What are Amphetamines
Amphetamines belong to a class of chemicals called stimulants. In particular, they’re stimulants of the central nervous system. When someone takes them, the body floods dopamine and norepinephrine into the blood. As a result, they can promote attention and focus. However, they’ve become major sources of substance abuse. College students use amphetamines such as Adderall without having legal prescriptions, potentially becoming addicted. Understanding amphetamines and how they relate to addiction can help.
What Are Amphetamines?
First synthesized in Germany, amphetamines have been around since the late 1800s. It wasn’t until the 1930s when we discovered its stimulating properties, though. Amphetamines entered the market as an ingredient in nasal sprays that was meant to clear congestion. It didn’t take long for them to be prescribed to treat other conditions. Today, they’re mainly given to ADHD patients and people with trouble focusing because their brain processes them differently. Occasionally, narcolepsy is a condition that benefits from them as well.
What’s the Chemical Structure of Amphetamine?
Generally, there are two chemical forms, called isomers, of the amphetamine molecule. Each one has a different potency once it’s in the body, eliciting a varied response. The amphetamine molecule is built on a phenethylamine backbone, a common neurotransmitter. This same basic structure is what’s found in dopamine, too.
What Are the Most Common Prescription Brands?
Modern pharmacies prepare several variations of amphetamine salts. Depending on the concentration, their effects vary slightly. Some people respond better to preparations with a higher concentration of the levorotary isomer. However, some people prefer preparations higher in the dextrorotary isomer. That’s why many physicians rotate patients through several preparations. Until they’ve found one they respond to well, they’ll keep trying new ones. Most brands vary the concentration of each isomer, eliciting different effects. Today, you’ll find the following brands available at most pharmacies:
- Racemic Amphetamine Salts
How Do Amphetamines Work?
Once they’re in the body, amphetamines quickly dissolve into the bloodstream. From there, they can enter the brain by passing through the blood-brain barrier. Amphetamines act as full agonists at the trace amine-associated receptor 1, TAAR1. Reversing its function causes dopamine to exit the vesicles at the neuronal junction. Flooding dopamine into the synapses can activate the brain’s reward pathways, contributing to addiction. Another downstream effect is an increase in circulation norepinephrine. Elevating its levels enhances the stimulation even further. Amphetamines affect a number of other transmitters and neuropeptides. Most of their clinical effects derive from the impact on the dopamine system, however.
Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction
Following administration of amphetamines, the brain’s monoamine levels become depleted. The extent of depletion depends on the dose of amphetamine used. Also, longer histories of use can worsen side effects. One of the worst effects of amphetamine abuse is the development of addiction. By activating the brain’s reward pathways, it’s a common outcome of abuse, unfortunately. However, pharmaceutical preparations have been designed for long-term use. Most side effects worsen when amphetamines are used recreationally.
How Are Amphetamines Abused?
There are numerous ways to abuse amphetamines. In general, people take larger doses than prescribed. They may also snort their dose to speed up its absorption. By increasing the absorption rate, higher levels are present in the blood at one time. So, it can lead to enhanced feelings. Yet, it’s also more damaging to the body.
What Are the Consequences of Abuse?
When people use amphetamines off-label, they’re far more likely to develop an addiction. In 2015, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that nearly 4.8 million people in the U.S. abused amphetamines. At first, using amphetamine creates feelings of self-confidence and euphoria. But it quickly depletes the body of vital neurotransmitters. Often, people stay awake for days abusing them, eventually becoming paranoid.
If they continue abusing them, at some point, hallucinations may develop. It’s even possible for people to suffer amphetamine psychosis after heavy abuse. Another way abuse can harm the body is by harming the cardiovascular system. If you abuse amphetamines, hypertension and hypotension are both possibilities.
What Are the Signs of Addiction?
If you suspect someone is abusing amphetamines, there are a few signs you can look for. These can indicate whether someone has been abusing them. Mood swings are one of the most pronounced effects. When someone abuses them, they’ll often have feelings of grandiosity followed by depression. People may also begin exhibiting unusual signs of aggression. When you’re talking to them, they might sound like they’re speaking a mile a minute. Also, normal activities may become less interesting to them. After long enough, drug-seeking behaviors can consume their life. They’ll miss out on many of their work and school responsibilities, seeking more of the drug.
