The Parents Guide to Dealing with Amphetamine and Your Teen

The Parents Guide to Dealing with Amphetamine and Your Teen

Like opioid abuse and misuse, amphetamine abuse has become a significant challenge facing teens and adults across the nation. Prescription stimulants such as Adderall, drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and illegal amphetamines such as methamphetamine and ecstasy are highly addictive and potentially dangerous when used recreationally. Understanding more about how these medications and drugs work within the body helps parents recognize the signs and symptoms of addiction so they can get help for their teams as early as possible. Research has shown that early and comprehensive addiction treatment at a teen treatment facility like Hillcrest is the most successful means for attaining sobriety and long-term recovery.

What are Amphetamines?

While opioids and benzodiazepines are drugs that work to depress or slow the activity of the central nervous system, amphetamines act as central nervous system stimulants. This means using amphetamines results in an increase in certain types of brain activity. This results in feelings of higher energy, increased focus, and elevated confidence.  Amphetamine use elicit feelings of euphoria depending on the frequency and the amount of dose taken. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research at the University of Maryland, amphetamine has been around since the late 1800s; however, its stimulant properties were not discovered until over one hundred years later, when it was first used to treat symptoms of nasal congestion.

Today, amphetamines are used to treat a variety of conditions. Most notably, they remain a frequently prescribed drug for the treatment of hyperactivity in adolescents and teens (including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and in the treatment of narcolepsy. On occasion, mental health professionals and members of the medical community may prescribe amphetamines to treat depression.

What are the Common Types of Amphetamine?

Several prescription medicines contain amphetamine or its two active components. The most well-known include Adderall, Dexedrine, and various generic ADHD medications.


Adderall is a prescription medication used primarily in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in narcolepsy. For teens (and adults) with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder oh) this particular stimulant drug has been proven to enhance attention, focus, and alertness. Adderall is comprised of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It is considered a successful therapeutic intervention when used appropriately; however, it has received significant negative attention due to high incidences of misuse and abuse. Unfortunately, Adderall has high abuse potential and increased potential for addiction. Those who use it long term may find it difficult to quit due to physical changes in the brain caused by the drug.


Dexedrine is another form of stimulant-type drug used to treat behavioral disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The action of Dexedrine in the body is similar to that of cocaine but longer-lasting. For this reason, it is frequently misused and abused both due to the euphoric high it can create and for the energy and confidence-boosting effects it has on the individual. Dexedrine is made from dextroamphetamine, one of the two active components of amphetamine. It is more potent than amphetamine itself. Dexedrine is commonly abused as a “study drug” by teens as it can help keep them awake and alert when needed.

Recognizing the Signs & Symptoms of Amphetamine Abuse

Amphetamines are abused in various ways. Many people take the drug in pill form and experience a high. However, some people crush the pills and snort them, resulting in the faster onset of a more intense high. One of the quickest ways to experience a high from amphetamines is to crush the pills, dissolve them in water, and inject the liquid. This method results in an almost immediate and intense high.

Teens often misuse amphetamines as a study aid. They believe that the high levels of energy and focus that result from taking the drug can help them increase their performance levels in school, especially on tests and exams. Despite this misguided belief, a recent article in TIME discusses the results from a study that indicate amphetamines do not improve performance and, in some cases, significantly decrease academic performance levels.

Results from a 2015 study conducted by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health reported nearly five million people in the United States abused prescription amphetamine medications within the last year. If your teen is struggling with amphetamine abuse, you may notice various physical and emotional symptoms in addition to behavioral changes. Physical changes may include dental problems, skin sores, increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, appetite changes, digestive issues, and changes in sleeping patterns. You may notice particular mood and emotional changes, including mood swings, aggression, increased paranoia, and new or worsening anxiety. When your teen is addicted to amphetamines, they may engage in behaviors that are not normal for them. For example, they may begin to struggle academically or fail classes. They may also steal pills from someone or take pills from their prescription to sell to others to make money to buy more amphetamines. They may also experience visual and auditory hallucinations. These psychotic symptoms can sometimes last for months or years after someone has stopped taking amphetamines. Depending on their addiction’s duration and severity coupled with the severity of changes to the brain, some people may experience spontaneous recurrence of psychosis years later. Last but likely not least, they may begin to lose interest in people and activities they once enjoyed and significantly change their social circles.

