Amphetamine Abuse and Dependence

What is amphetamine abuse and dependence?

Amphetamines are a type of medicine called stimulants. Stimulants increase your alertness and energy. They might be prescribed by a healthcare provider to treat sleep problems, obesity, learning problems such as ADHD, depression, or other health problems. They may also be sold illegally as “speed” or “uppers.”

Amphetamine abuse and dependence are patterns of using drugs that lead to serious personal, family and health problems.

Abuse is when you keep taking the drug even though it causes a problem such as:

  • Showing up late or missing work or school and not caring about things that used to matter to you
  • Breaking rules or breaking the law
  • Not keeping promises, arguing, or even getting violent with other people
  • Doing things that are dangerous, such as driving while under the influence

You may also be abusing prescription amphetamines if you:

  • Take them for reasons other than why they were prescribed
  • Take more than the prescribed dose
  • Continue to use them when you no longer have a need for them

If you continue to abuse drugs, you can become dependent. When you are dependent on amphetamines, you:

  • Need to use more and more of the drug or use it more often to get the same effects
  • Lose control, which means you keep taking drugs even though you know that it is harmful to you or others or you can’t stop taking drugs when you try
  • Crave drugs so much that you spend a lot of time and energy getting drugs, using drugs, and getting over the effects
  • Have withdrawal symptoms when you stop using amphetamines

Dependence is also called addiction. Not everyone who uses amphetamines will become addicted. However, it is not uncommon for someone to start out using amphetamines to treat a health problem and then becoming addicted.

What is the cause?

The brain makes chemicals that affect thoughts, emotions, and actions. Amphetamines change the balance of these chemicals in your brain. When you use amphetamines regularly, your brain starts to get used to them. As a result you don’t feel good unless you use them. When you stop using them suddenly, the balance of chemicals in your brain changes, which causes the symptoms of withdrawal.

You have a higher risk of becoming dependent on drugs if you:

  • Have a family history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • Have abused alcohol or drugs in the past
  • Are easily frustrated, have trouble dealing with stress, or feel like you aren’t good enough
  • Are regularly around people who use alcohol or drugs
  • Have a mental health problem
  • Have constant pain

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of amphetamine abuse or dependence depend on how much and how often you take the drug. The symptoms can be mild to severe, such as:

  • Being nervous and overexcited
  • Losing weight
  • Talking and thinking fast, called “speeding”
  • Having a fast heartbeat or sweating
  • Seeing, hearing, or feeling something that is not there
  • Thinking that others are out to get you when they are not
  • Being less aware of what is going on around you, loss of memory, or depression

You may also have symptoms of new or worse health problems caused by long-term amphetamine use such as problems with your teeth and gums, constipation or skin problems.

The symptoms of amphetamine withdrawal can be mild to severe. You may have some of these symptoms when you stop taking amphetamines:

  • Shakiness and jumpiness followed by no energy
  • Seizures
  • Cravings for amphetamines
  • Depression that can last many months

How is it diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will ask how much and how often you use amphetamines. Be honest about your drug use. Your provider needs this information to give you the right treatment. He or she will also ask about symptoms, your medical history and give you a physical exam. You may have blood and urine tests.

How is it treated?

Amphetamine abuse and dependence can be treated. For any treatment to be successful, you must want to stop using amphetamines. When you stop using amphetamines, your healthcare provider may prescribe medicine to help you get through withdrawal symptoms. You may also need to stop taking all stimulants, including caffeine and tobacco.

If you are abusing or dependent on amphetamines and want to quit, get help.

Self-help groups such as Narcotics Anonymous, support groups, and therapy may be helpful. You might be treated in a substance abuse treatment program. Your healthcare providers and counselors will work with you to develop a treatment program.

Recovery from dependence is a long-term process. Follow-up treatment is very important so that you don’t go back to abusing drugs.

If you have overdosed, or are having severe withdrawal symptoms you will need to be treated in a hospital. You will also be treated for any health problems such as a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening problems.

How can I take care of myself?

The best way to help yourself is to see your healthcare provider and make plans to stop taking amphetamines. If you are already seeing a healthcare provider, it is important to take the full course of treatment he or she prescribes.

  • Get support. Talk with family and friends. Consider joining a support group in your area.
  • Learn to manage stress. Ask for help at home and work when the load is too great to handle. Find ways to relax, for example take up a hobby, listen to music, watch movies, or take walks. Try deep breathing exercises when you feel stressed.
  • Take care of your physical health. Try to get at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night. Eat a healthy diet. Limit caffeine. If you smoke, quit. Don’t use alcohol or drugs. Exercise according to your healthcare provider’s instructions.
  • Avoid situations where people are likely to use alcohol or drugs.
  • Check your medicines. To help prevent problems, tell your healthcare provider and pharmacist about all the medicines, natural remedies, vitamins, and other supplements that you take.
  • Contact your healthcare provider or therapist if you have any questions or your symptoms seem to be getting worse.
  • Keep trying. Many people try more than once to quit using amphetamines before they finally succeed. So, never say, “I can’t.” You CAN learn to live without drugs in your daily life.

People and resources in your community that can help you include your healthcare providers, therapists, support groups, mental health centers, and alcohol or substance abuse treatment programs. You may want to contact:

Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-03-14
Last reviewed: 2014-03-14
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

Our Patient Portal provides safe and secure online access to better communicate with your Tufts Medical Center Community Care doctor. This easy-to-use web tool is a convenient way to book appointments, request referrals, renew prescriptions, view medical records/test results and communicate with your healthcare provider from the privacy of your own computer.

PATIENT PORTAL >