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Important Facts About Amphetamine and Methamphetamine Abuse

Amphetamine and methamphetamine abuse is a growing problem in the United States. These stimulants are often termed "amphetamines."  Each year, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration closes down hundreds of illegal laboratories producing these drugs and uses surveillance and enforcement powers to stop illegal amphetamines coming to the U.S. from other countries.

Amphetamines, and amphetamine-related drugs, stimulate the central nervous system. Although some stimulants can be legally prescribed to treat certain medical conditions, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in children and adults, amphetamines often are abused. Abuse of amphetamines can lead to addiction, and abused amphetamines are easily manufactured in illegal laboratories.

History of 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 and perceived increase in strength 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 drugs. Today, while many of these drugs are prescribed by a licensed health care provider, most amphetamines available on the black market are produced illegally.

Short-term health risks

Amphetamines, known as "uppers" and "speed," methamphetamine (Desoxyn), known as "meth," "ice" and "crystal," and other drugs resembling amphetamine, including dextroamphetamine (Adderal and others) and methylphenidate (Ritalin), can be taken orally, inhaled, injected, or smoked.

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

Larger doses may produce 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.

Long-term abuse dangers

One of the most dangerous aspects of amphetamine abuse is the potential for addiction. Addiction is defined as a state in which a person's abuse escalates to the point that he or she loses control of their use, or the consequences of their use; is unable to control their use or quit using on their own; and becomes preoccupied with ways to get the drug and keep abusing it.

Over time, amphetamine abuse may result in psychotic behavior similar to paranoid schizophrenia, violence, aggression, 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.

Treatment for abuse

After the drug's effects wear off, amphetamine users often experience severe exhaustion, troubled sleep, extreme hunger and depression. These symptoms may be magnified in chronic users who abruptly stop taking the drug and may require medical intervention and treatment by a qualified health care provider. These withdrawal symptoms diminish and disappear within several days but can persist for weeks or longer in some people.

Many people who abuse amphetamines are abusing other drugs as well, which may complicate their treatments. If you suspect a friend or family member is abusing amphetamines, discuss the issue with a health care provider, a drug-information resource center, or a local drug-treatment center.