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What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are stimulants. They speed up functions in the brain and body. They come in pill, tablet, or powder form. Amphetamines are usually swallowed, but also can be inhaled, injected, or dabbed (when someone licks a finger and dips it in the powder before eating it). Many study drugs are amphetamines.

Short-Term Effects

When amphetamines get into the body, they go to work on the central nervous system. Amphetamines affect a brain chemical called dopamine, increasing it so the user feels a "high."

Amphetamines make users feel powerful, alert, and energized for 3 to 8 hours on average for a small dose.

Other short-term effects include:

  • jaw clenching and teeth grinding
  • fast heart rate and increased blood pressure
  • decreased appetite
  • fast, continuous talking
  • not getting tired

Long-Term Effects

Over time, the brain gets used to the increased levels of dopamine. When this happens, amphetamine users develop a tolerance to the drug. They have to use more to feel the same highs. That can lead longtime users to have strong cravings for the drug.

When people use large amounts of amphetamines more often, it can put added stress on the heart and lead to elevated blood pressure and pulse rates, rapid breathing, and even heart failure.

Long-term abuse of amphetamines may cause people to have hallucinations, hear voices, feel paranoid, and develop a psychosis that resembles schizophrenia. Long-term amphetamine abusers might become violent or act unpredictably.

Other long-term effects include:

  • physical exhaustion
  • insomnia and restlessness
  • dizziness and blurred vision
  • headaches
  • reduced appetite and health problems from not eating properly
  • higher chances of getting sick because of malnutrition
  • depression, anxiety, and paranoia
  • severe dental problems ("meth mouth") when using methamphetamine
  • mood disturbances and delusions similar to those felt by people with bipolar disorder or psychosis

Other Possible Problems

Using too large a dose of amphetamines at one time can cause an overdose. Someone who overdoses will have a higher body temperature, hallucinations, and convulsions, and could die.

People who use lots of amphetamines can become emotionally dependent on them. These users may become fixated on finding and taking amphetamines. They may do whatever they can to keep getting high, including taking risks.

People whose bodies are used to taking lots of amphetamines might keep using them to avoid withdrawal symptoms. This may lead to binges of drug abuse that can last for days, making the eventual crash even more difficult.

Amphetamines are listed as a Schedule II stimulant, meaning they have a high potential for abuse. Although amphetamines are used in medicines, they are available only through a limited prescription. People who use amphetamines without a prescription could end up in jail.

How Can Someone Quit?

People who are used to taking large amounts of amphetamines may have a hard time quitting. They may go through various mood problems, such as aggression, anxiety, and intense cravings for the drugs. They also might feel depressed and even have suicidal thoughts when they try to quit.

If you think you might be addicted to amphetamines, talk with a counselor or join a support group. These things can help make it easier to quit.

Avoiding Amphetamines

Unless amphetamines are in powder form, they can look like any other pill. Because people rarely call them "amphetamines," it can help to be aware of other names for amphetamines, from brand names like Ritalin or Adderall to nicknames like Bennies or Black Mollies.

If someone offers you amphetamines, chances are he or she might not know quite how dangerous they can be. Even when drugs are prescribed by a doctor, that doesn't make them safe for anyone to take. Protect yourself by being aware of the risks!

Reviewed by: Julia Brown Lancaster, MSN, WHNP-BC
Date reviewed: February 2014