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What Are Diet Pills And Are They Addictive: The Dangers of Dieting

Last Updated: May 31, 2022

Authored by Isaak Stotts, LP

The use of supplements for weight loss is significantly increasing today. Although some of these supplements are not approved by the FDA, many people consider them because they can be bought over-the-counter. In a study from Pennsylvania, women are most at risk of using weight loss pills. Aside from these OTC medications, there are also prescription diet pills for women and men, and these are the ones that can cause more dangers to health. In a clinical review of medical doctors from Maryland, it was reported that patients who are using these weight loss drugs were able to reduce 10% or more of their initial weight. Although these drugs are effective for weight loss, they might still cause an overdose. 

In this article, information about how do diet pills work, their side effects, are diet pills addictive, the signs of diet pill addiction and abuse, weight loss medications overdose, and withdrawal will be provided.

What Are Diet Pills?

So, what are diet pills? Another name for weight loss medications, these substances are prescription or over-the-counter drugs that help a person lose or control weight. Manufacturers produce diet pills for women and men under many labels and trademarks, and these are available as prescription drugs, over-the-counter drugs, and herbal drugs. No matter their form of sales, pharmaceutical companies compete and think of new ways to lure in more consumers. So, how do diet pills work? Based on the study of scientists from Switzerland, diet medications work by:

  • Suppressing appetite
  • Elevating one’s metabolic rate
  • Blocking the body’s ability to absorb fat
  • Creating a feeling of satiety because they expand in the stomach
  • Increasing waste or fluid elimination from the body

Take note that not all diet pills for women and men are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). What is more disconcerting is that these drugs 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 effects if these drugs are abused.

The Following are the Most Commonly-Abused Weight Loss Medications in the United States:

  • Benzphetamine (Didrex): This pill for those with an eating disorder 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 weight loss medication is used to reduce the appetite of those with an eating disorder. 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 for the treatment of some forms 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 weight loss medication is believed to lessen the rate of absorption of dietary fat in the body.

Diet Pill Dangers and Side Effects

It is important to know how do diet pills work because some patients who use weight loss medications take these drugs because of their side effects. This means that knowing that these substances cause appetite suppression, they take this side effect as a positive treatment effect. Little did these patients know that there are other dangerous side effects to health as well. Some of the physical side effects of weight loss drugs include:

  • Hepatotoxicity
  • Nephrotoxicity
  • Primary pulmonary hypertension
  • Pancreatitis
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Acid reflux and chest pain
  • Eye problems

Consistent with the statement from The Harvard Gazette, some patients use weight loss pills thinking that these drugs can help for the treatment of different eating disorders. But, instead, these substances increase their risk of having the disorder. As reported, those who took weight loss pills had higher odds of having been diagnosed with certain eating disorders. 

Aside from the physical side effects, there are also psychological ones. \
Some of these include:

  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Increased suicidal thoughts
  • Depression

The best way to prevent these physical and psychological side effects is by avoiding the use of these medications unless strictly prescribed or advised by a medical doctor for a certain eating disorder. For patients who already have a prescription for an anti-obesity substance, it is highly recommended to not misuse or abuse the drug. Only take the recommended dose and only take the substance based on the recommended length of treatment.

Diet Pill Dangers

Diet Pill Addiction and Abuse Overview

Some weight loss pills may contain amphetamines. For example, phentermine is an amphetamine-like substance. Since amphetamines are highly addictive, it is safe to say that weight loss pills carry a risk of addiction and abuse. In a study published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, the prevalence estimate of diet pills abuse by individuals with eating disorders is around 50%. In this section, the information on the signs and dangers of diet pills abuse and addiction, and who are most at risk of this diet pill addiction and abuse will be provided.

Are Diet Pills Addictive?

Some users of these substances may ask, are diet pills addictive? The answer is yes. Also known as anorectic drugs, appetite suppressant drugs, or anti-obesity medications, these pills are addictive. Thus, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration classified these substances under Schedule III and Schedule IV. Based on one research from the University of Minnesota, one-fifth of girls used anorectic drugs at the ages of 19 and 20. Also from the study, 62.7% of those who abuse these substances use the drugs because of their unhealthy weight control behaviors. Consistent with the report of a medical doctor from England, it was stated that anorectic drugs that contain amphetamines such as benzphetamine may produce euphoria, making the risk of diet pill addiction more considerable. Therefore, these drugs should rarely be used because of the diet pill dangers associated with abuse and addiction, especially when combined with alcohol.

Signs Of Diet Pill Addiction and Abuse

Just like when someone becomes addicted to a certain substance like alcohol or tobacco, some signs can also be seen on a patient who is abusing anorectic drugs. Remember, diet pills for men and women interfere with the natural metabolism process of the body, thus, long-term use can damage all the major organs of the body, and cause such physical symptoms of diet pills abuse including the following:

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

Take note that unchecked and untreated diet pills 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. Anti-obesity medications like appetite suppressant drugs that contain amphetamines trigger feelings of euphoria and boost energy. When long-term users of such anorectic drugs stop taking the drug, they experience severe depression, listlessness, and fatigue. 

