Pennsylvania Amphetamine Addiction Treatment

Amphetamines are drugs and medications that speed up the central nervous system. These can enhance concentration, cause euphoria, and help a person struggling with narcolepsy to stay awake. In short, they have some medical uses, but also the potential for abuse. Examples of amphetamines include prescription medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) treatment as well as cocaine and methamphetamine. While all have the potential for abuse, methamphetamine has proven the most addictive of the amphetamine types. 1

One of the most addictive amphetamines is methamphetamine or crystal meth. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), an estimated 964,000 people in the United States struggled with a methamphetamine use disorder in 2017.2 This number is an increase from the estimate of 684,000 Americans in 2016. The NIDA also reports that the average age of a new methamphetamine user in the United States is 23.3 years old.

History of Amphetamines

Early Origins

Although amphetamines have made the news more significantly in the past 20 years, their origins extend to more than 100 years ago. In 1920, chemists Barger and Dale discovered a compound called racemic alpha-methylphenthylamine.3 However, the compound wasn’t largely adjusted until 1927 when chemist G. A. Alles synthetized it in the hopes of creating an alternative medication to ephedra or ephedrine, a medicine known to increase blood pressure and heart rate as well as suppress appetite and enhance alertness.

Alles and his co-workers performed experiments on both animals and humans, discovering the compound had the potential to increase alertness and cause insomnia. In 1935, the pharmaceutical company Smith, Kline, and French would register the name “Benzedrine” as the trade name for amphetamine. At the time, the pharmaceutical company marketed Benzedrine as a drug that would treat narcolepsy, mild depression, and post-encephalitic Parkinson’s symptoms.

Dexedrine Drives Development

Further research conducted by Smith, Kline, and French chemists led to the discovery of Dexedrine, a chemical they called d-amphetamine. This medication was more potent than Benzedrine, and the medical community quickly took notice that Dexedrine seemed to improve cognitive performance. They launched studies that connected Dexedrine with enhancing concentration and academic performance.

Amphetamines Use In War and Work

Results from these studies were so encouraging that Dexedrine and Benzedrine use increased. According to an article in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, an estimated 150 million Benzedrine tablets were given to military personnel in the United Kingdom and USA during World War II. Other countries distributed the medications to their workers as a means to help them work longer hours. The German army also issued their soldiers a pill combination of methamphetamine and cocaine to keep soldiers awake longer. At that time, most of what was considered were the effects, not the addictive potential of amphetamines.

During the post-war era, manufacturers had significant surpluses of amphetamines. In 1959, the FDA started to require people to have a prescription before using Benzedrine. People began to divert these to black market or illegal distribution channels. As a result, the 1950s were an era when doctors took note of amphetamine addiction.

Meth Emerges

More knowledge about the side effects of amphetamines like heart problems, paranoia, and delusions increased tightening over their prescription.4 The FDA began to increase regulations over the distribution of ephedrine, which people used to make crystal methamphetamine. In the 1980s, workers in illegal meth labs learned how to substitute ephedrine for pseudoephedrine, a chemical sold over-the-counter in cold medicines. The results led to an easier production of crystal methamphetamine, which contributed to the later drug boom that lasted from the early 1990s to the early 2000s. According to, the rate of crystal meth use in the United States doubled from 2 percent to 5 percent from 1994 to 2004. In 2012, this number has declined to 0.4 percent of Americans who report having used meth in the past year.

Modern Medical Use of Amphetamines

Amphetamines retain their medical use. One of the most-known medical uses for amphetamines is the treatment of ADHD. The potential uses in the pediatric population were first reported in 1937 when a researcher named Bradley noted that in a 30-person test group, more than half of the subjects reported improvements in behavior and school performance after taking Benzedrine. Today, there are a variety of ADHD treatment medications that are stimulants and fall under the amphetamine category. These include Adderall and Ritalin.

