Amphetamine Dependence

Written by Rose Kivi and Winnie Yu | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD on July 25, 2012

Overview

People who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder sometimes require amphetamines to help them cope. Some people take amphetamines to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. Amphetamines are a type of stimulant, a drug that can cause addiction. Dextroamphetamine and methamphetamine are two other types of amphetamines.

Amphetamines are sometimes sold illegally on the street. Both prescribed and street amphetamines can be abused. The most commonly abused amphetamine is methamphetamine. Amphetamine dependence occurs when you need the drug to function normally. If you are dependent, you will experience symptoms of withdrawal if you stop using the drug abruptly.

What Causes Amphetamine Dependence?

Amphetamine dependence is caused by frequent and long-term use of the drug. Some people become dependent faster than others. You may become dependent by using these drugs without a doctor’s prescription. You can also become dependent if you take more than you’re prescribed. You may even develop dependence by taking the amphetamine according to your doctor’s directions.

Who Is at Risk for Amphetamine Dependence?

You have a higher risk of developing amphetamine dependence if you:

  • live in the Western, Southwestern, and Midwestern parts of the United States. (Statistically, amphetamine abuse is more prevalent in these areas)
  • have easy access to amphetamines
  • live in a culture where amphetamine use is viewed as acceptable
  • have mental disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, or schizophrenia
  • have low self esteem or relationship problems
  • have a stressful lifestyle
  • have emotional problems
  • have financial problems

What Are the Symptoms of Amphetamine Dependence?

If you are dependent on amphetamine, you may:

  • miss work or school
  • not complete tasks or perform tasks as well
  • not care about physical appearance
  • have poor hygiene
  • not eat
  • lose a lot of weight
  • have severe dental problems
  • steal to get money to support your drug habit
  • try to hide your amphetamine abuse from others
  • use amphetamines when you are alone
  • not be able to stop using amphetamines
  • make excuses to yourself and others to use amphetamines
  • experience withdrawal symptoms if you do not use amphetamines
  • have episodes of violence and mood disturbances
  • have anxiety
  • have insomnia
  • feel confused
  • be paranoid
  • have visual or auditory hallucinations
  • have delusions, such as the sensation that something is crawling underneath your skin

How Is Amphetamine Dependence Diagnosed?

To diagnose amphetamine dependence, your doctor may:

  • ask you questions to find out how much and long you have been using amphetamines
  • take blood tests to detect amphetamines in your system
  • perform a physical exam and order any necessary tests to detect health problems caused by your amphetamine abuse

To meet the criteria for an amphetamine dependence diagnosis, you must have three or more of the following symptoms that have occurred within the same 12-month period:

  • tolerance to an amphetamine. You know you have built up a tolerance if you need larger doses of amphetamine to achieve the same high.
  • withdrawal that is characterized by depression, anxiety, fatigue, paranoia, aggression, and intense cravings. You may need to use a similar drug to relieve or avoid amphetamine withdrawal symptoms
  • you use larger amounts of amphetamine or use it for longer periods than intended
  • you have been wanting to cut down or stop using amphetamine but have been unsuccessful
  • you spend a great deal of time trying to get more amphetamine
  • you miss out on or do not go to as many recreational, social, or work activities because of your amphetamine use
  • you continue to use amphetamine even though you know it is causing you to have persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problems

How Is Amphetamine Dependence Treated?

Treatments for amphetamine dependence may include:

Hospitalization

You may find it easier to go through amphetamine withdrawal in a hospital setting if you experience strong drug cravings. It may also help if you have negative mood changes, including aggression and suicidal behavior.

Therapy

Individual counseling, family therapy, and group therapy can help you:

  • identify why you use drugs
  • resolve problems that led you to use drugs
  • repair relationships with your family
  • learn ways to avoid amphetamine use
  • find activities that you enjoy besides drug use
  • get support from others who have been amphetamine users because they understand what you are going through (usually in a 12-step drug treatment program)

Medication

Your doctor may prescribe medication to ease severe symptoms of withdrawal. People who have severe intravenous amphetamine dependence may be prescribed methylphenidate. Fluoxetine may decrease your cravings. Imipramine may help you stick with your treatment for amphetamine dependence. Your doctor may prescribe other medications to help relieve symptoms of anxiety, depression, and aggression.

What are The Complications of Amphetamine Dependence?

If you continue to use amphetamines, you may:

  • overdose
  • die
  • cause damage to your brain. You may wind up with symptoms that resemble Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy, or a stroke.

What is the Long-Term Outlook?

Amphetamine dependence can be difficult to treat. You may relapse after treatment and start using amphetamine again. Continuing participation in a 12-step drug treatment program and individual counseling can reduce your chances of relapse.

Can I Prevent Amphetamine Dependence?

Drug education programs can reduce the odds for new amphetmaine use or a relapse. Counseling for emotional problems and family support can also help. However, none of these have been proven to prevent amphetamine use in everyone.

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Show Sources

  • Methamphetamine. (n.d.). U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved April 14, 2012, from http://www.justice.gov/dea/concern/meth_factsheet.html
  • Tiihonen, J. et al. (2007). A comparison of aripiprazole, methylphenidate, and placebo for amphetamine dependence.. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 164(1), 160-162.
  • Srisurapanont, M. et al. (2001). Treatment for amphetamine dependence and abuse.. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. (4) CD003022.
  • American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition (Fourth Edition Text Revision ed.). : Amer Psychiatric Pub.

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