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Amphetamines vs. Methamphetamine

Amphetamines are typically prescribed to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or narcolepsy, while methamphetamine is most often found as an illegal street drug made in an illicit laboratory.

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Meth and amphetamines alike are highly addictive with a host of dangerous side effects. Amphetamines should only be taken as directed by a medical professional, while meth should be avoided completely.

What is the difference between meth and amphetamines?

Quick Answer

Amphetamines are typically prescribed to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or narcolepsy, while methamphetamine is most often found as an illegal street drug made in an illicit laboratory.

What Is an Amphetamine?

Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulant medications that increase the amount of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine that are present in the brain. This can serve to increase energy, wakefulness, focus, alertness, and concentration while depressing appetite.[4] 

Prescription Amphetamine Drugs 

In 2021, more than 4% of people with commercial health insurance had a prescription for a stimulant drug. Some people had more than one prescription.[1] 

Common prescription amphetamine drugs include the following:[4]

  • Adderall: This combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine is commonly used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Adderall abuse is sometimes linked to high-pressure environments (like colleges). 
  • Dexedrine: This prescription version of dextroamphetamine is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. 
  • Ritalin/Concerta: Both of these medications contain methylphenidate. It can be used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. 

Benefits of Amphetamines 

Researchers say people with ADHD have a lower quality of life, along with cognitive and emotional problems.[2] Medications in the amphetamine class can help. 

Common benefits associated with amphetamines include the following:[4,5]

  • Reduced fidgeting 
  • Increased focus
  • Increased wakefulness
  • Improved concentration 
  • Appetite suppression 

Amphetamine Interactions 

Be sure to talk to your doctor about any medications or supplements you take before starting an amphetamine medication. Amphetamines can interfere with the following types of medications:[11,12]

  • MAO inhibitors: Amphetamine medications should not be used with MAO inhibitors, as this can cause a potentially fatal drug interaction. Other drugs that raise your blood pressure and heart rate can be dangerous to take when taking amphetamines.
  • MDMA: Methamphetamine and amphetamine both increase serotonin levels in the brain. Taking either of these with other medications that also perform this action, such as an antidepressant or ecstasy (MDMA), can cause the potentially fatal serotonin syndrome. 
  • Depressants: Using a depressant with meth, such as an opioid, alcohol, or a benzodiazepine, can mask the effects of each drug, increasing the risk for overdose and the potential rate of addiction.

What Is Methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine is a dangerous drug that quickly crosses the blood-brain barrier to cause an intense rush of euphoria. Methamphetamine, or meth, is chemically similar to amphetamine. In rare cases, it is prescribed to treat ADHD as the brand name Desoxyn.[5] 

However, meth is mostly made in illegal laboratories and used as a street drug. Meth is available in pill, powder, and rock (crystal meth) form. It is typically smoked, injected, or snorted.

Meth is extremely addictive and increases the amount of dopamine in the brain while acting as a central nervous system stimulant.

Meth vs. Amphetamine: Comparing Stimulant Drugs 

Methamphetamine and amphetamine are both central nervous system stimulant drugs that can cause physical and psychological dependence, and both are highly addictive. But they are very different drugs.[5] 

PotencyVery highHigh
Method of useInjection, smoking, snortingOrally
Abuse potentialVery highHigh
Addiction potentialVery highVery high
LegitimacyAlmost always made illicitlyTypically prescribed

Side Effects of Meth & Amphetamines 

Since both methamphetamine and amphetamine medications are central nervous system stimulants, they can have similar potential side effects, ranging from a life-threatening overdose to drug dependence to addiction. 

Additional side effects of these drugs can include short-term health effects, such as the following:[5] 

Short-Term EffectsLong-Term Effects
Increased alertness Weight loss
Elevated breathing rateDental issues (“meth mouth”)
Rapid heart rateSores from scratching and skin issues
Decreased appetiteMemory loss
Higher blood pressure and body temperatureConfusion
Increased energy levels Anxiety
Increased wakefulnessViolent behaviors
Trouble sleeping

How Long Do Side Effects Last?

Amphetamine side effects can be split into short-term and long-term versions.[5]

The short-term effects are deeply dependent on how long meth stays in your system and how long prescription drugs do the same. Typically, these drugs pass through your body very quickly. Within hours, the side effects of intoxication fade away. 

The long-term effects can be persistent. Some people develop a months-long depression episode as their brain cells adjust to sobriety. 

Why Are Meth & Amphetamines So Addictive?

