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The Dangers of Dieting: Diet Pill Abuse and Addiction

addiction from diet pills

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People are constantly told about the addictive and harmful qualities of heroin, cocaine, and meth are, but those very same people abuse prescription diet pills.
Of course, they don’t know how dangerous diet pills are, despite how innocuous they seem.
Prescription diet pills. The sense of comfort and the feeling of assurance probably arise from the word “prescription.” They’re prescribed by the doctor.

Table of Contents

Dangers Of Diet Pills

Diet pills are also available as over-the-counter drugs. How can these pills be dangerous if they are sold openly?
Misconceptions abound because of the reason these pills are prescribed. These pills melt fat.
But even the best diet pills can trigger a host of adverse effects. The symptoms of diet pill abuse can be uncomfortable and unpleasant (stomach pain, headache, vomiting) or potentially fatal (irregular heartbeat, seizures).
Not knowing can be dangerous.

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What Diet Pills Are

Diet pills are prescription or over-the-counter drugs that help a person lose or control weight. Diet pills work in a number of ways:

  • By reducing food cravings
  • By stimulating the body’s metabolism rate
  • By making one feel full, so one eat less
  • By slowing down the body’s fat production
  • By slowing down the body’s dietary fat absorption
Not all diet pills are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

But what is more disconcerting is that these pills are not subject to FDA regulations unless they contain a new, untested, or unapproved ingredient. So manufacturers have the license to add ingredients of their choice or produce the pill without adhering to safety rules.

Some ingredients are by nature addictive while others trigger toxic side effects if these pills are abused.

The following are the most commonly-abused diet pills in the United States:

  • Benzphetamine (Didrex): This pill resembles amphetamines in composition and function. It is commonly used for reducing appetite. But like amphetamines, this class of drugs is addictive.
  • Phentermine (Adipex, Ionamin): This drug is used to reduce appetite. It should ideally be used for a short period.
  • Diethylpropion (Tenuate, Tepanil): This is also a short-term appetite-suppressing drug.
  • Mazindol (Mazanor, Sanorex): Although this drug is prescribed to treat a form of muscular dystrophy, many people abuse it for its appetite-suppressing properties.
  • Pramlintide: This drug induces a feeling of fullness by prolonging the process through which the contents of the stomach are emptied.
  • Orlistat: This diet pill is believed to lessen the rate of absorption of dietary fat in the body.

Physical Effects Of Diet Pill Abuse

Diet pills interfere with the natural metabolism process of the body. Long-term abuse can damage all the major organs of the body, and cause such symptoms as:

  • Weight loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • High blood pressure
  • Chest pain
  • Irregular/rapid heartbeat
  • Stomach pain
  • Headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Insomnia
  • Menstrual cycle irregularities
  • Decrease in sex drive
  • Tremors and seizures
  • Blackouts
  • Increased tolerance

Unchecked and untreated diet pill abuse and overdose can cause congestive heart failure, respiratory failure, strokes, and irreversible kidney and liver damage.

On the other hand, symptoms like irregular heartbeat and seizures can turn fatal if not treated promptly.

Diet pill abuse poses a unique threat to people suffering from eating disorders. These people already have a higher risk of developing medical complications. Diet pill abuse additionally magnifies their risks of developing cardiovascular complications, osteoporosis, and severe gastrointestinal conditions like pancreatitis, necrotizing colitis, perforated ulcer, and spontaneous rupture of the stomach.

Psychological Effects Of Diet Pill Abuse

The psychological effects of diet pill abuse include:

  • Extreme mood swings
  • Paranoia
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Memory loss
  • Emotional dependence on the drug

Diet pills like appetite suppressants that contain amphetamines trigger feelings of euphoria and boost energy. When long-term users of such diet pills stop taking the drug, they experience severe depression, listlessness, and fatigue.
Some psychological effects of diet pill abuse trigger social and behavioral consequences such as:

  • Feeling ashamed of one’s body
  • Experiencing low self-esteem
  • Avoiding social interactions
  • Avoiding social gatherings
  • Feeling increasingly isolated
  • Finding it difficult to maintain healthy relationships
  • Engaging in novelty-seeking behavior like trying out other drugs of abuse

Diet Pill Toxicity: Case Studies

That diet pills can be toxic has been proven by several cases where manufacturers were compelled to recall batches of these drugs from the market.

There are also many other instances where the key ingredients of several diet pills were banned.
Here are some compelling case studies:

  • A popular diet pill Fen-Phen was recalled when it was found that it increased the risks of heart valve abnormalities and elevated blood pressures in the arteries.
  • Chinese herbal stimulant ephedra, an amphetamine-like compound, was banned because research proved that it increased the risk of heart attack and stroke, at any dose. Ephedra was once a popular ingredient in many diet pills.
  • Diet pills containing Hydroxycut were banned when studies proved that they damaged liver and kidneys and increased the risks of developing hepatitis and jaundice.
  • Meridia was recalled from the market after it was found that its key ingredient, sibutramine, increased the risks of heart attack and stroke.
  • Phenylpropanolamine (PPA), a common ingredient in over-the-counter diet pills, has been found to elevate blood pressure and increase the risks of renal failure, neurological defects, and memory loss. Diet pill manufacturers have been ordered to stop making products containing PPA.

