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A Parent’s Guide: Understanding Amphetamine Use in Teens

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

“I found my teenager is taking speed: now what?”

As a parent, it can be terrifying to discover that your teen is taking amphetamines without your knowledge, and it’s crucial to be informed about the risks and realities of amphetamine use, Adderall misuse, and prescription drug abuse among teenagers. 

At Evolve, we specialize in teen and adolescent care. This guide aims to provide comprehensive insights into the world of amphetamines and their impact on teens. From understanding what amphetamines are to recognizing the signs of misuse and supporting recovery, this guide is an essential resource for parents navigating these challenges.

What Are Amphetamines?

Amphetamines are a class of stimulant drugs that affect the central nervous system. Originally developed for medical purposes, they are often used to treat conditions like neurodiversity and ADHD, as well as narcolepsy. However, their ability to increase energy, concentration, and alertness has led to widespread misuse, particularly among teenagers.

Types of Amphetamines

How do you know if the drugs your teen is taking are amphetamines? The amphetamine family includes several substances, like:

  1. Amphetamine Sulfate: A stimulant drug used primarily in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.
  2. Dextroamphetamine: A potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant used in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy, known for its higher potency compared to other amphetamines.
  3. Methamphetamine: A highly addictive stimulant that affects the central nervous system, commonly known as meth and used both medically and illicitly.
  4. Adderall: A prescription medication containing a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, used primarily to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.
  5. Phentermine: A prescription drug used as an appetite suppressant for short-term management of obesity, often in combination with topiramate.
  6. MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly): A psychoactive drug primarily used for recreational purposes, known for its euphoric effects and associated with the party scene.
  7. Ephedrine: A medication and stimulant often used to prevent low blood pressure during spinal anesthesia and also found in various weight loss and energy supplements.
  8. Methylphenidate: A central nervous system stimulant commonly used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, known under brand names like Ritalin.
  9. Fenethylline: A psychoactive drug formerly used as a stimulant and cognitive enhancer, known for its combination of amphetamine and theophylline.

Understanding Amphetamine Use in Teens

Teen amphetamine use can vary from prescribed medications like Adderall for ADHD to illicit use of drugs like methamphetamine. Parents should be aware of both legitimate medical use and the potential for misuse, which often goes unnoticed until significant symptoms or behavioral changes occur.

Why Teens Turn to Amphetamines

Teens may use amphetamines for a variety of reasons, ranging from academic pressure to recreational use and peer influence. Understanding these motivations is crucial for addressing the issue effectively. Here are some common reasons teens might use amphetamines:

  1. Academic Performance: Teens may use amphetamines, such as those prescribed for ADHD (like Adderall), to improve focus and concentration, thereby enhancing their academic performance or coping with heavy workloads.
  2. Peer Pressure and Social Influence: Teenagers are often highly influenced by their peers. The desire to fit in or succumbing to peer pressure can lead them to experiment with amphetamines.
  3. Recreational Use and Experimentation: The euphoric and energizing effects of amphetamines can attract teens looking for a recreational high or those curious about experimenting with different substances.
  4. Athletic Performance: Some teens might use amphetamines to enhance their athletic performance, due to their stimulating effects.
  5. Weight Loss: Amphetamines suppress appetite, so some teens might use them as a means for weight loss or to manage body image issues.
  6. Self-Medication: Teens struggling with mental health issues like depression, anxiety, or ADHD might use amphetamines to self-medicate, especially if these conditions are undiagnosed or untreated.
  7. Stress and Coping Mechanism: Facing academic, social, and familial pressures, some teens might turn to amphetamines as a way to cope with stress or escape from problems.
  8. Accessibility: If there are prescriptions for amphetamines in the household, or if they are easily accessible through peers, teens might be more inclined to use them.
  9. Lack of Awareness of Risks: Teens might not be fully aware of the potential risks and long-term consequences of amphetamine use, leading them to underestimate the dangers associated with these drugs.
  10. Rebellion or Risk-Taking Behavior: Adolescence is a time of exploring identity and independence, which can include engaging in risky or rebellious behaviors, such as drug use.
Using Drugs: Signs and Symptoms

Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms

Parents ask us all the time, “How to know if my child is taking Adderall?” Identifying whether your child is taking Adderall, especially if it’s not prescribed, involves a combination of observing physical signs, behavioral changes, and other indicators. Here are some key things to look out for:

  1. Behavioral Changes: Noticeable changes in behavior, such as increased alertness, excessive talkativeness, decreased appetite, or unusual levels of energy, can be signs of Adderall use.
  2. Physical Signs: Physical symptoms might include dry mouth, dilated pupils, weight loss due to reduced appetite, insomnia, or restlessness.
  3. Mood Changes: Look for mood swings, irritability, anxiety, or euphoria, as these can be associated with stimulant use.
  4. Academic Performance: A sudden improvement in grades or focus on schoolwork could be a sign, though this can also be a result of natural development or other factors.
  5. Social Changes: Changes in friendships or social circles, especially if they start spending time with known drug users, can be a red flag.
  6. Secretive Behavior: If your child becomes secretive or defensive about their activities or possessions, it could indicate something is amiss.
  7. Physical Evidence: Finding pills, unfamiliar prescription bottles, or drug paraphernalia among their belongings.
  8. Health Complaints: Complaints of headaches, stomach issues, or feeling jittery or ‘on edge’ can be side effects of Adderall use.
  9. Withdrawal Symptoms: Signs of fatigue, depression, or irritability when they haven’t taken the drug, which could indicate dependence.

Alternative Names for Amphetamines

Still unsure about whether your teen is using? Amphetamines go by various names, making them sometimes hard to identify. Keep an eye and an ear out for the following names:

  • Speed
  • Uppers
  • Adderall (a brand name)
  • Dexedrine (a brand name)
  • Methamphetamine (commonly referred to as meth)
  • Crystal
  • Ice
  • Shabu
  • Crank
  • Go-fast
  • Beans
  • Black beauties
  • Pep pills
  • Wake-ups
  • Crossroads
  • Hearts
  • Truck drivers
  • Bennies
  • Red birds
  • Christmas trees

The Risks and Dangers Involved

Teenagers using or abusing amphetamines face various risks, including addiction, altered brain development, and increased likelihood of engaging in risky behaviors. Misuse can also lead to severe health issues, like heart problems and neurological damage, and exacerbate underlying mental health conditions.

The Short-Term & Long-Term Effects of Amphetamine Use 

Amphetamine use, whether for medical purposes like treating ADHD or through illicit use, can have a range of short-term and long-term effects on the body and mind. It’s important to distinguish between prescribed therapeutic use and misuse or abuse, as the latter can lead to more severe and dangerous effects.

Short-Term Effects 

Increased Alertness and Energy: Amphetamines can boost energy levels and alertness, which is why they are used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.

Euphoria: The release of dopamine can lead to feelings of pleasure and euphoria, particularly at higher doses.

Improved Concentration: Users often experience improved focus and concentration.

Appetite Suppression: Amphetamines are known to decrease appetite, which can lead to weight loss.

Increased Heart Rate and Blood Pressure: They can cause cardiovascular effects such as elevated heart rate and blood pressure.

Insomnia: The stimulating effects can lead to difficulties in falling asleep.

Anxiety and Paranoia: High doses or sensitive individuals may experience increased anxiety, restlessness, or even paranoia.

Long-Term Effects 

Dependency and Addiction: Prolonged use can lead to physical and psychological dependency, and addiction.

Cardiovascular Damage: Chronic use can lead to increased risk of heart disease, hypertension, and heart attacks.

Mental Health Issues: Long-term use can exacerbate or trigger mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and psychosis.

Cognitive Impairment: Over time, amphetamine abuse can impair cognitive functions and memory.

Weight Loss and Malnutrition: Chronic appetite suppression can lead to significant weight loss and nutritional deficiencies.

