People who abuse stimulants like Dexedrine should become involved in an organized treatment program that includes the use of medications, therapy, and support group participation.
When individuals begin to lose control over their use of the drug, suffer difficulties with their everyday lives, and/or experience significant distress associated with Dexedrine use, they are on the road to developing a stimulant use disorder.
Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) is classified as a central nervous system stimulant medication. It can be used to treat:
- Various forms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Lethargy associated with neurological damage (from a head injury or stroke)
- Narcolepsy (a sleep disorder that consists of significant daytime sleepiness)
It may be used to reduce fatigue in people who are diagnosed with other types of illnesses or diseases, such as HIV, or those on chemotherapy.
Controlled Substance Status
Dexedrine and all products containing dextroamphetamine are categorized in the Schedule II classification of controlled substances. Substances placed in this classification by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) retain some useful medical uses, but they are extremely dangerous drugs if they are abused.
These drugs can only be used with a written prescription from a physician.
How Does Dexedrine Work?
Central nervous system stimulants affect several different neurotransmitter systems of the brain, which are often referred to as catecholamines. These neurotransmitters include dopamine, norepinephrine, forms of glutamate, and serotonin.
Medications like Dexedrine facilitate the release and action of these neurotransmitters. In effect, these neurotransmitters stimulate the rest of the central nervous system and result in increased firing rates of neurons.
How is Dexedrine Abused?
Medicines containing dextroamphetamine are typically available in pill or capsule form. People who abuse the drug can take the pills orally, but they often grind them up and either snort them or mix them with water and inject the solution.
In some instances, individuals may smoke the ground-up drug. In other cases, individuals may directly insert the pills or capsules into their rectum (a practice known as plugging).
Ground up pills are used for snorting, injecting, or smoking and results in faster and more efficient delivery of the drug into the central nervous system. Plugging also leads to more efficient delivery of the drug into the body.
Effects and Side Effects of Dexedrine
When taken medicinally, the effects of Dexedrine may include the following:
- Increased attention, alertness, and concentration
- Increased energy
- Appetite loss
- A feeling of euphoria or increased well-being
The following are some of the other side effects that occur:
- Anxiety, irritability, and increased aggression
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, rapid heartbeat, chest pains, and an increase in blood pressure
- Difficulty sleeping, restlessness, and/or insomnia
- Blurred vision, dry mouth, and/or increased thirst
- Diarrhea or constipation
- Reduced blood flow to the extremities (peripheral vasculopathy)
- Shakiness, tremors, and tics that are similar to those associated with Tourette’s syndrome
Most of the above side effects are relatively rare for individuals who use Dexedrine for medical reasons. They will very often resolve over time.
People who abuse the drug are more likely to experience more significant side effects for prolonged time periods.
People who chronically abuse amphetamines like Dexedrine may develop some long-term issues.
- Chronic issues with high blood pressure, heartbeat irregularities, and an increased potential for stroke or heart attack
- Potential liver or kidney damage
- Neurological problems, such as the development of tremors, problems with movement, or even seizures
- Problems with cognition as a result of changes in the brain, such as difficulties with reasoning, memory, and attention or concentration
- Psychotic-like symptoms that can include suspiciousness, hallucinations, delusions, and paranoid behaviors
- Rapid tolerance to the drug followed later by potential physical dependence (withdrawal symptoms)
Medical Use vs. Abuse
When Dexedrine is given medicinally, the prescribing physician attempts to find the lowest possible dose that will result in the desired medical effects.
Stimulant medications are not used for the long-term treatment of issues under most situations. Some exceptions to this include their use for the treatment of ADHD or significant lethargy in individuals with certain types of neurological conditions.
Even in children treated with dextroamphetamine for ADHD, physicians will often try to give them extended drug holidays, so their bodies can readjust to life without the medication.
People who abuse stimulants develop tolerance to their effects very quickly. When they abuse the stimulant, they tend to binge on the substance until it is gone.
This practice often results in a cycle of bingeing followed by abstinence, which leads to massive neurotransmitter release (during the bingeing cycle) followed by a massive neurotransmitter depletion (during the abstinent periods).
