Amphetamine Addiction: Signs, Effects, Statistics, and Treatment

Last Updated: June 4, 2020

Authored by Isaak Stotts, LP

Scientists discovered Amphetamine in the year of 1887. Since then, people used it to treat depression, narcolepsy and other diseases. Besides its innovative use in medicine, Amphetamine’s additional purpose was to increase athlete performance. This is despite its manifold positive effects.
Amphetamine addiction is a crisis in the United States. What was once thought to be a problem only in rural areas has expanded to cover large swaths of every state, including major cities. While much of the media focus is on illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine and ecstasy, amphetamine abuse crosses over into the misuse of prescription medications — like Adderall and Dexedrine — as well.
Amphetamines are highly addictive and can cause significant problems — physical, emotional, mental, and social — when abused. When it comes to helping those suffering from amphetamine use, understanding the signs, effects, statistics, and treatment is key.

Causes Of Amphetamine Addiction

Amphetamines are a class of drugs that work to stimulate the central nervous system. When taken in therapeutic doses, these drugs create emotional and cognitive effects that include feelings of euphoria, increased sex drive, increased energy, decreased appetite, and improved cognitive control. Physically, amphetamines taken in therapeutic doses can lead to better reflexes, decreased fatigue, and increased strength. When taken in recreational doses, many of the effects become reversed. For example, cognitive function may become impaired rather than improved, and muscles may break down rather than increase in strength.

These drugs come in many forms, including liquids, powders, pastes, pills, and crystals. Amphetamines can be used to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, narcolepsy, obesity, depression, and chronic pain.
As a whole, amphetamines are highly addictive. However, the exact causes of addiction vary. Some common causes of amphetamine addiction include:

  • Genetic Predisposition: When someone has a parent or other close relative who suffers from addiction, there is the possibility that they are genetically predisposed to also suffering from addiction. This can be due to temperament and personality or something physical with the user. Addiction to amphetamines is more likely if the addicted family member used uppers rather than downers.
  • Brain Chemistry: In individuals whose brains do not produce enough catecholamines, drugs that stimulate their release can have a significant effect, particularly with the release of dopamine. This causes the individual to experience greater pleasure from amphetamines than the average user, making abuse of the medication more likely.
  • Societal Pressures: Society places a lot of pressure on people to be both thin and productive, and as it ends up, amphetamines can help in both cases. They can decrease appetite and speed up metabolism, allowing the user to drop pounds with ease. They can also make it easier for the user to focus on a given task to the point of hyper-focusing, which leads to increased productivity in work or in school.
  • Social Interactions: Drugs are often used recreationally in social settings, and in some cases, this is how addicts become introduced to amphetamines. Another way social interactions can lead to abuse is the fact that amphetamines tend to decrease social anxiety, helping the user better interact with others; some users may reach the point that they cannot handle social interactions without the aid of the drug.
  • General Stress: Life is stressful, and that is a universal truth. Because amphetamines release dopamine and create a sense of euphoria, they can alleviate feelings related to stress, both mental and physical. The fewer coping skills a person has, the more susceptible they are to amphetamine addiction. However, significant stressors can result in problems even for those who are usually able to deal with stress easily.

amphetamine abuse

While no one is immune to amphetamine abuse, there are risk factors that increase the chances of addiction occurring. These include:

  • Having access to amphetamines
  • Living in an area where amphetamine addiction is common
  • Being a college student or having a demanding job
  • Suffering from mental disorders
  • Having self-image issues
  • Living a stressful life
  • Dealing with financial problems
  • Experiencing a significant stressor

Amphetamine use disorder can lead to significant dangers to the user’s health and life in general. This can include changes in brain chemistry, muscle loss, extreme weight loss, anorexia, and more. Heavy amphetamine use while driving can also put the user and others at risk of injury or death. When taken in recreational doses, the risk of amphetamine overdose is a significant threat.