Aside from the physical signs of diet pills abuse, there are also psychological signs.
Some of these include:

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

In case patients experience any of these signs and symptoms of diet pill addiction and abuse, it is highly advised to seek medical help as soon as possible. There are medical interventions that can be given by a doctor and there is addiction treatment at a rehabilitation center as well.

Dangers Of Diet Pill Addiction and Abuse

Diet pills abuse poses a unique threat to people suffering from eating disorders. These people already have a higher risk of developing medical complications and diet pills 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.

Cardiovascular Health

In one study published in the Journal of Hypertension, it was reported that this substance can cause atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, stroke, arrhythmias, congestive heart failure, and uncontrolled hypertension. Therefore, those with heart problems are advised to avoid the use of this drug. 

Bone Health

Vitamin D is essential for the nourishment and development of bones. However, in one study of endocrinologists from New York, it was reported that the substance Orlistat reduces the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamin D in the body. When this happens, this could lead to loss of bone density, triggering osteoporosis.

Gastrointestinal Health

Anorectic drugs are effective medications for the treatment of obesity. However, the use of these substances comes with many adverse effects on the gastrointestinal system, especially when they are abused or misused. In one case report from Connecticut Medicine, a woman experienced colon ischemia due to phentermine abuse.

Liver and Kidney

In a clinical review of pharmacologists from Philadelphia, it was reported that the anti-obesity drug Orlistat is associated with some health issues including severe liver damage and acute kidney failure. Patients who abuse this medication may experience irreversible hepatotoxicity and nephrotoxicity.

Who Is Most At Risk Of Diet Pill Addiction and Abuse

Eating disorders affect at least 9% of the global population. But the question is, who among these people with these disorders are most at risk of abusing anorectic drugs? To answer, overall, the use of diet pills for men and women is associated with caffeine and alcohol abuse, and women show a greater propensity to forming addictions with these substances. Consistent with a study from New Zealand, it was reported that eating disorders such as bulimia nervosa and drug abuse are more common in women than in men. Aside from appetite suppressant drugs, the drugs used include diuretics, emetics, laxatives, alcohol, cigarettes, and illicit substances. In the same study, it was also stated that these substances are used to reduce appetite, control weight, or induce purging or self-induced vomiting.

Diet Pill Addiction

Can You Overdose On A Diet Pill?

Diet pill dangers include overdose which is why those who are given prescriptions of these substances should strictly comply with the instructions given. In one study published in the Korean Society of Clinical Toxicology, taking at least 360 mg of phentermine can already cause intoxication, and some of the signs and symptoms of overdose include:

  • Tachycardia
  • Hypertension 
  • Complained visual symptoms and mydriasis
  • Nausea
  • Insomnia 
  • Anxiety
  • Diaphoresis
  • Fever
  • Hyperventilation
  • Combativeness

Other signs and symptoms of anorectic drug overdose include seizures and loss of consciousness. In case anyone is experiencing any of these signs and symptoms, it is highly advised to seek medical care as soon as possible. Take note that the treatment for anti-obesity medication overdose is supportive. While waiting for the medical response or 911 help, focus on the patient’s breathing, airway, and circulation.

Diet Pill Withdrawal: How To Stop Using The Drugs Properly?

One of the diet pill dangers is abruptly stopping the use of the substances as this may lead to withdrawal. According to a clinical trial in California, the symptoms of withdrawal of amphetamine-like anorectic drugs may appear within 48 hours and the severity of these symptoms depend on the duration, dosage, and type of drug used. 

Some of the withdrawal symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Seizure
  • Irritability
  • Cravings
  • Weight gain
  • Muscle aches
  • Impaired memory
  • Increased appetite
  • Low mood/depression

According to neurologists from Baltimore, the best way to prevent anti-obesity medications withdrawal is by gradually reducing the dose of the drug. This dose reduction can only be given by a medical doctor. Also, treatment in a rehabilitation center, either in-patient or out-patient rehab, can be of great help in managing the symptoms. 

Always Consult With Your Doctor Before Taking A Diet Pill

The use of anorectic drugs might be an effective way to manage weight and different eating disorders. Usually, women are most at risk of diet pills abuse and this abuse is also associated with other substances like alcohol. Moreover, these anorectic drugs can be bought over-the-counter or through a prescription. However, always remember that there are possible diet pill dangers when they are abused and misused. They can cause unwanted side effects and damage different organs in the body. Eventually, abusing these substances can lead to addiction.

Furthermore, there are times when patients want to stop the use of these anorectic drugs. But, stopping these medications without proper dose reduction may cause withdrawal. Patients who want to undergo diet pill addiction treatment and withdrawal management safely may consider a rehabilitation center. In a rehab center, patients will be provided different treatment stages and drug interventions. Specialists in these resource centers will also formulate a relapse prevention plan for a more successful recovery. During this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, there are online narcotics anonymous meetings. For those suffering from withdrawal, detox medications and detox drinks will be given. If patients prefer, there are also at-home detox guides that can be provided.

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Published on: November 14th, 2016

Updated on: May 31st, 2022

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.