Amphetamine Misconceptions

They Make Me Smarter/Help Me Lose Weight

A common misconception is that amphetamines are a beneficial way to increase someone’s intelligence or to help them lose weight. While some people may find they experience these effects temporarily when using amphetamines, the benefits are short-term and are more likely to result in negative consequences with continued abuse. There are healthier and also more legal approaches to accomplishing goals. Diet, exercise, studying, reading, and other healthy practices are more sustainable and safer ways to achieve weight loss or scholastic performance goals. ​​​5

They Are a Prescription, So They Are Safe

Another misconception is that because amphetamines (including methamphetamine) are used in small doses medically, they aren’t dangerous to a person’s health. There are a number of side effects related to illegal or excessive amphetamine use that can threaten a person’s health. These include mood swings, lack of sleep, paranoia, increased body temperature, changes to heart rate and rhythm, and excessively high blood pressure. When these medications are not used with prescription, the dangers increase.

What do Amphetamines do to the Body?

Amphetamines are similar in chemical structure to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are central nervous stimulants. For example, norepinephrine is responsible for triggering the body’s “fight-or-flight” response in times of danger and extreme stress. Extra norepinephrine can sharpen senses, a biological adaptation that allows a person to flee from danger. Dopamine is a feel-good chemical that is responsible for the euphoria a person feels in a runner’s high.

Depending on the drug type and dosage, amphetamines can have a variety of effects. This ranges from increased concentration and alertness to euphoria.

Amphetamines can also cause a number of side effects from their use.

These include factors such as:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramping
  • Vomiting
  • Twitching/Worsening of motor tics

The effects of amphetamines on the body depend on the type used, as well as the way taken and amount. For example, oral amphetamines are associated with less euphoria and pleasurable feelings than when amphetamines are injected or smoked. Therefore significant differences exist in the abuse and addiction rates of prescription amphetamines taken in small dosages and illegal amphetamines taken in larger doses.

Not all people who use amphetamines become addicted to them. However, those that do are at risk for several adverse health effects and problems from addiction. This includes problems with the legal system and potential jail time for abusing illegal drugs.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of Amphetamines on the Body?

It is important to note that long-term amphetamine use refers to the abuse of methamphetamines and other non-prescription medications. If a person has a doctor’s prescription and takes the medication in a manner and dosage as per the doctor’s recommendation, it should minimize the side effects and risks of abuse.

For those who chronically abuse methamphetamine, serious side effects can occur with long-term use. Continued use means a person will typically develop a tolerance to the drug. As a result, greater amounts of the drug are taken to achieve the previous effects. This can further a person’s addiction because they start to feel less euphoria in other pursuits. As a result, those who abuse methamphetamine may find they experience mental health conditions like depression and anxiety at greater levels than they previously did.

Chronic methamphetamine abusers may also experience significant changes to their behavior.

Examples include:

  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood disturbances
  • Paranoia
  • Violent episodes
  • Visual and auditory hallucinations

Studies in patients who abuse methamphetamines found that chronic abusers experience changes in the structure and function of the brain. This can affect a person’s memory and decision-making abilities. Fortunately, discontinuing methamphetamines can help reverse some of these effects over time.

In addition to changes a person cannot see, methamphetamine abuse can cause visual changes to a person’s appearance. This includes tooth decay, tooth loss, and sores on the skin. Methamphetamine use can lead to tooth grinding that can damage the teeth. Sores and dental decay increase a person’s risk for infection, which can result in skin abscesses and other infection types.

If a person injects methamphetamines, they are also at greater health risk for injection-related infections and illnesses. Examples include conditions such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and HIV/AIDS. These diseases can be transmitted from sharing needles with others who are infected. Also, sharing needles can lead to an increased risk of infective endocarditis. This is a condition that causes damage to the heart’s valves that can prove deadly.

Snorting amphetamines can also cause intense damage to the nasal passage. In some individuals, snorting cocaine has led to a collapse of the nose due to damage and destruction.

Amphetamine Detox

When a person uses methamphetamines on a regular basis or in excessive amounts, they experience changes in their body. The brain and body as a whole become accustomed to the presence of amphetamines, and stopping the use of these substances will cause withdrawal symptoms. While methamphetamine withdrawal is not usually fatal, the symptoms can be severe and the cravings may be strong.

