. Amphetamine use may also cause an individual to neglect his or her responsibilities. The individual may not clean the house as thoroughly as usual or spend as much time on tasks like washing dishes or doing laundry.

At work, an individual may start showing up late, leaving early, taking long lunches, or taking frequent breaks. Some users miss work more frequently than usual, causing them to receive written reprimands or even lose their jobs.

Physical Symptoms of Amphetamine Abuse

How amphetamines affect the body

Amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system, causing a wide range of physical effects. One of the main effects of amphetamine use is an increase in the amount of adrenaline in the bloodstream. This causes an increase in heart rate, which may be dangerous for individuals who have high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythms, or other heart conditions. The increase in adrenaline also causes sweating, faster breathing, an increase in blood pressure, and a sharpening of the senses.

Early physical effects of amphetamines

Amphetamines usually produce physical and psychological side effects within 30-60 minutes. Although these substances are effective when used as prescribed, some of these effects can be life-threatening.

This table illustrates the possible short-term physical effects associated with amphetamines.
Short-Term Physical Symptoms
Initial (direct effects of drug, 30 – 60 min.)Increased energy
Sweating
Increased respiratory rate
Increased blood pressure
Increased heart rate
Twitching of the muscles
Dilation of the pupils
Lingering (within an hour of taking the drug)Rapid heart rate
Appetite suppression
Lack of sleep
Seizures
Nausea
Vomiting
Post-Use (several hours to days after use)Fatigue
Tolerance/dependence

Severe and long-term physical effects of amphetamines

Because amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system, they have an effect on the reward center of the brain. As a result, some users develop a tolerance to low doses of these substances. Once tolerance develops, some individuals start taking larger doses of amphetamines. Others may start taking amphetamines more frequently or combining them with other substances. These habits reduce the risk of overdose.

When an individual takes amphetamines, the amount of adrenaline in the bloodstream increases, increasing the user’s pulse, heart rate, and blood pressure. In long-term users, consistently high blood pressure or heart rate can increase the risk for heart attack and other serious complications.

Some individuals combine amphetamines with alcohol, which is classified as a depressant. Alcohol and other depressants can counteract some of the side effects that occur due to the stimulation of the central nervous system. Stimulants can also counteract the effects of alcohol, making it more difficult for users to determine how impaired they are.

Amphetamines may also be combined with cocaine, enhancing the stimulant effects of each substance. Combining these substances can lead to dangerous increases in heart rate and blood pressure, putting the user at risk of sudden death.

This table illustrates the possible long-term physical effects associated with amphetamines.
Long-Term Physical Symptoms
CasualFatigue
Dry mouth and skin
Itching
Appetite suppression
Fast heart rate
Chronic

Including all of the above effects for casual use

High blood pressure
Abnormal heart rhythms
Chest pain
Muscle twitching
Abdominal pain
Sexual problems
Headache
WithdrawalNausea
Vomiting
Headache
Abdominal pain
Fatigue
Seizures
Difficulty sleeping

Further Resources

Both the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer in-depth information on both the symptoms and treatment of amphetamine addiction.

III. Amphetamine Usage

Global amphetamine usage has increased worldwide

The illicit use of amphetamines, particularly prescription stimulants, has increased significantly. According to the 2019 World Drug Report, law-enforcement officials seized 0.3 tons (600 pounds) of prescription stimulants and 56 tons (112,000 pounds) of amphetamine in 2017, highlighting the extent of the problem. Methylphenidate was one of the most-seized substances in several locations, including Australia and New Zealand, North America, South America, Central Europe, and Western Europe.

Misuse of prescription stimulants is on the rise in the Caribbean, as evidenced by the results of a school survey conducted in 2016. Approximately 1.2% of the students surveyed in Guyana reported that they had engaged in the non-medical use of prescription stimulants within the past year. In Dominica, 3.7% of the students surveyed had engaged in non-medical use of prescription stimulants during the same timeframe.

In several South-American countries, the non-medical use of prescription stimulants is much more common than the use of methamphetamine (crystal meth or liquid meth). Approximately 1.7% of the population of Costa Rica engaged in the non-medical use of prescription stimulants in 2017, and nearly 0.4% of the population of El Salvador engaged in the same behavior.

