What are Amphetamines?

The term “amphetamine” refers to a group of chemically related stimulants. First synthesized in the 1880s, amphetamines originally were used as nasal decongestants, weight suppressants, and to help people stay awake. They have been prescribed to soldiers for alertness in all wars since their discovery. In 1965, the potential for rapid and serious addiction prompted the U.S. government to restrict access to the drug. Today, while many of these drugs are prescribed by licensed health care providers, the amphetamines available on the black market are generally produced illegally.

Amphetamines are known as “uppers” and “speed,” as they speed up the messages going between the brain and the body. Some types of amphetamines are legally prescribed by doctors to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy (where a person has an uncontrollable urge to sleep). Amphetamines usually come in the form of pills.

Effects of Amphetamines

Stimulants have been abused for both “performance enhancement” and recreational purposes (i.e. to get high). For the former they suppress appetite (resulting in weight loss), increase wakefulness, and improve focus and attention. The euphoric effects of stimulants are increased when the pills are crushed and then sniffed or injected. Some abusers dissolve the tablets in water and inject the mixture. Complications from this method of use can arise because some of the ingredients in illegal tablets don’t dissolve and can block the small blood vessels.

Signs of Amphetamine Abuse

All stimulants work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain — dopamine is a brain chemical (or neurotransmitter) associated with pleasure. The therapeutic effect of stimulants is achieved by a steady increase of dopamine, similar to the way that dopamine is produced by the brain. The doses prescribed by physicians start low and increase gradually until a therapeutic effect is reached. However, when taken in doses other than those prescribed, amphetamines can increase brain dopamine in a rapid and uncontrolled manner disrupting normal communication between brain cells, producing a temporary sense of euphoria and increasing the risk of addiction. 

Amphetamines affect the brain, heart, lungs and other organs. Users experience feelings of increased alertness, excitement, restlessness and sometimes an unrealistic sense of power and euphoria. The physical effects include an increased breathing and heart rate, an increased blood pressure, dilated pupils, jaw clamping and decreased appetite. These effects last six hours or even longer, in some cases.

Larger doses of amphetamines may result in fever, sweating, headaches, blurred vision and dizziness. Very high doses may produce an irregular heartbeat, chest pain, tremors, loss of coordination, seizures, high fever, heart failure, strokes, and collapse and death from burst blood vessels in the brain.

Other signs of amphetamine abuse include aggression, mood swings, irritability, sleeping disorders and cravings. Long-term symptoms include dysthymia, a mood disorder which features a chronic depressed or irritable mood.

Other symptoms may include eating and sleeping disturbances, fatigue and poor self-esteem, depression, mood swings, cravings, lethargy and sleeping difficulties.

Health Risks of Amphetamine Abuse

Stimulants can increase blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and decrease sleep and appetite (which can lead to malnutrition). Repeated use can lead to feelings of hostility and paranoia. At high doses, amphetamines can lead to serious cardiovascular complications, including stroke.

One of the most dangerous aspects of amphetamine abuse is the potential for addiction.

Over time, amphetamine abuse may result in psychotic behaviour, violence, aggression, hallucinations and seizures. Other effects include malnutrition due to suppressed appetite, and increased susceptibility to illness because of poor diet, lack of sleep, and an unhealthy environment. Users who inject the drug risk infections such as hepatitis, AIDS, and blocked blood vessels that can cause kidney damage, lung problems, strokes and other tissue injury.

Amphetamines Withdrawal Symptoms

After the drug’s effects wear off, amphetamine users often experience severe exhaustion, troubled sleep, extreme hunger and depression. These withdrawal symptoms diminish and disappear within several days but can persist for weeks or longer in some people. It can take a long period of time (six months to a year) before the body is sufficiently replenished and normal functioning returns.

Withdrawal for heavy users usually begins two to three days after the crash, and can last for a period of months.

Long Term Amphetamine Abuse

Prolonged amphetamine abuse can cause a number of other problems, including:

  • Toxic psychosis
  • Physiological and behavioural disorders
  • Dizziness
  • Pounding heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Mood or mental change
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Repetitive motor activity
  • Convulsions, coma, and death
  • Ulcers
  • Malnutrition
  • Mental illness
  • Skin disorders
  • Vitamin deficiency
  • Flush or pale skin
  • Loss of coordination and physical collapse

Amphetamine Treatment at Castle Craig Hospital

At Castle Craig we treat patients who are addicted to amphetamines. We get patients comfortably through the difficult detoxification and continue their rehabilitation through a therapeutic process.

Please visit our treatment section to read more about how we treat amphetamine addiction at Castle Craig Hospital in Scotland.