Amphetamines are a group of stimulant drugs and medications capable of creating serious changes in the normal function of both the brain and body. Habitual users of these substances can get addicted to their effects over time. Through a funding partnership with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, researchers from the University of Michigan track the rate of amphetamine abuse among U.S. teens each year. In 2013, the rates for amphetamine abuse stopped falling among younger teenagers and rose slightly among older teenagers.
What Are Amphetamines?
Like cocaine and other stimulants, amphetamines produce their drug or medication effects by sharply increasing the baseline rate of cell activity inside the brain and spinal cord. Unlike cocaine, amphetamines are made entirely from synthetically produced materials. In addition to amphetamine itself, substances that belong to the larger amphetamine family include dextroamphetamine and the well-known drug of abuse methamphetamine. Medications including these substances are used to treat legitimate health problems such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the involuntary sleep-related disorder narcolepsy and a severe form of obesity called morbid obesity.
Amphetamine abusers develop risks for addiction when they repeatedly use one or more amphetamine-based substances over time. With recurring exposure, the brain can adapt to effects of these substance so thoroughly that it reacts badly when amphetamine intake stops or rapidly declines. Doctors try to control the risks for amphetamine addiction by limiting the circumstances in which they prescribe these medications and by monitoring the ongoing responses of the patients who receive them. Amphetamine abusers sidestep these precautions by either taking legitimately prescribed medications in ways that violate a doctor’s guidelines or by taking medications without a prescription.
Past Trends in Amphetamine Use
The project used by the University of Michigan to track teen amphetamine abuse (as well as the use and abuse of a wide array of other substances) is called Monitoring the Future. Each year, researchers gather the data for this project from a representative group of teenagers from three grades (8th, 10th and 12th grade) at schools throughout the U.S. Although methamphetamine is technically an amphetamine, Monitoring the Future tracks the figures on methamphetamine abuse separately from the figures on amphetamine abuse. The amphetamine abuse category also partially overlaps with a separately maintained category for the abuse of Adderall, an ADHD medication containing both amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.
The results gathered from Monitoring the Future in 2012 indicate that 5.6 percent of all American 8th, 10th and 12th graders abused an amphetamine at least once over the course of the year. Twelfth graders recorded the highest rate of abuse at 7.9 percent, while 8th graders recorded the lowest rate of abuse at 2.9 percent. Tenth graders recorded a 6.6 percent rate of amphetamine abuse in 2012. Use among all three grades fell by a statistically insignificant amount when compared to the rates for 2011.
Current Trends in Teen Amphetamine Use
In 2013, 8.7 percent of all U.S. 12th graders abused some form of amphetamine on at least one occasion; this figure represents a rise of 0.8 percent over the 2012 abuse rate. Slightly less than 6 percent (5.9 percent) of all 10th graders abused amphetamines at least once; this figure represents a decline of 0.6 percent from the 2012 abuse rate. Among 8th graders, the amphetamine abuse rate in 2013 was 2.6 percent, which represents a 0.3 percent reduction of the 2012 rate. The University of Michigan researchers who conduct Monitoring the Future do not consider any of these changes to be large enough to reach a level of statistical importance.
On the whole, amphetamine abuse among 12th graders has been rising slowly since about 2009. The University of Michigan researchers attribute this relatively small bump in abuse cases, at least in part, to the increasing popularity of Adderall as a “study drug” among high school seniors. Prior to 2012 and 2013, the amphetamine abuse rates for 8th and 10th graders had been falling fairly substantially for about 10 years; the 2012 and 2013 figures appear to mark at least a temporary end to this trend. The authors of the Monitoring the Future year-end report note that the questions used to probe amphetamine abuse were changed slightly for some of the students participating in the survey in 2013. They believe that the changeover to a new question format may have altered the figures for teen amphetamine intake in minor ways.