Individuals will become habituated to the euphoria-producing effects of the stimulant over time, and they will become sensitized to the crash that occurs when they are absent from the drug. Eventually, they will seek out the drug to avoid the apathy, depression, anxiety, and irritability that occur when they are not using it. This can lead to an extended cycle of abuse.
Some specific signs of Dexedrine abuse can include:
- Frequently using the drug without a prescription
- Attempting to get multiple prescriptions from different doctors for Dexedrine products
- Regularly mixing Dexedrine with other drugs like alcohol, other stimulants, or central nervous system depressants like opioids or benzodiazepines
- Regularly attempting to get Dexedrine illegally, such as buying or borrowing it from friends, purchasing it illegally from other sources, or stealing the drug
- Finding prescription bottles of Dexedrine in someone’s room, car, or clothes
- Experiencing issues at work, in relationships, at school, or in other valuable areas of life due to drug use
Diagnostic Signs of Stimulant Abuse
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has formalized diagnostic criteria for a stimulant use disorder, the substance use disorder that would be diagnosed in a person with chronic Dexedrine abuse. Only professional licensed clinicians can diagnose a substance use disorder in anyone.
In general, there are several categories of symptoms that are covered in the diagnostic criteria.
- The person frequently demonstrates a problem controlling their use of the stimulant. This can occur in several different contexts.
- The person continues to use the stimulant even though their use of the substance results in significant problems in important areas of their life.
- The person experiences significant urges to use the stimulant (cravings).
- The person gives up meaningful activities or personal responsibilities in favor of using the stimulant.
- The person demonstrates tolerance to the stimulant.
- The person develops a withdrawal syndrome that occurs when they stop using the drug.
In addition, the person uses the stimulant medication for nonmedical reasons, and their use of the drug results in significant impairment or distress in life.
People who develop stimulant use disorders have developed a serious psychological disorder that requires some form of professional intervention.
There is the possibility that when a person attempts to quit using Dexedrine, they will experience withdrawal symptoms that may result in relapse. According to APA, withdrawal symptoms from stimulants will often include fatigue, sleep difficulties, recent appetite increase and weight gain, increased body temperature, higher blood pressure, and heartbeat irregularities. Some individuals may experience mood swings, including significant issues with depression.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), the first step is to be evaluated by an addiction medicine physician or psychiatrist and enroll in a medication-assisted treatment program (a physician-assisted medical detox program) to relieve withdrawal symptoms.
Even though there is no official medication that is used to treat withdrawal from Dexedrine, a physician will prescribe medications that will make a withdrawal from the drug easier to manage and allow people to focus on their recovery.
Important Aspects of Recovery
According to NIDA, in addition to medical detox, individuals should also:
- Be thoroughly evaluated to identify all areas that need to be addressed during recovery
- Have a treatment plan created based on the above assessment
- Have any co-occurring psychological disorders addressed along with their stimulant use disorder
- Continue with medication-assisted treatment as needed
- Enroll in behavioral interventions, such as therapy, peer support groups (12-step groups or others), and complementary and alternative treatments, such as music therapy, art therapy, and so forth
Length of Time in Treatment
There is a direct relationship between the length of time a person remains in treatment for any substance use disorder, including a stimulant use disorder as a result of Dexedrine abuse, and their overall success in recovery. The research indicates that people remaining in treatment-related activities and programs for longer periods of time have greater rates of long-term abstinence and overall success in recovery.
Treatment for a stimulant use disorder as a result of abusing Dexedrine should not be considered a short-term process. Most individuals require a significant amount of time in treatment — in many cases, years in treatment — to reduce the risk of relapse.
People need to continue to practice abstinence, get support from others and remain focused on their recovery to achieve success.
Relapse Isn’t the End
NIDA reports that, per the current understanding of recovery from substance abuse, relapse does not indicate failure. Occasional slips and full-blown relapses are more common in recovery from all substance use disorders than many people think.
Relapses should be treated as learning experiences and opportunities to improve the treatment program. This lets individuals move forward instead of catastrophizing the situation and reverting back to old habits.