Stimulants work by increasing the amount of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Researchers say dopamine is directly responsible for the addictiveness of substances in the stimulant class. Dopamine makes drugs seem more “rewarding,” so they’re harder to quit once you’ve used them.[4]

Causes of Meth & Amphetamine Addiction 

Anyone who uses meth or amphetamines can develop an addiction. Dopamine surges do significant damage, and they can make life without drugs almost impossible. 

Other factors that could lead to addiction include the following:[5]

  • High pressure: People in stressful situations, including students and those in intense careers, may turn to prescription amphetamines like Ritalin. This can become an addiction in time. 
  • Peer pressure: Spending time with people who use amphetamines can make you do the same. 
  • Easy access: Living with people who have active amphetamine prescriptions can facilitate amphetamine experimentation. 

Meth & Amphetamine Abuse Statistics

  • Almost 7% of American adults use prescription stimulants like Adderall. About 2% misused these drugs.[6] 
  • Up to 20% of college students abuse prescription stimulants like Adderall.[7]
  • Less than 1% of Americans use methamphetamine.[8]
  • About 1.6 million people had a methamphetamine use disorder in 2021.[8]

Meth & Amphetamine Withdrawal Symptoms

Amphetamine withdrawal symptoms typically begin within a few days of quitting. They can be strong enough to prompt you to return to drug use.[9]

Common symptoms of amphetamine withdrawal include the following:[10]

  • Anxiety 
  • Cognitive impairment 
  • Confusion 
  • Depression
  • Drug cravings 
  • Fatigue
  • Hypersexuality 
  • Impaired sexual function 
  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Insomnia 
  • Loss of energy
  • Paranoia 
  • Psychological distress

The Treatment Process for Methamphetamine & Amphetamine Addiction

No medications can ease methamphetamine withdrawal or block your drug cravings. But treatment programs can help you get better.[10] 

Treatment Options 

Meth detox or amphetamine detox starts the process. Your team uses medications to control common physical and mental side effects. With support, you can get sober safely without experiencing overwhelming symptoms. 

Rehab comes next. You work with counselors to understand your relapse risks. And you develop the skills you need to move past those triggers without lapsing back into drugs. 

You can do the work on an inpatient basis, away from your triggers at home. Or you can do the work on an outpatient basis while surrounded by your family and friends. 

Treatment Timeline

Most treatment programs last for months, not weeks. No timeline works for every person all the time. 

Instead, you’ll stay in close contact with your treatment team and explain how you’re feeling at each step. Your team will help you decide how long each step will take. 

Finding Meth & Amphetamine Treatment 

If you’re hoping to find a treatment option for meth addiction, consider Boca Recovery Center. We offer medical detox, residential treatment, and outpatient options. We can help you understand which option is right for you. 

We believe in customizing your treatment rather than using a one-size-fits-all model. You’ll have a say in what’s included in your program. Contact us to find out more.

Updated September 22, 2023
  1. Danielson ML, Bohm MK, Newsome K, et al. Trends in Stimulant Prescription Fills Among Commercially Insured Children and Adults — United States, 2016–2021. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2023;72:327–332.
  2. Uneri O, Senses-Dinc G, Goker Z. The quality of life (QoL) in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. ADHD. Published September 24, 2015. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  3. Key substance use and mental health indicators in the United States: Results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Published December 2022. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  4. Prescription stimulants drug facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 2018. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  5. Drugs of abuse: A DEA resource guide. U.S. Department of Justice. Published 2017. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  6. Compton WM, Han B, Blanco C, Johnson K, Jones CM. Prevalence and correlates of prescription stimulant use, misuse, use disorders, and motivations for misuse among adults in the United States. Am J Psychiatry. 2018;175(8):741-755.
  7. Kennedy S. Raising awareness about prescription and stimulant abuse in college students through on-campus community involvement projects. J Undergrad Neurosci Educ. 2018;17(1):A50-A53.
  8. Methamphetamine research report. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published October 2019. Accessed July 3, 2023.
  9. Shoptaw SJ, Kao U, Heinzerling K, Ling W. Treatment for amphetamine withdrawal. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;2009(2):CD003021. Published 2009 Apr 15.
  10. Treatment of stimulant use disorders. SAMHSA Publication No. PEP20-06-01-001 Rockville, MD: National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2020
  11. Israel JA. Combining stimulants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors: A reexamination of the literature and a report of a new treatment combination. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2015;17(6):10.4088/PCC.15br01836. Published 2015 Dec 10.
  12. Vo K, Neafsey PJ, Lin CA. Concurrent use of amphetamine stimulants and antidepressants by undergraduate students. Patient Prefer Adherence. 2015;9:161-172. Published 2015 Jan 22.
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