Prescription Stimulant Use Throughout the World

 

HighestSecondThird
Regions With the Highest Number of Prescription Stimulant UsersNorth AmericaNorthern EuropeAsia and Australia
Countries With the Largest Increase in Non-Medical Prescription Stimulant RatesHungary (0.1% in 2015, 1.6% in 2017)France (0.6% in 2015, 4.6% in 2017)Belgium (3.6% in 2015, 12.4% in 2017)

*This table includes data from users of both methylphenidate (Ritalin) and dextroamphetamine (Adderall).
Sources: Raman et al. 2018 and Maier et al. 2018

Amphetamine Usage Demographics in the U.S.

The non-medical use of amphetamines, particularly prescription stimulants, is also a serious problem in the United States. According to a 2016 report released by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), approximately 0.6% of the U.S. population — around 1.7 million people — engaged in the non-medical use of prescription stimulants within the previous 12 months.

According to the SAMHSA report, 92,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 were classified as current misusers of stimulants in 2016. The misuse of stimulants is also a problem among young adults and older adults, as evidenced by the data in this report. Approximately 767,000 individuals between the ages of 18 and 25 were current misusers of stimulants, and 876,000 adults aged 26 and older were current misusers of these substances.

Researchers working on the Monitoring the Future Study surveyed students in 8th grade, 10th grade, and 12th grade to determine how many adolescents have misused stimulants, sedatives, and other substances. The study focused specifically on methylphenidate, a medication used to treat ADHD. Although past-year use declined among students in 10th grade and 12th grade, the researchers determined that more 8th graders were using methylphenidate in 2019 than in the year before.

Furthermore, notes Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor Jeremy Barnett, “One demographic that is at high risk for crystal meth addiction is the LGBTQ community, most commonly gay men. For many, the use of crystal meth is heavily associated with sexual encounters, as it is reported to dramatically enhance one’s sexual experience. Unfortunately, crystal meth is an extremely damaging substance, carrying a myriad of health-related consequences, as well as some of the most debilitating psychological withdrawal symptoms of any substance.”

Demographics of Prescription Usage
Past Year (2019)Lifetime
8th grade (14-15 yo)2.50%No data collected
10th grade (15-16 yo)3.10%No data collected
12th grade (17-18 yo)3.90%No data collected

IV. How to Find Help

Amphetamines affect the reward center of the brain, which makes some users develop a dependence on the drug. Once a dependence develops, the user must keep taking amphetamines to avoid severe withdrawal effects. Some users also take larger doses of amphetamines, or they combine methamphetamines with other substances, to continue experiencing a sense of euphoria. Even if a user wants to stop taking methamphetamines, it can be difficult to do so due to the cravings that can occur.

Due to the potential for severe withdrawal effects, treating amphetamine addiction is usually a multistep process that focuses on slowly tapering off the drug instead of stopping it suddenly. Tapering off amphetamines can help a user avoid some of the most serious side effects. It can also make the withdrawal process safer. To learn more about this treatment process, read our guide to amphetamine rehabilitation.

Staging an Intervention

If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, staging an intervention is often the first necessary step towards sobriety, but it’s important to be strategic and loving in your approach. Even the most well-meaning of interventions can have a negative effect if they aren’t handled correctly.

5 Tips for Staging an Intervention

1. Don’t Do It Alone. A professional interventionist is always the most qualified to guide a successful intervention. Also, rely on non-addict family and friends – especially those who have a close relationship with you or the addict.
2. Research Ahead of Time. It’s best to do plenty of research ahead of time to gather insight on the addiction and how it affects the addict. Also, be prepared with local resources for getting help.
3. Write Out Your Statement. During the actual intervention, emotions will likely be running high, so it’s best to have a statement of how the person’s addiction has impacted you and your relationship with him or her. These statements should be honest, yet written from a place of love – no personal attacks.
4. Offer Help. It’s important for everyone attending the intervention to offer tangible help and support as the person works through detox and rehabilitation.
5. Set Boundaries. If the person refuses to seek help and take the next steps outlined, it’s important that they understand that everyone present will end codependence and enabling behaviors.