Sleep Disorders: Persistent insomnia can develop, disrupting normal sleep patterns.

Neurological Damage: Extended use at high doses can potentially cause long-term neurological damage.

Tolerance: Users may need increasingly larger doses to achieve the same effects, leading to heightened risks of adverse effects.

Preventing Amphetamine Use in Teens

Prevention of drug use involves open communication about the dangers of amphetamines, monitoring prescription drugs for teens, and fostering an environment where teens feel supported. Educating teens about the risks and encouraging healthy stress management techniques are also crucial.

If you suspect your teen is using amphetamines, it’s important to approach this situation sensitively. Accusing your child of drug use can harm your relationship and may not be accurate. If you suspect your child is using Adderall or any other substance, it’s best to talk to them openly and non-judgmentally. Consider also consulting with a healthcare professional for guidance and potential drug testing if necessary. Remember, there could be other explanations for these signs, and professional input is crucial in such scenarios.

Supporting Your Teen in Recovery

If you’ve found out that your teen is using amphetamines illegally, or misusing a prescription, it’s crucial to take action. 

First, supporting a teen in recovery from amphetamine drug abuse involves understanding, patience, and ensuring they have access to appropriate amphetamine treatment like therapy, medication for speed withdrawal symptoms, Adderall neurotoxicity treatment, and more. It also helps to create a stable, supportive home environment. Here’s a step-by-step guide to handling the situation:

Step 1: Educate Yourself

Understand what amphetamines are, their effects, risks, and why teens might be drawn to them. Familiarize yourself with the physical, behavioral, and psychological signs of amphetamine misuse.

Step 2: Approach Your Teen Calmly and Supportively

Find a private, quiet time to talk, ensuring there are no distractions. Approach the conversation with calmness and concern, not anger. Express your love and worry rather than accusation or blame.

Step 3: Listen to Your Teen

Ask open-ended questions and listen to their reasons for using. Understanding their perspective is crucial. Respond without judging or shaming, as this can shut down communication.

Step 4: Educate and Discuss Risks

Share information about the risks and long-term effects of amphetamine misuse in an age-appropriate manner. Talk about peer influence and strategies for handling it.

Step 5: Seek Professional Help

Schedule an appointment with a doctor or addiction specialist to assess your teen’s health and discuss treatment options. Engage in family therapy or individual counseling for your teen to address underlying issues and provide support. If your teen needs treatment, reach out to us and our admissions team will walk you through every step of the process.

Step 6: Set Boundaries and Monitor Behavior

Set clear, consistent rules regarding drug use and its consequences. Stay involved in your teen’s life, knowing their friends, whereabouts, and online activities.

Step 7: Support Healthy Alternatives and Coping Strategies

Promote involvement in sports, hobbies, or other interests that provide natural highs and stress relief. Help your teen develop healthy coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, or peer pressure.

Step 8: Be Supportive and Patient

Offer continuous emotional support. Let them know you’re there for them, no matter what. Remember: recovery and behavior change take time. Be patient and recognize small progress.

Step 9: Take Care of Yourself

Consider joining support groups for parents or seeking counseling to manage your own emotions and stress.

Step 10: Prevent Relapse

Work with your teen and their healthcare provider to create a plan for avoiding relapse. Continue to educate yourself and stay actively involved in your teen’s recovery journey.

Remember, every situation is unique, and what works for one family may not work for another. It’s important to remain flexible, understanding, and supportive throughout this process.

Help Your Teen Recover From Amphetamine Abuse 

Evolve offers substance abuse treatment for teens recovering from amphetamine abuse. Our approach includes individual therapy, family counseling, and a focus on building healthy life skills. If your teen is struggling with amphetamine use, contact Evolve for comprehensive and compassionate care. Together, we can support your teen on their journey to recovery and a healthier, drug-free life.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Amphetamine Use in Teens 

Why are amphetamines sometimes prescribed for teenagers?

