A Rising Epidemic: The Abuse of Prescription Amphetamine Medications

Amphetamines are powerful stimulant prescription drugs that are often prescribed to persons diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Typically, ADHD is detected in childhood, and is characterized by consistent patterns of inattention

and hyperactivity. While this disorder can indeed affect a child’s acquisition of knowledge and learning (primarily due to the inattentiveness), psychostimulant medications have been used with much success to treat the symptoms of ADHD. Chances are you know someone (or knew someone) with this disorder and therefore you may recognize the brand names of some of the most popular ADHD medications: Adderall, Dexedrine, and Ritalin to name a few. When taken as directed by a family physician, these drugs are generally more helpful than they are harmful to a person with ADHD. However, in recent years these prescription amphetamines have frequently gotten into the wrong hands – the hands of persons who were never clinically diagnosed with ADHD and are therefore using the drugs recreationally.

How Do Amphetamines Work?

All stimulants, whether or not they are ADHD medications, increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is associated with pleasure and attention. Although at first it may seem strange to administer a “stimulant” drug to a person with ADHD, since they already appear to be stimulated due to their hyperactive and inattentive behavior, these drugs often have the opposite effect on persons with ADHD. Instead of over-stimulating the brain, most ADHD patients receive slow-releasing capsules of stimulant medication, which work by steadily increasing the amounts of dopamine in the brain, thereby mimicking the natural production of this neurotransmitter. It has been speculated that persons diagnosed with ADHD have weaker dopamine signals than persons without ADHD. Therefore, the slow and timed release of dopamine levels in the brain of a person with ADHD will produce a calming effect that allows them to better focus on the task at hand. The real issue is when these types of stimulant medications get into the hands of individuals who were not prescribed the drug themselves. A recent trend, particularly among college students, is to obtain prescription amphetamines to increase their wakefulness, ability to focus, and induce a euphoric “high” feeling.

What Are the Physical Effects of Amphetamines?

Because amphetamines are considered psychostimulants, they usually induce wakefulness and improve one’s ability to concentrate and focus on a task. They also have the side effect of decreasing one’s appetite, which makes them an attractive (yet unhealthy) option for persons who are trying lose weight. Other physical effects of amphetamines are as follows. Keep in mind these effects are for persons who were not necessarily prescribed amphetamines and are instead taking them recreationally or for “performance enhancement”.

  • Hyperactivity
  • Restlessness or twitching
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased/Rapid heart rate
  • Depressed immune system (therefore prone to illnesses)
  • Flushing
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Insomnia

In extremely high doses, amphetamines can also cause seizures, heart attacks, strokes, and even death.

What Are the Psychological Effects of Amphetamines?

Again, these side effects are generally found in persons taking amphetamines without being followed by a physician (i.e. obtaining the drug elsewhere). Psychological effects can include:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Increased concentration and alertness
  • Increased amounts of energy and hyperactivity
  • Increased self-esteem and talkativeness
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety and Panic Attacks
  • Irritability
  • Aggressive behavior

How Are Amphetamines Abused?

As previously mentioned, there has been a noticeable increase in the amount of persons taking prescription stimulants, such as amphetamines that are generally prescribed for patients with ADHD. Because of the “positive” psychological side effects of these drugs, many young people (college students in particular) are obtaining the drugs second-hand, and taking them recreationally – either to induce the euphoric, energetic behaviors or to increase the ability to stay awake for lengthy periods of time (or “pull all-nighters”). College students find these drugs especially helpful when attempting to cram for an exam or stay up all night to finish a paper at the last minute. Others just enjoy the energy and temporary boost in self-esteem that these drugs can produce. And still, there are others who take amphetamines for weight loss purposes, since these drugs are known to decrease one’s appetite. Regardless of the reason people are taking these drugs, the bottom line is that they can be highly dangerous and addictive. If you were not personally prescribed the drug and being closely followed by a physician, then you should not be taking it. Even if you have been prescribed an amphetamine, you should take it as directed by your doctor. Crushing, snorting, and injecting amphetamines as a means to get them into your system quicker or to produce a euphoric “high” are not advisable, and can in fact be very dangerous. When the body receives that much of a drug so quickly, it can go into a state of shock due to the small blood vessels becoming blocked and a rapid increase in heart rate. Therefore, if you are taking this type of drug without any physical need for it, you can quickly become dependent on it and addicted to the “positive” feelings it provides.

The Complications of Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction:

Amphetamines increase one’s heart rate and blood pressure while simultaneously decreasing one’s appetite and ability to sleep soundly. These side effects alone could lead to a plethora of physical complications, namely malnutrition, a weakened immune system, high blood pressure and even a heart attack or a stroke. Some psychological consequences of frequent stimulant abuse can include feeling irritable and hostile toward others, as well as anxiety attacks and paranoia. It is recommended that if you were prescribed amphetamines by a doctor, you follow up with him/her regularly and you do not share your medication with others. It is very possible to become addicted to stimulants such as ADHD medications. When taken frequently and in large doses, your brain becomes used to the increase in dopamine levels. This means that when and if you stop taking the drug, you will likely experience withdrawal symptoms, such as feeling lethargic, depressed, and having trouble sleeping.

Am I Abusing Prescription Amphetamines?

If you suspect that you may be addicted to prescription amphetamines, ask yourself some of the following questions:

  • Do you use amphetamines in order to get “high” or as a performance enhancer (i.e. to “pull an all-nighter”)
  • Have your friends and/or family members made comments about your amphetamine usage?
  • Do you try to hide your amphetamine usage or use them in secrecy?
  • Do you go for long periods of time without eating and/or sleeping?
  • Have you noticed that you are hypersensitive and/or hyper-attentive to your surroundings?
  • Do you feel “on edge” or are you easily irritated when you’re on amphetamines?
  • Has your overall behavior changed significantly since you began using amphetamines (i.e. change in school or work habits, change in social life, etc.)?
  • Have you ever felt like you should stop using amphetamines, but can’t seem to?

Chances are, if you answered “Yes” to any of the above questions, you may have an addiction to amphetamines.

Treatment for Amphetamine Addictions:
Any addiction is serious, and can have detrimental effects on a person’s physical and mental health. Therefore, if you think you may be addicted to prescription stimulants, please contact my San Diego office today for a free consultation about Addiction Counseling. It is imperative that you receive the help you require in order to live a life free of addiction. Recovery is possible, but you have to want to change your habits in order for therapy to work. If you’re ready to make a positive and healthy change in your life today, give my San Diego office a call so that I can better get to know you and your specific situation. Addictions are real problems, and while you may be ashamed or embarrassed to talk about your struggles with drugs, it is essential that you do so with a qualifiedAddictions Counselor. Together, we can devise a treatment plan for you that meets your specific needs, and together we will embark upon the pathway to a healthier, drug-free lifestyle.

Copyright ©2012 Jan Rakoff. All Rights Reserved.

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