The Signs and Symptoms of Amphetamine Abuse

The exact signs and symptoms of amphetamine abuse can vary depending on the type of amphetamine being used. Complicating this is the fact that with prescription amphetamines, the symptoms of abuse can mimic the signs of taking the medication as prescribed. There are many signs that can point to amphetamine abuse.

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Taking larger doses than prescribed
  • The user cannot reduce doses or frequency
  • Significant time and energy is devoted to acquiring amphetamines
  • Falling behind in school, work, or duties at home
  • Using amphetamines even when it can cause danger

Psychological Signs

  • Euphoria
  • Improved sociability
  • Increase in self-confidence

Social Symptoms

  • Taking amphetamines causes relationship problems
  • The user struggles to read social situations
  • There are struggles with social problem solving
  • The user is often manic in their socialization

Physical Signs

  • Tolerance to the medication
  • Rapid breathing
  • Higher blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased energy
  • Alertness
  • Lowered appetite
  • Higher body temperature

When amphetamine addiction is significant and/or ongoing, the side effects can become severe, even leading to death. In these cases, the following amphetamine abuse signs may be observed:

  • Violent behavior
  • Hostility
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Lack of emotional responses
  • Social withdrawal
  • Feelings of entitlement
  • Convulsions
  • Lack of social inhibitions
  • Changes in sexual behavior, such as promiscuity or a sudden lack of interest in sex
  • An inflated sense of one’s abilities
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Psychosis
  • Confusion
  • Incoherence
  • Chest pain
  • Tachycardia
  • Cardiovascular failure
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Headaches
  • Dehydration
  • Vision changes

These symptoms of amphetamine abuse are severe and indicate that the user is susceptible to overdosing, ending up in a coma, or dying from usage.

Facts and Statistics about Amphetamine Use

While society at large is aware that the United States is suffering from an amphetamine addiction crisis, the concept of it is fairly abstract. However, when looking at amphetamine abuse statistics, the reality of the struggle is clear.
Amphetamine-related deaths have been on the rise since 1999, with a short dip between 2006 and 2008. In terms of the populations most susceptible to amphetamine abuse death, men are three times more at risk than women while American Indians and Alaskan Natives are the ethnic groups with the greatest risk. Those living in the Western United States have the highest death rates. Although amphetamines are abused by users of all ages, most users are over the age of 26. There has also been a significant increase in emergency room visits related to the taking of amphetamines. Given these amphetamine addiction facts, it is clear that the situation is dire.

Treatment and Recovery for Amphetamine Drug Abuse

Male medicine doctor offering helping hand in office closeup.Amphetamine addiction recovery is a long road, but with the right treatments and support, it is possible. The first step in amphetamine rehabilitation is the detox process. This eliminates the drug from the body and creates a solid foundation for recovery. Physical withdrawal symptoms may be present during this time, but they tend to be weaker than the psychological symptoms. While this might sound easier to deal with, in many cases it is harder; as such, rehabilitation should be done under the supervision of an experienced medical team. Medications may or may not be part of amphetamine addiction treatments at this stage.
After detox is completed, therapy begins. Therapy can be done both one-on-one and in group settings, with the focus being on altering behaviors and thought processes so they no longer lead the user to drug abuse. This stage can be done inpatient at a residential center or outpatient, where the user comes in for up to 10 to 12 hours per day for treatment. For severe addictions, inpatient treatment is recommended.
Because recovery is for life, amphetamine abuse treatment should be ongoing. This may mean using recovery support groups, attending cognitive-behavioral therapy, and contingency management. It is important that the user seek help whenever they start to feel the inclination to use again and have a support network in place.
With Help, Amphetamine Abuse Recovery Is Possible
Amphetamine addiction to both illicit and prescription drugs is difficult to deal with, but by recognizing the symptoms and seeking help, recovery is possible. Ideally, treatment will be sought before the symptoms become too severe. However, it is never too late to treat amphetamine abuse. As the amphetamine epidemic grows, more and more people are becoming susceptible to its use, with certain populations being at greater risk. However, there is hope for users in the recovery process.

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Published on: March 22nd, 2017

Updated on: June 4th, 2020

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.


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