Amphetamines are prescribed for teenagers primarily to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as they help increase focus and control impulsive behaviors. They can also be used for narcolepsy to help regulate sleep patterns.

How do teenagers typically obtain amphetamines?

Teenagers typically obtain amphetamines through prescriptions for conditions like ADHD, but they can also acquire them illicitly from peers, dealers, or by misusing a family member’s prescription.

What health risks are associated with amphetamine use in teens?

Health risks of amphetamine use in teens include cardiovascular problems, increased risk of mental health disorders, potential for addiction, and adverse effects on brain development. Long-term misuse can lead to severe physical and psychological issues.

Is it common for teenagers to misuse prescription amphetamines?

Unfortunately, it is relatively common for teenagers to misuse prescription amphetamines, often due to misconceptions about their safety, peer pressure, or to enhance academic performance.

How can parents distinguish between recreational use and a medical prescription?

Parents can distinguish between recreational use and a medical prescription by monitoring the dosage and refills of prescribed medications and looking for signs of misuse, like behavioral changes or medication disappearing faster than expected.

What should I do if I suspect my teenager is using amphetamines?

If you suspect your teenager is using amphetamines, have an open and honest conversation about the risks and your concerns, and consult a healthcare professional for guidance and potential evaluation.

Can amphetamine use lead to addiction in teens?

Yes, amphetamine use can lead to addiction in teens, as these drugs have a high potential for dependency, especially when used recreationally or in higher doses than prescribed.

What are the potential legal consequences of amphetamine use for teenagers?

The legal consequences for teenagers using amphetamines illegally can include criminal charges, juvenile detention, or mandatory participation in drug rehabilitation programs, depending on the jurisdiction.

How can I talk to my teenager about the risks of amphetamine use?

When talking to your teenager about the risks of amphetamine use, be clear, factual, and non-judgmental, focusing on the health risks and potential impact on their future.

Are there any support resources available for parents dealing with this issue?

Yes, there are numerous support resources available for parents, including counseling services, addiction specialists, online forums, and organizations dedicated to helping families deal with substance abuse.

Can amphetamine use in teens affect their academic performance?

Amphetamine use in teens can negatively affect academic performance over time, despite initial perceived improvements in focus, due to health issues, dependency, and altered brain function.

Are there specific risk factors that make some teens more susceptible to amphetamine use?

Risk factors making teens more susceptible to amphetamine use include having ADHD or other mental health disorders, exposure to family substance abuse, peer pressure, and high-stress environments.

What treatment options are available for teenagers struggling with amphetamine addiction?

Treatment options for teenagers struggling with amphetamine addiction include behavioral therapy, family counseling, outpatient or inpatient treatment programs, and support groups.

How can I help my teenager prevent amphetamine use?

Help your teenager prevent amphetamine use by educating them about the risks, fostering open communication, monitoring their activities, and being involved in their lives to recognize any concerning changes.

Are there any alternatives to amphetamines for treating conditions like ADHD in teens?

Alternatives to amphetamines for treating ADHD in teens include non-stimulant ADHD medications, behavioral therapy, lifestyle changes, and, in some cases, dietary adjustments.

What are the differences between amphetamines and other stimulant drugs?

The differences lie in their chemical structures, the intensity of their effects, potential for abuse, and the specific conditions they are used to treat.

How can I recognize if my teenager is experiencing withdrawal symptoms?

You can recognize amphetamine withdrawal symptoms in your teenager by symptoms like fatigue, changes in sleep patterns, increased appetite, mood swings, and depressive symptoms.

Is there a link between amphetamine use and risky behaviors in teenagers?

There is a link between amphetamine use and risky behaviors in teenagers, as the drug can lead to impaired judgment, increased impulsivity, and a higher likelihood of engaging in dangerous activities.

Can amphetamine use have an impact on a teenager’s social relationships and family dynamics?

Amphetamine use can significantly impact a teenager’s social relationships and family dynamics, often leading to increased conflicts, isolation from family members, and changes in friend groups.

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