According to an article in the journal Addiction, a person will usually experience the most acute symptoms associated with methamphetamine withdrawals up to about 7 to 10 days after stopping use.6 The symptoms are usually the worst about 24 hours after a person stops. Some of the symptoms doctors associate with this acute phase include strong cravings, depression, and increased appetite.

Following the acute phase, a person is usually in a subacute phase for about three weeks. During this time, their symptoms may not be as strong, but they may still experience symptoms of depression and feel tired.

Withdrawal Symptoms

The journal also surveyed 56 patients undergoing methamphetamine withdrawals. The study found most symptoms associated with methamphetamine withdrawal were “mild and well-tolerated.”

Some of the symptoms participants reported include:

  • Increased appetite
  • Mild paranoia, such as the idea that people were talking about them
  • Poor energy levels
  • Problems sleeping
  • Red and itchy eyes

While suicidal ideation is a reported symptom in many people who withdraw from methamphetamines, the study’s authors found only two participants who reported suicidal thoughts. However, researchers did find that depressive symptoms were a common symptom.

Additional withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Fatigue
  • Increased appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Vivid, sometimes scary nightmares

Researchers also found that cravings for methamphetamines were one of the most difficult parts about withdrawing. Cravings have been shown to last beyond the first few weeks and were often cited as the reason why a person relapsed.

What are Common Struggles when Getting Sober from Amphetamines?

There are several struggles when getting sober from methamphetamines that make quitting difficult, but not impossible. Because the detoxing body is accustomed to the presence of amphetamines, a person will likely have strong cravings that make it difficult to resist the desire to return to amphetamine abuse.

In addition to these cravings, meth use changes the way a person experiences pleasurable activities. The brain has become so accustomed to the rush of feel-good dopamine due to amphetamine use that other activities including sex, eating delicious food, or doing activities the person used to enjoy will no longer provide joy, excitement, or happiness. This can lead to feelings of depression and sadness that make sobriety difficult to maintain.

People abuse methamphetamines for a variety of reasons. In a survey of those who abuse methamphetamines published in the American Journal of Addiction, some of the reasons people cite for using the drug include:​​​7

  • Seeking Pleasure 56% 56%
  • Impulsivity 27% 27%
  • Out of Habit 25% 25%
  • Pain Avoidance 30% 30%
  • Cravings 30% 30%

Because the reasons are so varied and often deep-seated, a person must often participate in therapy or 12-step sessions as a means to start dealing with some of the underlying emotions that cause a person to continue to seek methamphetamine.

Where Can you Find Help with Amphetamine Addiction?

Drug rehabilitation facilities can provide help for those who struggle with methamphetamine addiction. According to NIDA, behavioral therapies are the most effective methamphetamine addiction treatments available today. These approaches typically involve cognitive-behavioral therapy such as the Matrix Model, a 16-week approach to methamphetamine addiction treatment that involves cognitive-behavioral therapy as well as one-on-one therapy, family therapy, and 12-step group participation. Behavioral approaches involve helping a person understand why they abuse methamphetamines and how they can change their behavior to prevent relapse.

Another approach is contingency management. This approach involves offering incentives for a person to maintain their abstinence from methamphetamine use. An example could be movie tickets after a clean drug screen or a gift card to a local restaurant after contributing to a group meeting. According to NIDA, a program called Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery utilizes contingency management approaches to effectively help those struggling with cocaine and methamphetamine addiction.

The FDA hasn’t currently approved medications for the treatment of methamphetamine addiction. However, researchers are currently conducting studies as to medications that could help a person get clean and stay clean.

Recovery is Possible

Amphetamines are addictive substances when used in high amounts or by means other than as intended, such as injecting or snorting them. Long-term abuse of amphetamines can cause a number of harmful and potentially deadly health effects. Also, addiction to amphetamines can rob a person of their personality and activities they once enjoyed.

Fortunately, professional help is available. It often involves a combination of behavior and motivational treatments, such as individual therapy, 12-step group participation, and family therapy. While strong cravings are difficult to overcome, it is possible to achieve and maintain sobriety from methamphetamines. With time, the brain can restore itself to previous functioning. Help is avilable, don’t wait to start the recovery journey.