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Amphetamines - A Downhill Slope

Updated on May 15, 2013

The Addiction and its Dangers

Several stimulants exist, some even openly available on the consumer general market. Caffeine is one of the most widely accessible drugs, and in large doses can be dangerous or even fatal. Amphetamines cause a similar but more drastic effect in regards to alertness and attention, and are widely used because of this psychological high. Mixing this with other stimulants or sedatives can be deadly, and an overdose is easily attainable. They are hazardous and destructive drugs that should be avoided entirely for the benefit of health.

The widespread addiction to amphetamines began because of the benefits it once seemed to provide. In 1929, a biochemist by the name of Gordon Alles was attempting to find an effective decongestant and bronchodilator that would replace ephedrine. After extensive study, Alles published information on the physiological ability and activity of beta-phenyl-isopropylamine, or amphetamine. It was eventually patented in 1933 and marketed as the Benzedrine Inhaler, which was filled with 325 milligrams of an oily amphetamine base and nearly nothing else. From this time period and for another fifteen years, they were sold as over-the-counter remedies and widely praised for their effects. It became so popular, in fact, that the U.S. military adopted 5 milligram tablets for their aviators and placed them in emergency kits and general medical supply during World War II. Because of the heavy emotional toll the war took on so many soldiers and their families, amphetamines were also considered a hopeful remedy for depression. Overall pharmaceutical sales of the substance were astronomical, with civilian use ranging somewhere near 55 million tablets per month. The widespread use and ease of availability and affordability of amphetamines quickly led to dependency. Many soldiers that medicated with it during their service to stay alert or reduce their need for sleep returned home addicted. In 1945, psychiatrists Hyman Drell and Russell Monroe experienced erratic and dangerous behavior among prisoners at the war institution where they were stationed. Many individuals seemed to be experiencing hallucinations, and many acted oddly agitated or otherwise ill-tempered. A survey at the time revealed that a quarter of the inmates were ingesting the contents of the Benzedrine Inhalers, and with it 250 milligrams of amphetamine base. A small percentage of the inmates had begun doing this before their imprisonment, and others used amphetamines for non-medical purposes. The gradual distrust of the drug came to a head in the 1960’s, as many began to question its side effects and detrimental health effects over a course of prolonged use. During this decade, evidence began to emerge that it was truly addictive rather than simply habituating much like caffeine. Even before this, at the end of the 1950’s, tricyclic antidepressants and the monoamine oxidase inhibitor were considered by psychiatrists to be a superior alternative to amphetamines for the treatment of depression. Although the medical community became wisely wary of the drug and it was eventually moved to Schedule II, allowing federal empowerment against its use, the addiction and illegal distribution of amphetamines only worsened. From the addiction crisis of the 1960’s until today, they continue to be a persistent danger to individual health and law enforcement alike.

The effects of any drug vary from person to person. The amount consumed, continuity of the habit and how often they use it are also mitigating factors. The overall health, weight, and any other medications being taken at the time or alcohol consumption can also worsen a drug’s potency. Depending on how the drug is taken, the effects can be felt immediately via smoking or injecting or within 30 minutes if swallowed or snorted. Low to moderate doses can cause a variety of symptoms such as increased confidence and motivation, repetition of simple acts, paranoia, and increased libido. It can also make it difficult to sleep and increase breathing rate, chest pain, and stomach irritation if swallowed. Higher doses are more dangerous, and can cause a person to overdose depending on a variety of factors. Taking more can cause tremors, blurred vision, loss of coordination, and irregular breathing. In more serious cases, a rapid heartbeat, violent or aggressive behavior, hallucinations, or even stroke or coma can be side effects. Higher doses and frequent heavy use can also bring about what is known as an amphetamine psychosis. This is characterized by the violent behavior, odd hallucinations, and paranoid delusions. These effects usually dissipate within a few days of ceasing the use of amphetamines. However, simply stopping cold turkey has its detriments as well. Coming down from use can cause restlessness, anxiety, tension, lethargy, and radical mood swings.

Long term effects of amphetamine use can be very serious and may require hospitalization at a later time. Malnutrition due to loss of appetite and chronic sleeping problems are forefront, as well as reduced immunity to infection because of lack of sleep and cracked teeth or other dental problems, often attributed to clenching of the jaw or grinding. High blood pressure puts an increased amount of pressure on the heart and can raise the possibility of heart attack or other cardiac concerns quite a bit. Increased strain on the kidneys can lead to failure, and muscle rigidity can cause damage overtime. A loss of the ability to concentrate and poor memory are also long term implications, possibly destroying productivity at work or school and leading to dropping out or loss of employment.

Amphetamine related psychiatric disorders are commonly confused with those caused by medical, neurological, organic, or psychological etiologies. The DSM-IV-TR outlines criteria that differentiates conditional specifics between the two. Evaluating family and individual patient history is often the method of determining risk factors. Developmental, psychiatric, and substance abuse history are a few aspects studied. Recent history is the most important factor of all, and is established by asking a few different questions. When the amphetamine use began, how often it is used and how much is taken, and whether the individual is currently intoxicated or in withdrawals from the substance are a few. Asking whether or not the individual has increased their intake of amphetamines is also important. Any traces of psychiatric disorders in the family line, including addiction, could contribute as well.

Clinically significant maladaptive psychological or behavioral changes developed during or shortly after the individual used amphetamines or a related substance make up the DSM-IV-TR’s definition of intoxication. Changes in sociability, interpersonal sensitivity, hypervigilance, and anxiety or anger are a few of the signs. Impaired judgment and occupational functioning are listed as well. Tachycardia or bradycardia, perspiration or chills, psychomotor agitation or retardation, and disorientation including seizures or dystonias not related to a general medical condition or mental disorder can be related. The presence of two or more of these symptoms is a clear sign of amphetamine intoxication. The DSM-IV-TR’s criteria for withdrawal includes fatigue, increased appetite, and vivid or unpleasant dreams. A thorough mental status examination needs to be performed, with an emphasis on delusions, suicidal or homicidal thoughts or tendencies, memory, judgment, and hallucinations specifically.

In summary, amphetamines are very addictive and dangerous. They can cause a myriad of physical detriments, from simple anxiety to severe cardiac issues or even death. Prolonged use can have a heavy negative effect on cognitive function or even appearance, as the loss or damage of teeth is a common result. Those addicted are on a slippery slope. As they become more dependent on the substance and require more to achieve their desired result, the health risks and social or occupational downfalls are simply waiting to occur. They can very easily sabotage their own efforts for betterment and their chances for an eventual productive and healthful future. Legal ramifications for such an addiction are very serious. The gateway mindset only opens more doors to more dangerous states of physical and mental wellbeing.


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