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Amphetamine Abuse: Who is at Risk?

By Jon McKenna
Medically Reviewed by Arpan Parikh, MD, MBA on July 12, 2021
People dealing with mental health issues at the same time that they are taking a prescription have a greater chance of becoming addicted to amphetamines.

If you or a family member takes prescription amphetamines to treat a condition such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy, it's necessary to do so with caution. The risks of amphetamine abuse and even addiction are substantial. 

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), when taken correctly, prescription stimulants like dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination product (Adderall), and methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) increase your alertness, attention, and energy. But in the 2019 National Survey of Drug Use and Health, 9.7 million Americans said they misused stimulants in the last year. Another two million people admitted misuse of methamphetamine, a powerful and highly addictive stimulant.

Risk Factors for Amphetamine Abuse

Steven Powell, MD, chief medical officer at PursueCare in Connecticut, tells WebMD Connect to Care that not many underlying medical factors are linked to a higher risk of abusing amphetamines, other than perhaps reliance on cigarettes or alcohol. The connection is more pronounced with mental health factors, Powell says.

“Some of the biggest factors are when you combine psychiatric issues like depression or anxiety with a condition that has you needing to take amphetamines,” Powell says. “Other people turn to amphetamines because they have poor support or coping mechanisms. They don’t deal with stress well.”

It is difficult to point to behaviors and personality types that raise the risk of amphetamine misuse or addiction when so many different kinds of people are prescribed stimulants as children, Joelene Knight, CADC-CAS, an addiction specialist and board member at the Awakening Recovery treatment center in Los Angeles, tells WebMD Connect to Care.

“As they get older, there is a transition from prescribed use to abuse, even though these are often high-functioning people,” Knight says.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse agrees that behavioral factors are key in someone turning from a legitimate prescription to abuse of prescription amphetamines. That’s why various kinds of behavioral therapy—to modify your expectations for a rush and help deal with stress—are effective in treating people with stimulant addictions, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 

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