Causes Of Diet Pill Addiction

Diet pill addiction can be triggered by a host of physiological, psychological, and societal factors. Use turns to abuse, and before users realize it their diet pill use has become an addiction.
What Causes Diet Pill Addiction?

People turn to diet pills because of obesity, body image issues, and eating disorders, and rely on the pills after developing a psychological or physical dependence.

The following are the causes of diet pill addiction:

  • Obesity: Sometimes doctors prescribe diet pills to obese and morbidly obese individuals for short durations to bring their body weight down to a level from where they can take up exercising and dieting to reach a healthy mark. Lack of results or delays in results showing up prompt many people to go on using the pill for longer than was recommended by their doctors. Some people even increase the dosage to speed up the weight loss process.
  • Body Image Issues: This is one of the most potent and prevalent causes of diet pill addiction. Body image issues are common among both men and women, irrespective of age. Even people with the ideal weights are influenced by unhealthy bodies idealized in the media; as a result, they form distorted views about their bodies. Many people with these issues often abuse over-the-counter diet pills.
  • Presence of Eating Disorders: Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia increase the chances of a person developing diet pill addiction. According to a report published in Eating Behaviors, people with eating disorders who tend to vomit or engage in other purging behavior are more likely to abuse diet pills.
  • Psychological Trauma: Sometimes psychological trauma or certain mental disorders like clinical depression can bring on body image issues. Warped views about one’s body and weight can compound emotional stress and aggravate an underlying mental condition.
  • Presence of Addictive Substances: Presence of addictive substances like amphetamines in certain classes of diet pills, like appetite suppressants, increases the risks of developing an addiction.
  • Emotional Dependence: Distorted views of one’s body weight and underlying psychological issues that remain unresolved can create emotional dependence on diet pills. For instance, if someone perceives diet pills as a “fix” for body weight issues, he or she becomes dependent on the drugs instead of adopting healthier means of losing weight. On the other hand, the presence of substances like amphetamines in some diet pills also increases the risk of developing emotional dependence. Amphetamine produces feelings of euphoria; a person, say someone suffering from a mood disorder, may abuse diet pills just to experience these pleasurable feelings.
  • Fear of Withdrawal Symptoms: Long-term users of diet pills or those who abuse these drugs often develop unpleasant and/or painful withdrawal symptoms when they quit using or reduce the dosage. Symptoms like fatigue, depression, muscle pain, fuzzy thoughts, and irritability can develop within 6-36 hours of stopping diet pills. If a person has experienced these withdrawal symptoms and had felt uncomfortable, he or she might go on using diet pills to keep away the pain and discomfort of quitting.

Diet Pill Abuse Statistics

Because diet pills are perceived to be harmless and “non-addictive,” a staggering number of people in the United States abuse them. The following pieces of statistics reveal the extent of diet pill abuse:

  • The use of diet pills amongst females of high-school age has almost doubled from 7.5 to 14.2 percent in recent years, according to the findings from the Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) carried out by the University of Minnesota.
  • 20 percent of all females surveyed as part of the Project EAT report having used diet pills at least once by the time they were 19 and 20 years of age.
  • Up to 50% of all people with eating disorders have substance abuse problems, according to a report by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse.

These numbers provide valuable insights into the sections of populations that are more likely to abuse and become addicted to diet pills. Doctors, counselors, and psychologists should study these vulnerable populations to help prevent continued diet pill addiction and abuse in the future.

Meanwhile, if one use diet pills or can’t seem to get off diet pills, they should seek medical help immediately.
Isaak Stotts

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.


Leave a comment

  • Dave Beck
    A lot of misinformation, so I feel obliged to write, but will keep it brief. Weed is addictive, as much as any other drug. Quitting can be hell. If you’ve been daily for years, know what you’re in for: the initial withdrawal isn’t so bad, a month or two tops. For serious users, next comes PAWS – post acute withdrawal syndrome, and it’s a bear. I am now 13 months into my quit, and still experiencing PAWS. It can easily go for two years or more. Some people are lucky — no PAWS, or 6 months, or a year. But for me, looks like closer to two. PAWS = depression, anxiety, lack of pleasure or purpose, depersonalization, sexual disinterest, fuzzy or foggy mind, fatigue. I’m writing this so you understand what’s going on, not so you’re intimidated to try quitting. PAWS is what makes you fail after you’re through the initial withdrawal. Each person is different. The only relief I get is exercise. Others do meditation, diet, supplements, etc. I don’t want SSRIs or CBD or any other drug to get over it. You’ve got to change your life. You can do it if you want a new life bad enough. Go to the uncommon knowledge addiction forum to learn about getting past PAWS and staying clean. Quitting weed can be harder than you think, but what’s your life worth? Weed = death. Keep the faith & abstain, and it gets easier for everyone over time. Love to all.