Amphetamine abuse and addiction is a serious and growing public health issue throughout the United States. Addiction inevitably leads to rising health costs, lost productivity, broken families, and progressively declining quality of life for drug users. Medical science has yet to formulate a satisfactory answer to this problem. Rehabilitating users is clearly one of the primary objectives, but there are numerous stumbling blocks along the way. Typical users deny the seriousness of their addiction unless and until dire consequences arise. Withdrawal effects from amphetamine are profound, and recovering addicts experience relapse at alarmingly high rates. The current best practices for addiction treatment include supportive individual therapy, group therapy, and profound lifestyle changes. In severe cases of withdrawal, anti-anxiety medications are often prescribed to ease feelings of fear and discomfort.
Ironically, amphetamines serve a therapeutic purpose in the treatment of both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), Adderall (dextroamphetamine and amphetamine), and Ritalin (methylphenidate) are the three primary stimulant drugs prescribed for these purposes. Recently, a nonstimulant medication, Strattera (atomoxetine) has received attention both as an alternative treatment for ADHD and as a possible therapy for recovering amphetamine addicts. Researchers in Connecticut discovered that Strattera, when taken over the course of several days, actually suppresses the effects of Dexedrine. Participants in a study group pretreated with Strattera reported fewer positive drug feelings when given a single dose of Dexedrine. Similarly, blood plasma levels showed fewer chemical markers of the heightened mood state typically associated with Dexedrine and other amphetamines.
The mechanics of amphetamine addiction are still something of a mystery. Researchers know that several chemicals in the brain are important to building and maintaining a state of dependence. Dopamine is one of these chemicals, and it plays a major role in the so-called “reward system.” Norepinephrine is thought to be responsible for the feelings of energy and euphoria experienced by users. Effective pharmaceutical interventions will need to disrupt some of the patterns that amphetamines establish within the brain. The most recent experiments have shown that norepinephrine is at least as important as dopamine in generating the stimulating physical and psychological effects of amphetamines. By altering the levels of norepinephrine with Strattera, the positive drug feelings of Dexedrine are greatly reduced.
- PubMed Health [Internet]. (n.d.). Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine. Atomoxetine. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000222/
- PubMed Health [Internet]. (n.d.). Bethesda (MD): National Library of Medicine. Dextroamphetamine. Retrieved April 18, 2012, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0000310/
- Sofuoglu, M., Hill, K., Kosten, T., Poling, J. (2009). Atomoxetine attenuates dextroamphetamine effects in humans. American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 35(6), 412-416.
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