Amphetamines are a category of substances all related to their namesake compound, also called amphetamine. Drugs in this category are created by making slight adjustments to the structure of basic amphetamine chemical makeup. Some examples of amphetamines include amphetamine itself, MDMA (ecstasy), methamphetamine, and ephedrine. Other amphetamines are medically prescribed, such as to people with ADHD, sleep disorders, or eating disorders. Examples of amphetamines which are legally available by prescription include Adderall, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and Concerta.
Most amphetamines are Schedule II in the United States, which means that they carry a high potential for abuse. Medical use of amphetamines in this category allows them to be prescribed, but a patient must see their doctor to receive a new prescription for each refill.
Amphetamines are stimulants. They increase activity in the central nervous system, create energy and positive feelings, and suppress a person’s needs to sleep and eat. Depending on the individual user’s body weight, tolerance, and state of mind, amphetamine use can also induce psychological effects like mood swings, euphoria, confidence, and the feeling of being “on a roll.”
Nearly all medically-prescribed amphetamines are sold as pills or capsules. When abused, amphetamines may be taken in these original forms or crushed into powder and snorted. In addition, methamphetamine can be smoked and injected, though most other forms of amphetamines are less commonly abused this way.
Because of their medically-controlled nature, most people who abuse amphetamines obtain the drugs from a friend or family member. Adderall and other prescribed amphetamines are among the most common substances illicitly sold on college campuses across the country. Upon developing a habit, some users may go as far as to attempt to obtain prescriptions of their own.
Over time, amphetamine use can develop into addiction, leading to a high risk of overdose. Because amphetamine abuse makes a user feel joyful, clear-minded, and capable, they are unlikely to associate their substance abuse with the negative understandings of addiction that can help people recognize and break free from habits of abuse on their own.
An overdose occurs whenever a person takes enough of a drug to produce significant negative effects. The dosage required for a person to overdose will vary based on their body mass and tolerance. Because people who abuse amphetamines do so without the medical supervision of a professional, they put themselves at higher risk of accidental overdose.
Amphetamines are sometimes referred to as “speed” for the way they speed up the body’s functioning. Even short-term amphetamine abuse can lead to high blood pressure, elevated heartbeat and breathing, increased alertness, insomnia, loss of appetite, and manic behavior.
Methamphetamine, MDMA, and other illegal amphetamines tend to induce stronger, more rapid-onset degrees of the same effects. Users may experience intense euphoria, high body temperature, inability to eat or sleep for extended periods of time, sweatiness, and grinding of the teeth and clenched jaws. Some users who experience psychosis as a symptom of methamphetamine use go on to have further psychotic episodes, even after discontinuing their drug abuse.
Studies have strongly linked long-term amphetamine abuse to a number of dangerous conditions even after substance abuse has stopped, including coronary artery disease, hemorrhaging, heart disease, and heart attack, muscle deterioration, seizures, psychosis, and strokes.
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V), amphetamine withdrawal is medicinally categorized as similar to cocaine withdrawal. Some of the most common hallmarks are irritability, aches and pains, depression, anxiety, and impaired social functioning. Withdrawal symptoms may include fatigue, decreased bodily awareness, muscle stiffness, increased appetite, and disturbance in sleep patterns. Withdrawal is also marked by vivid, disturbing dreams. These symptoms can be so intense as to disrupt a person’s professional and personal stability.
These acute symptoms can begin 24 hours after last use, especially if a person has been abusing high doses of amphetamines or has developed a long-term habit. The acute phase of withdrawal lasts roughly a week, followed by post-acute symptoms which can last for weeks, months, or even years in severe cases. This is known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome and treatment facilities consider it a part of a user’s overall recovery that must be treated professionally. Note that methamphetamine withdrawal tends to be more intense and more drawn-out than that of other amphetamines; it’s not rare for mood disturbances and other post-acute symptoms to last a year or more.
Relapse is common among amphetamine users. This is often less due to cravings and more due to the substances’s often-widespread availability, peer pressure, and the intensely discomforting feelings produced by withdrawal.
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