Amphetamine and methamphetamine (meth) are both stimulant drugs with similar chemical structures, effects, and health risks. Each drug produces a euphoric high, though meth is more potent and lasts longer than amphetamine. As such, meth has a higher potential for addiction and abuse than amphetamine.
What is Amphetamine?
Amphetamines belong to a class of drugs known as central nervous system (CNS) stimulants, which have psychoactive properties.
Amphetamine is produced legally in the United States as a medication indicated to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, Parkinson’s disease, and, in some cases, obesity.
For individuals with ADHD, amphetamine improves their ability to focus and control impulses. If an individual without ADHD takes amphetamine, it results in an energized, euphoric high.
Some medications that contain amphetamine include the following:
Short-term amphetamine use may result in:
- Suppressed appetite
- Increased energy and talkativeness
- Increased libido
- Rapid breathing
- Elevated body temperature and blood pressure
Long-term amphetamine use may result in dizziness, fatigue and muscle weakness, skin/complexion problems, difficulty breathing, gastric ulcers, malnourishment, psychomotor tics, impaired coordination, tachycardia, and mental health disorders
Chronic, excessive use of amphetamine can also lead to heart problems, convulsions, coma, and death.
What Is Methamphetamine?
On the street, methamphetamine is more commonly known as “meth,” “crystal” or “crystal meth,” “glass,” or “ice.” Meth has a limited medical use but is primarily produced illicitly and consumed recreationally. Indeed, the only legal, medicinal version of meth is an ADHD medication called Desoxyn.
Short-term effects of meth are like those produced by amphetamine, and may include:
- Suppressed appetite
- Increased energy and talkativeness
- Bruxism (excessive jaw clenching and teeth grinding)
- Profuse sweating
- Increased body temperature, blood pressure, and libido
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Hostility and paranoia
Excessive short-term meth abuse may induce seizures or sudden death.
Long-term meth use may result in anxiety and paranoia, dental degradations, hypertension, cardiac infections, organ damage/failure, heart attack, stroke, and brain damage.
Likewise, long-term meth use can cause an individual to become emotionally dysregulated, violent, suicidal, or even homicidal.
Amphetamine vs Methamphetamine: A Comparison
Higher amounts of meth end up in the brain than amphetamine when ingested in comparable doses because meth appreciably crosses the blood-brain barrier, inducing a stronger euphoric reaction.
Indeed, this action makes meth more chemically enticing and is the primary reason why meth is the more potent and addictive of the two. Amphetamine and meth both affect the production and reuptake of a few neurotransmitters in the brain associated with energy levels, executive function, mood regulation, and feelings of reward.
The euphoria induced by both substances is primarily the result of dramatically increased concentrations of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Despite both drugs elevating dopamine concentrations, clinical research indicates that, in similar doses, meth produces a greater amount of dopamine. In fact, one study found that meth was as much as five times more potent than amphetamine. This is another reason why meth proves to be more addictive than amphetamine.
Because meth use results in greater stimulation of the CNS, it also creates more stress than amphetamine. However, amphetamine has been shown to stimulate the peripheral nervous system and cardiovascular system more than meth.
Given amphetamine’s comparably lesser potency and potential for addiction, clinicians are much more willing to prescribe amphetamine vs. methamphetamine for ADHD. For ADHD treatment, meth is generally only prescribed when patients don’t respond well to amphetamine-based approaches.
The prescription versions of these substances, particularly amphetamine, are routinely utilized as performance-enhancing drugs due to their energizing and motivating effects. Athletes, students, high-stress professionals, and individuals working long hours, such as nurses or truck drivers, have all been known to abuse these stimulants to get an edge on their competition or ward off fatigue.
The pill form for either substance may be swallowed orally, but may also be crushed and snorted, smoked, or dissolved in water then injected intravenously. Meth is most readily available in its illicitly-produced, crystal form, and as such, it is most often smoked through a glass pipe, while amphetamine is most often taken orally as a pill or crushed and snorted.
Both drugs are often used in binge patterns, meaning that large quantities are consumed repeatedly for hours or days. Particularly bad binges may turn into “runs,” in which a person in the throes of a binge continues getting high for several days, taking the drug every couple of hours throughout that time. During a run, an individual may neglect eating or sleeping, and may even begin to “tweak,” which is a state of heightened irritability, anxiety, and paranoia.
Following a binge, a person’s body and brain crash. A crashing individual often becomes very fatigued, anxious, and depressed. Because a crash is so unpleasant, a person may re-engage in the binging cycle to alleviate side effects. Unsurprisingly, binging either drug skyrockets the likelihood of an overdose.
Long-term, chronic abuse of either substance may lead the user into a psychosis that resembles schizophrenia. This psychosis is characterized by delusions, hallucinations, and sometimes paranoia, as well as meth’s hallmark symptom tactile hallucinations (feelings of bugs crawling on the skin.)
If a user becomes chemically dependent on either substance, they will experience a variety of unpleasant withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to quit or cut back.
Some of the withdrawal symptoms are:
- Increased appetite
- Intense drug cravings
- Head and body aches
- Difficulty concentrating
- Anxiety and agitation
- Depression and mood swings
- Sleep disturbances and insomnia
Individuals suffering severe withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit amphetamine or meth may require the support of a residential treatment program. A supervised medical detox ensures that the patient is safe and is as comfortable as possible while experiencing withdrawal symptoms, and is effectively prevented from relapsing.
Getting Treatment for Amphetamine or Methamphetamine Addiction
Amphetamine and methamphetamine addictions can rapidly destroy a person’s life. As abuse accelerates, a person’s mental and physical health will suffer. Without professional help, these adverse effects could continue to the point of overdose.
Treatment gives a person’s mind and body the opportunity to heal, emotionally and physically. Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications for these types of addictions, but this does not mean that these addictions cannot be treated using a comprehensive, evidence-based approach.
Persons who suffer from an addiction to amphetamines, meth, other drugs, or alcohol should first undergo a medical detox, followed closely by a transition to inpatient rehab treatment. Our center offers behavioral therapy, counseling, and group support, which is providing by caring staff who specialize in the treatment of addiction and mental health conditions.
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If you or your loved one is suffering from substance abuse, please seek help as soon as possible.