Amphetamines come under the category of drugs known as stimulants. As the name indicates they exert a stimulating effect on the central nervous system elevating the mood. Amphetamines used for medical purposes include;
• D-amphetamine - D-amphetamine is a more potent form of amphetamine. Dexedrine is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It is sold illegally under the names dexies, uppers and kiddie-speed
• L-amphetamine - has more effects on the body than the central nervous system. It is commonly used in combination with D-amphetamine.
• Mixed amphetamine salts - Adderall is the generic name of a 3 to 1 combination of D- and L- amphetamine respectively. It is commonly used to treat ADHD. Adderall is known as beans, bennies, and pep pills in the street.
• Methamphetamine - is used medically to treat ADHD but is highly regulated due to its addictive potential. Meth, crystal, glass, chalk, and ice are street names methamphetamine is known by.
Other stimulants often abused by addicts include 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine (MMDA/ ecstasy), pseudoephedrine (a nasal decongestant, and low potent stimulant), methylphenidate (Ritalin - low potency), and cocaine.
How Amphetamines Work
Amphetamines are used in medical practice to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, narcolepsy, and even obesity at times. Amphetamines increase the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and noradrenaline in the central nervous system, by inhibiting the reuptake of said neurotransmitters. Increased levels of dopamine and noradrenaline are responsible for the stimulant effects.
It is this stimulant effect and euphoria that is desired by most illegal users of amphetamines. Adderall use is also observed in students and highly stressed professionals who seek extra focus, alertness, increased energy, and concentration to make their lives easier.
Short term side effects
• Lower doses of side effects can cause increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, increased body temperature, insomnia, nervousness, excessive talkativeness, dry mouth, and loss of appetite.
• Higher doses can lead to overdosing which can be fatal. Tremors, seizures, headache, restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, paranoia, even cardiovascular events such as a stroke or a heart attack can occur in high doses.
Long term use
• Development of addiction- which can lead to devastating effects on relationships, work-life, and family.
• Psychological problems such as depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies, paranoia, and aggressive behavior.
• Amphetamine induced psychosis
• Impaired cognitive function, memory loss, and learning difficulties.
• Paranoid psychosis including persecutory delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, hostility, and aggressive behavior is also observed.
Developing an addiction is the result of several factors including an unstable family environment, drug use in the family, drug use by peers, lower economic status, social isolation and interpersonal difficulties, and history of trauma and psychiatric problem at a younger age.
Addiction to amphetamines can be identified when there’s a difficulty to control drug use despite knowledge of its negative consequences and severe dependence on the drug leading to severe unpleasant withdrawal symptoms upon discontinuation. Other signs of addiction;
• Withdrawal effect consisting of low mood and decreased energy is observed upon cessation of the drug. Depression can be severe in some heavy users, accompanied by tremors, anxiety, fatigue, nightmares, increased craving, and suicidal tendencies.
• Dependence on amphetamines can develop quickly, it is observed by alternating high and low moods.
• Neglecting personal hygiene.
• Tooth decay, skin sores
• Having financial difficulties due to drug-related expenses and reflecting social, recreational, and work-related activities.
Prevention and Treatment of Amphetamine Abuse
It is important to seek medical help before things go out of hand. Medical professionals are trained to manage the symptoms associated with overdoses and withdrawal symptoms.
• Restriction of drug use in schools and family environments.
• Careful prescription of drugs by medical professionals.
• Support and care by family members.
• Managing withdrawal symptoms with benzodiazepines.
Antidepressives to manage depressive withdrawal symptoms.
1. Harrison, P. Shorter Oxford textbook of psychiatry (6th ed., pp. 477-479).
3. American Addiction Centers. 2020. What's An Amphetamine? Addiction: Signs, Symptoms, And Treatment. [online] Available at: <https://americanaddictioncenters.org/amphetamine> [Accessed 29 September 2020].
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