Amphetamine is a drug primarily used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Other drugs are chemically similar and also known as amphetamines. These include dextroamphetamine, levoamphetamine and lisdexamphetamine. Prescription drugs that contain amphetamine or metabolize into it include the ADHD drugs Adderall, Dexedrine Dextrostat, Desoxyn, ProCentra and Vyvanase and the diet drug Didrex. The most well-known street drug in the amphetamine class is methamphetamine, commonly known as meth. Amphetamines are stimulants which produce a range of physical and psychological effects.
Effects of Amphetamine Drugs
There are many reasons that people may abuse amphetamines including the following:
- Euphoria – Like most drugs of abuse, amphetamines affect levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine, one of the body’s primary feel good chemicals. Dopamine is part of the body’s reward system, and levels are raised in response to activities that ensure the survival of the species, like eating and procreation. Drugs of abuse can hijack this system and produce dopamine in amounts many times greater than what is produced by natural rewards. Because people learn to repeat actions that raise dopamine, a drug’s effect on the neurotransmitter plays a role in the development of addiction.
Amphetamines increase the amount of dopamine in the synaptic gap, the tiny space between nerve cells, through multiple mechanisms. Because the drugs are similar in structure to dopamine, they can enter cells and force dopamine molecules to be released. They may also be able to reduce the rate at which dopamine is taken back into cellular storage. People abusing amphetamines for their euphoric effects may take the drugs orally or may crush the pills to snort them or mix with water and inject.
- Energy and alertness – Amphetamines may be abused because they give users increased energy. The website Drugs.com notes that the mechanism by which amphetamines and other central nervous system (CNS) stimulants exert their effects is not fully known. An online medical dictionary notes that some stimulants are chemically similar to the body chemical norepinephrine and can stimulate the body’s fight-or-flight system. Stimulants can open breathing passages, constrict blood vessels and increase heart rate, blood pressure and glucose levels. The energy and alertness produced by amphetamines may be sought by a variety of people including those who work night shifts or drive long distances.
- Mental focus – Amphetamines are often prescribed to treat ADHD, and because of this, the drugs are frequently abused by students and others who believe they will give them a mental boost when studying. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports, however, that despite the widespread belief that the drugs can provide cognitive enhancement, studies have found that they do not improve learning or thinking ability in people without ADHD. NIDA further notes that students who abuse prescription stimulant drugs actually have lower grades in high school and college than those who do not.
- Weight loss – Amphetamines suppress the appetite and for this reason, they may be abused by people who want to lose weight.
Consequences of Amphetamine Abuse
Unfortunately, amphetamine abuse can have serious consequences. NIDA reports that abuse of prescription stimulants can lead to serious cardiovascular problems including stroke. They can also cause hostility and paranoia and contribute to malnutrition.
Amphetamine overdose symptoms include rapid breathing, aggression, panic, restlessness and shaking or seizures. There may also be gastrointestinal effects such as vomiting or diarrhea. Stimulant psychosis may occur, which includes visual and auditory hallucinations, confusion, delusions and extreme agitation. Usually stimulant psychosis resolves within a week or two, but a small percentage of people will continue to experience intermittent symptoms for months or even years.
Amphetamines also have significant addiction potential. When people become physically addicted to the drugs, they suffer withdrawal symptoms when they are not consumed on a regular basis. Withdrawal symptoms are a result of the body’s adaptations as it pushes back against a drug’s effects and are generally opposite in nature to them. For stimulant drugs like amphetamines, withdrawal symptoms include fatigue, increased appetite and depression. Early withdrawal symptoms include excessive sleep, but that may be followed by a period of insomnia. Occasionally, a condition known as amphetamine withdrawal psychosis occurs.
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