Amphetamine abuse has become a rampant problem in the United States. Between 2008 and 2012 alone, ADHD prescriptions increased 53%. From the Hollywood elite to stressed out college kids and young professionals, prescription amphetamines don’t discriminate between the young and old or the rich and poor.
While the current opioid epidemic has become one of the worst drug crises in American history, it’s safe to say that, if left unaddressed, prescription stimulant abuse could follow closely in its footsteps.
What are Amphetamines?
Though the amphetamine compound was first synthesized in Germany in the late 1800s, it wasn’t until the 1930s that doctors discovered its effectiveness as a nasal decongestant. Today, amphetamines are routinely prescribed to treat medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
Amphetamines are stimulant drugs that affect the central nervous system (CNS), speeding up the messages sent between the brain and the body. According to the DEA, amphetamines are classified as a schedule II drug, meaning they have a high potential for abuse as well as a high risk of addiction.
Unfortunately, they are frequently diverted from prescription to recreational use as they have the ability to increase energy levels, suppress appetite, and enhance cognitive and physical abilities.
|Research from the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
––16 million American adults used prescription stimulants in the preceding year
––5 million Americans have misused prescription stimulants at least once
––0.4 million Americans have been diagnosed with a prescription stimulant use disorder
Amphetamines vs. Methylphenidate: What’s the Difference?
The most common prescription stimulants are Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) and Ritalin/Concerta (methylphenidate). While both drugs are classified as central nervous system stimulants that increase the concentration of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, methylphenidate tends to have a milder effect than that of amphetamines.
There are two major forms of Adderall: immediate-release and extended-release. Tablets can be ingested orally with doses ranging from 5mg to 30mg.
Ritalin is available as tablets of 5mg, 10mg, and 20 mg for oral administration in either instant release or sustained release format.
Concerta extended-release tablets have four strengths: 18mg, 27mg, 36mg, or 54mg. Each is designed to have a 12-hour duration of effect.
Students & Stimulants: The Dangers of Amphetamines on College Campuses
Research shows that stimulant prescription drug use has increased on college campuses over the past 15 years. This is largely attributed to the fact that students are pressured to meet unrealistic standards of performance, as highlighted in Netflix’s recent documentary on Adderall abuse, Take Your Pills.
|The NIH’s 2016 Monitoring the Future survey found that college students have higher rates of amphetamine misuse: 9.9% of college students reported having used Adderall in the past year compared to 6.2% of their non-college peers.|
The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids reported that nearly one in every five college students abuses prescription stimulants on a routine basis. Amphetamines have an attractive appeal because they have a stimulant effect that keeps a user alert and focused. As a result, many students self-diagnose with ADHD and seek out the medication in order to study harder and improve their grades. Unfortunately, nonmedical use can do more damage than good. According to a recent study, stimulant medications can actually impair functioning in healthy students.
But the real danger is when students mix amphetamines with alcohol. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 90 percent of students who abused prescription stimulants participated in binge drinking. A third of student users report they take prescription stimulants to allow them to “party longer”. This is because the presence of amphetamines in the system will counteract some of the depressant effects of alcohol. Between 2005 and 2010, emergency room visits related to nonmedical use of amphetamines among young adults almost quadrupled. Nearly half of these visits were due to mixing ADHD drugs with other drugs or alcohol.
Signs & Symptoms of an Amphetamine Overdose
Over time, an individual who habitually uses prescription amphetamines develops a tolerance. Suddenly the feelings of euphoria and energy have been replaced with extreme angst and exhaustion. As a result, she typically needs a larger dose of amphetamines to achieve the same effects as when she first began using. Unfortunately, constantly chasing the feelings of that first high only results in a vicious cycle of abuse –– getting high then crashing, getting higher then crashing harder.
An overdose happens when an individual consumes more than her body is capable of metabolizing. As she continues to increase her doses or the frequency in which she uses, there is a serious risk of overdose. The most common signs include:
- Restlessness or tremors
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Twitching or spasms
- And, in severe cases, death
Getting Help After an Amphetamine Overdose
An amphetamine overdose is a serious medical emergency. And, more often than not, it indicates the presence of a serious underlying substance use disorder and/or associated mental health condition.
For many people, professional treatment is required following an overdose. Detox may be necessary to deal with the symptoms of physical withdrawal as well as a long-term treatment program that can provide necessary medical oversight and emotional support.