Amphetamines, often referred to as uppers or speed, are in a classification of drugs known as stimulants.1 According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), in 2013 approximately 1.4 million Americans reported abusing stimulants. In 2013, approximately 75,000 people aged 12 and older abused stimulants for the first time.2 It should be noted that these are self-reported numbers, so the actual number of those who abused stimulants and amphetamines may be much greater.
Any person who abuses amphetamines is in danger of an amphetamine overdose, which can manifest as aggression, dangerously high blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, coma, or even death. Overdose can occur even in first-time users, depending on the amount of drug used in one sitting. However, the overall risk of overdose may be greater in those who have developed an amphetamine addiction, and begin compulsively using the drug—placing themselves in harm’s way time and again.
What are the Common Signs of Amphetamine Abuse?
Amphetamines have legitimate medical uses and are often prescribed for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and narcolepsy; in certain severe cases of obesity, they may also be prescribed for appetite suppression.
However, amphetamines are sometimes misused by people who want to stay awake for long periods of time—such as truck drivers, students, or even people attempting to lose weight. Other people abuse amphetamines simply to get high. Prescription amphetamines can be taken orally, crushed and snorted, or dissolved in water and then injected into the bloodstream.
Amphetamine Side Effects
Amphetamine use and abuse may cause one or more of the following side effects:2
- More energy
- Fast and excessive talking
- High blood pressure
- Elevated body temperature
- Increased or erratic heartbeat
- Small-muscle twitching
- Risky sexual behavior
Amphetamines are meant to produce short-term, immediate effects on the user. So using amphetamines in the long term can produce many negative side effects that may become chronic, including:1
- Heart rhythm disorders.
- Fatigue and weakness.
- Behavioral changes.
- Skin disorders.
Majority of Young Adults Get Stimulant Medications from a Friend
A lot of young people obtain prescription stimulant medications despite not have a prescription for them. This is a far-reaching problem that may have troubling results. But where do these young adults get access to the prescription drugs? In 2016, Recovery Brands found that a shocking 63% of college-age individuals between the ages of 18 and 28 get their hands on their stimulant medications to treat ADHD by means of companions. More than 20% acquire them through a family member; almost 20% via students they know; and only 14.8% from an actual drug dealer. Medical users are advised to keep track of their doctor-prescribed ADHD stimulants in order to protect susceptible college-age men and women from substance misuse and the consequences of it.
Amphetamine Overdose Symptoms
When people consistently take amphetamines for a long time, they typically develop a tolerance to the drug, which, in turn, results in the need for a higher amount of amphetamines to achieve the same effects. As the amount and frequency of drug use rises, the risk of developing a physiologic amphetamine dependence increases.
Many users develop a dangerous pattern of abusing amphetamines: getting high and then crashing. These crashes often result in depression, anxiety, extreme fatigue, and a craving for more amphetamines—and so the cycle continues. In a significant numbers of users, aggressive behavior and hallucinations may occur over time.2
Anytime a user takes high doses of amphetamines, there is a serious risk of an amphetamine overdose. When someone overdoses on amphetamines, they may experience:1
- Heart rhythm disturbances.
An amphetamine overdose is a serious medical emergency, and often indicates the presence of a serious underlying substance use disorder.
Amphetamine Overdose Treatment Options
When someone overdoses on amphetamines, the immediate need for intervention usually involves managing psychosis, agitation, and irregular heartbeat. A recent, comprehensive study for amphetamine overdose indicated that beta blockers were helpful in controlling heart issues and high blood pressure, and also identified that antipsychotic medications and benzodiazepines were the best course of action to control agitation and psychosis after an amphetamine overdose.3
For many people, detox may be necessary to deal with the symptoms of physical withdrawal. A detox program for amphetamine abuse can provide the necessary medical oversight, as well as crucial early emotional support for addicts. Detox can cost anywhere between $600 to $1,000 per day depending on the program.4 Detox from amphetamines is only the first stage of treatment, and usually only lasts a few days, with people needing to follow up with ongoing counseling and support to avoid relapse.
Ongoing treatment helps a person understand and work through the underlying emotional and mental issues that led to the addiction in the first place because a drug overdose is simply a red flag for a greater problem: substance abuse and addiction.
The psychological dependence that develops in many cases of drug addiction is critically important to address as well. If the psychological dependence is not addressed and resolved, the addict may find it difficult to stay clean. There are a variety of treatment programs, whether inpatient or outpatient, that combine medical assessment, medical oversight, and group and individual counseling sessions. Inpatient treatment tends to cost $200 to $900 per day depending on how long the particular program is (longer programs tend to cost less per day), and outpatient programs tend to cost $100 to $500 per session depending on the frequency of treatment sessions (longer programs tend to cost less per session).4 While inpatient treatment cost is higher, it also provides a much higher level of care than most outpatient programs.
Ongoing counseling focuses on building coping skills as well as developing techniques to enable a person to remain drug-free. A person who abuses amphetamines in order to keep weight off, for example, will also need to address the emotional issues underlying his weight, and what issues must be resolved to prevent him from returning to using amphetamines to suppress his appetite.
Many programs also provide family therapy that guides the addict’s family on how best to support him throughout recovery, as well as address underlying family conflicts that may be creating a stressful environment, and thus, contributing to amphetamine abuse.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research. (n.d.) Amphetamines: Just Facts.
- Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration. (2013). Results from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use.
- Richards, J. R., Albertson, T. E., Derlet, R. W., Lange, R. A., Olson, K. R., & Horowitz, B. Z. (2015). Treatment of toxicity from amphetamines, related derivatives, and analogues: A systematic clinical review. Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 150, 1-13.
- American Addiction Centers. (2017).