Can Amphetamine Abuse Cause Schizophrenia

black and white image of woman struggling with schizophrenia

Amphetamine abuse is a serious problem in the United States. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, over five million Americans are abusing prescription amphetamines alone. (1) That does not take into account the millions more Americans who are abusing black market amphetamine compounds like crystal meth and counterfeit and smuggled prescription stimulants. The opioid epidemic has become more complex as pharmacies and doctors tighten the rules for controlled substances and track prescriptions with state databases. Many people addicted to prescription meds they can no longer get are turning to street drugs. The decline in the availability of prescription opioids has led to an increase in heroin use and consequently Fentanyl overdoses. Some believe the same may be happening among some people who were dependent on prescription amphetamines, particularly those more prone to abuse like Ritalin and Adderall.

It’s no secret that amphetamine abuse takes a serious toll on human health. The physical effects alone can be devastating.

Side effects may include:

  • Chest pain
  • Heart failure
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Emaciation and malnutrition
  • Coma
  • Death

As a powerful central nervous system stimulant, all forms of amphetamines when abused can lead to serious psychiatric symptoms and lasting brain damage. The idea that amphetamine abuse can directly cause schizophrenia has been around for a while and is based largely on misunderstandings. While amphetamine abuse cannot directly cause schizophrenia, it absolutely can create amphetamine-induced psychosis, which can have similar symptoms to paranoid schizophrenia and other forms. (2) It is also true that amphetamine abuse is notorious for exasperating existing mental illness. Depression, anxiety, eating disorders and many other psychological conditions are made markedly more severe by amphetamine abuse. A person with a biological predisposition to psychotic states or schizophrenia can easily be pushed over the edge into acute symptoms requiring hospitalization or worse. Even individuals who have never exhibited or been diagnosed with any psychiatric condition before can experience these intense symptoms as a result of amphetamine abuse.

The way in which amphetamines function in the brain is not fully understood yet. We do know that they directly affect dopamine’s function in the brain and this is part of why they are sometimes prescribed for people with Attention Deficit Disorder. The problem is the mechanism of action can also create euphoria and dependence. The abuse potential of amphetamines has been known for almost as long as they have been on the market. The first synthesized amphetamine was Benzedrine, and it wasn’t long before soldiers during World War 2 discovered how addictive it could be.

In conclusion, remember that just because amphetamine is prescribed, that does not make it safe to abuse. Abuse of any conventional amphetamine can produce all of the side effects listed above and more. You should also be aware that if you have any sort of predisposition towards mental illness and particularly psychotic episodes, you are at even more risk of serious consequences from amphetamine abuse. If you know you’re addicted or someone you care about is, pick up the phone and call us or at least jump on a chat. There are people who can help you end the suffering and let you begin a new chapter of your life free of drugs and alcohol.

 

Sources

(1) https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2018/04/five-million-american-adults-misusing-prescription-stimulants
(2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3554477/

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