Dangers of Chronic Amphetamine Abuse

As previously mentioned, amphetamines are highly addictive. Due to the ways the drug interacts with the body, it can cause physical and functional changes in the brain. Specifically, amphetamines can alter the brain’s pleasure response. It works within the brain to destroy the pleasure receptors and decrease the body’s ability to feel pleasure, naturally, without the use of the drug. As this destruction continues, one’s ability to experience and enjoy pleasure when they are not “high” on amphetamines becomes nearly impossible. When not using the drug, an addicted teen may feel depressed and even suicidal. Consequently, drug-seeking behavior and cravings to continue using become overwhelming.

Along with dangerous short term side effects, long-term amphetamine abuse can result in irreversible physical effects on the body. Even as a teenager, amphetamine abuse can lead to a risk of cardiovascular difficulties, including heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. As previously mentioned, amphetamine use can destroy the grey matter in the brain along with the dopamine receptors (pleasure receptors). This drastically changes the way the brain functions and affects your teen’s ability to stop using without help and comprehensive addiction treatment at a teen addiction treatment center like The Hills.

Amphetamines and Polydrug Abuse

Many teens (and adults) who misuse amphetamines engage in the practice of polydrug abuse. This is because of the misguided perception that other drugs enhance the effects of amphetamine. Alcohol and marijuana are two of the most commonly used; however, sedatives such as heroin are also used. This is sometimes referred to as “stripping the gears.” Amphetamines produce an intense high and significant increase in energy, yet alcohol, heroin, and marijuana are sedatives that produce the opposite effect. The effects of this practice can have detrimental impacts on the body, especially the brain and cardiovascular system. Also, polydrug use adds an additional level of complication to the detox and recovery process.

Treating Amphetamine Abuse and Addiction

Due to the changes amphetamines produce in the brain, treatment for amphetamine addiction can be difficult. Sometimes, severe depression and loss of pleasure that occur as one reduces and eventually stops taking the drug can be a significant challenge when trying to avoid relapse. Despite the challenges, several evidence-based therapies have been used successfully as part of a comprehensive treatment program to treat amphetamine addiction. The goal of therapy is to help your teen understand and adjust their behaviors based on their unique triggers and circumstances that drive them to use.

Some of the most commonly used therapies include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). These therapies can occur in individual and group settings, depending on what works best for your teen. Other beneficial elements of addiction treatment include family counseling, addiction education, and participation in peer support groups such as 12-step programs. Family participation is essential to helping your teen maintain ongoing sobriety and recovery. Once treatment is complete, and they return home, there will be moments when they need additional support and guidance. Ensuring family members understand the roots of addiction and how triggers can result in relapse can ensure that, with the help of their loved ones, your teen can better manage triggering situations and events.

Many teens are first introduced to amphetamines for legitimate medical reasons. Amphetamines are frequently used to treat adolescent and teen mental health conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. In some cases, using amphetamines for this reason can, over time, lead to misuse and abuse. If you are concerned about your teen’s use of prescription amphetamines (or illegally obtained “street drugs” containing amphetamine), it is essential to get help. The longer your teen struggles with amphetamine addiction, the harder it will be to defeat their addiction and maintain sobriety and recovery.

Working with a skilled treatment team such as that here at Hillcrest can enhance your teen’s chances of moving beyond addiction. Our individually designed, evidence-based treatment programs are each uniquely designed with your teen’s specific treatment needs and goals in mind. The path to sobriety from amphetamine addiction is not easy, but with the guidance and support of the team at Hillcrest, your teen can start their journey towards a future free from the hold of amphetamine abuse. Don’t let addiction control your teen for another day; reach out to Hillcrest today to learn more about how our treatment plans can help.