Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants, commonly called “uppers”, that interfere with normal brain function. They may be legally prescribed like Adderall and Dexedrine, often used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, or illegal street drugs like methamphetamine (meth) or ecstasy. Whether legal or illegal, the drugs work similarly in that they over-stimulate areas of the brain to promote pleasurable feelings, alertness, energy, focus, and, when used improperly, to deliver an intense high.

When amphetamines are taken illegally, or are not taken as prescribed, abuse and addiction can occur. Abuse or improper use of any drug not only endangers the health of the user, it can be fatal.

How do amphetamines affect the body?

Amphetamines are psychostimulants that trigger increased levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. While these chemicals are both neurotransmitters, they each have a distinct function. Dopamine affects the part of the brain responsible for motor control, motivation, pleasure and reward. Heightened levels of dopamine encourage focus and completion of tasks that result in feeling good. Norepinephrine increases blood pressure, heart rate, breathing, blood flow, and blood sugar levels, triggering alertness and reaction time. Amphetamines are highly addictive, and long-term use may result in a tolerance to the drug, making users unable to function normally without it.

Signs of amphetamine abuse may include:

  • Dilation of pupils
  • Dry mouth
  • Euphoria
  • Being overly talkative or highly excitable
  • Increased body temperature
  • Rapid breathing
  • Inability to feel fatigue or hunger so user doesn’t desire sleep or food
  • High energy level
  • Impulsive behavior
  • Intense concentration and focus
  • Depression or lethargy when drug is not in system

Amphetamine abuse can be lethal.

Depending on the dose, even legally prescribed amphetamines can cause irregular heart rate, seizures, stroke or heart failure. Individuals abusing amphetamines are also at increased risk of mental health problems including depression, paranoia, aggressive behavior, hostility, bipolar disorder, and suicide.

According to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, Adderall misuse is most common in those aged 18-25, who are often illegally obtaining the drug without a prescription. The World Health Organization cites amphetamines as among the most abused drugs in the world for people between the ages of 15-64.

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