How Does Long-Term Abuse Affect the Brain?
Long-term abuse can lead to structural changes in the brain. Usually, there are fewer dopamine-producing neurons in someone with a history of abuse. The neurons they have left won’t respond as well, either. So, things won’t feel as rewarding to them on account of their lack of dopamine. Some studies have shown changes to the brain’s reward pathways after long-term addiction. Fortunately, many of the changes revert once someone has recovered. At first, it’s normal to feel more tired than usual. After abstaining for a while, the brain readjusts to its typical neurotransmitter levels.
How Does an Addiction Develop?
Overall, the risk of addiction remains low in patients prescribed legal amphetamines. However, when used recreationally, dependency develops quickly. Exposing the brain to recreational doses of amphetamines releases a flood of monoamines into the synapses. As a result, there’s an overactivation of the mesolimbic pathways. These are responsible for regulating our motivation and reward systems. Once they’ve been overactivated, they begin to desensitize. Over time, more of the drug is needed to elicit the same effect. Many abusers respond by increasing their intake of the drug. As a result, the brain’s chemical equilibrium is further destabilized.
Amphetamine Addiction Treatment and Recovery
Recovering from an addiction to amphetamines begins by recognizing the need for a change. Once someone is ready to change, there are plenty of ways to support them. The brain develops a dependency after receiving constant doses of amphetamine. Once it’s gone, a state of withdrawal often develops. Withdrawal is characterized by feelings of depression, fatigue, and anxiety. For most people, the worst part of withdrawal is done by the end of the first week. After that, they gradually improve until most symptoms disappear at the end of the month. To sustain recovery, people have to relearn coping skills. Several therapies and counseling techniques may be helpful in this regard. At a recovery center, clients receive professional help from a licensed counselor.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
As a school of thought, CBT is a psycho-social intervention. It focuses on teaching clients how to reframe their negative cognitive patterns so they won’t respond as drastically to stressful situations. It has a great impact on emotional regulation. As a result, it helps show clients how to handle complicated feelings.
Most addiction research shows client motivation is vital for long-term recovery. By using a client-centered approach, motivational interviewing can help people want to make a change. Clients build a relationship with their counselors based on mutual respect. By forming connections with them, counselors can help guide clients to new understandings. If you’ve struggled with motivation, this form of therapy could be useful. Working with a counselor to overcome limiting beliefs helps cement long-term results, too.
Family and Individual Counseling
Psychodynamic therapy is useful for getting people to open up. For a lot of clients, expressing their feelings is part of the healing process. Sometimes, clients experience better results when working with counselors one-on-one. However, there is also support for family counseling in the recovery community.
Dialectical Behavioral Therapy
Dialectics is a process by which people hold two opposing views and work with them. By analyzing their contradictions, they’re able to reframe perspectives. DBT has a lot of evidence supporting its use as addiction treatment, too. It’s actually a version of CBT that was invented by researchers at the University of Washington. It combines CBT’s approach with concepts from distress tolerance theory. Also, many modern practitioners incorporate elements of mindfulness into their approach.
Alcoholics Anonymous, or AA, is the most well-known support group, but there are many similar programs. They’re all forms of mutual aid organizations that aim to help members support each other. Following a 12-step program gives clients a way to work on their recovery in a self-guided manner. Also, building social bonds with people in recovery can help long-term success. Narcotics Anonymous uses the same basic principles as AA, but it focuses on other substances of abuse.
Adjunct Therapies and Recovery Support
Since amphetamine abuse has unique effects on the brain, certain strategies may be more effective. For example, exercise seems to support recovery from amphetamine abuse. By supporting the brain’s dopamine system, aerobic exercise can minimize withdrawal. Plus, it can enhance the body’s natural rate of recovery.
Finding a Treatment Center Near You
Are you or someone you love struggling with an amphetamine addiction? If so, there is help available. Granite Recovery Centers provides a variety of inpatient and outpatient treatment options. Contact us today to speak to someone about starting your journey.