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  • Writer's pictureDr. D

Speed - slowing things down

Today I’m writing about helping the person addicted to stimulant drugs. Or helping them help themselves. These drugs include things like amphetamines (for example Adderall® and Ritalin®) as well as drugs off the street like methamphetamine, also sold by prescription as desoxyn.®

We'll lump them altogether and just call them all speed.

As a reminder, we call these drugs speed because that’s what it does to the person. They get “speeded up.” They don’t sleep.

They don’t eat.

They may have “compulsive behaviors.” That is, they seem to have no control over some of the things they do. It could be things like scratching their skin until it bleeds. Or they may gamble constantly or engage in sex acts non-stop and don't seem to be able to quit. It's like they can't help themselves.

From a medical standpoint, the person on speed may be a physical mess. Maybe their teeth are falling out and their gums are diseased.

Their blood pressure can go so high that they have strokes or heart attacks.

If a blood vessel in the abdomen pops because their blood pressure goes so high it can kill off organs like the stomach and intestines.

In pregnancy, blood pressure can go so high that it causes the placenta to shave off from the uterus. This can cause the mother to bleed to the point of dying. At the same time, the unborn may have strokes while in the uterus or die from the lack of oxygen, among other things.

Why would you keep using it?

It may be hard to understand why anybody would keep using something like speed if what I said about it is true.

But you also have to consider that drugs have an up side to them, or people wouldn’t use them. Early on, people use their drug because it's fun doing it.

This is before someone is really addicted to any substance legal or illegal.

People feel good when they use their drugs, at least, for a while. Maybe they have more energy, like with speed. Or maybe they can relax, like with marijuana or sometimes with alcohol.

In other words they help people feel like they want to feel.

The problem is, once you're addicted to something, the good feelings get replaced by increasingly bad ones. But now you feel terrible if you're without your


Maybe you’re shaky and vomiting if you don’t use.

Maybe you just can’t feel good at all if you don’t have the drug in your system. A lot of addicted people tell me they don’t even enjoy their drug anymore. It’s just that they feel so bad without them that they keep going.

So it can so be scary to know you’re going to feel so much worse before you can feel better again, that sometimes people don't even try.

Helping the speed user early on

Here I mean the person who wants to quit, but either doesn’t know how or is afraid to try.

I’m not going to talk about interventions, where people who care about the addicted person swoop in and carry them off to an in patient treatment program.

Interventions can be extremely helpful.

But the problem around here is that there is no place to take someone after you’ve confronted them about using and they agree to go into a hospital for help.

And that’s a problem in a lot of other places in our country.

If you have access to a regular treatment program, use it. Call them ahead of time. Get suggestions for how to get the person in for help.

But if you don’t have something like that, you can still help.

However - safety first – for you and for the person who is trying to quit. People addicted to speed can be paranoid, threatening and dangerous.

Addiction to any drug, and maybe more so with speed, changes people. It changes their brain chemistry, which can then change their behavior to an unbelievable degree.

Even the most warm and wonderful person in the world, if they become addicted to speed, can be capable of violence.

Don’t assume that once they get through a few days without speed that their behavior will all calm down and they’ll be fine, either. It can take much longer.

And safety for the addicted person. Speed uses up most or all of the brain chemicals that help us feel good. And it can take a while for the chemicals to return to normal.

If they return to normal. That’s not guaranteed.

And depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide can be a very real danger for the person hooked on speed. If the person talks about feeling hopeless and suicidal, or if you’re just worried, you can call the suicide hotline - 988. Someone will answer.

It’s always reasonable to ask for professional help if the addicted person is willing to see someone. There aren’t any medications for speed addiction like there are for heroin addiction.

But sometimes something to help with sleep, or decrease paranoia, or relieve the depression can be a very good thing.

What will it look like...

…when the person first stops using for a few days?

They’ll be constantly tired and want to sleep. But if they do sleep, it will be restless. They’ll also have dreams. And “using dreams” are especially hard to deal with. These are dreams where the addicted person dreams that they’re back to their using days.

These dreams can be so real that some people feel like they’ve relapsed.

They will probably want to eat. But they can be so out of the habit that it’s hard to do that. Plus they may have damaged some of their digestive system with the drug use, making it even more difficult.

Or if their teeth are really bad, it might be painful to try to eat.

Irritability goes hand in hand with speed, both using it and quitting it. Plus, intense craving for the drug makes this worse. And it can last for a long time. Maybe months or even more.

Another thing that happens, and it seems weird, is that people who have used speed heavily have memory problems.

Since we use some kinds of speed to treat attention deficit disorder (ADD) you’d think that this would be about the only good thing that came out of their using days.

But this isn’t the case. Speed causes damage to a number of parts of the brain, and memory and the ability to learn new things are often part of that.

Set a routine and keep busy

The steps in recovering from speed addiction are very much like they are for overcoming other addictions. There are some differences too, though.

Anyone who has been addicted to alcohol or any other drug will tell you that craving to use their drug of choice can be quite intense. It may be hard to think of anything else.

But for people addicted to speed, craving seems to be the very worst. It can be helpful to have a lot of things to distract yourself or the person you're trying to help.

1. Go to twelve step meetings: this is helpful no matter what you’re addicted to. Just being around people in recovery shows that it is possible to overcome an addiction

2. Set a routine: And follow it. Being addicted to anything changes how people act on a day to day basis. Maybe your day usually starts out with using.

- When an addiction has really taken over somebody's life, days are centered

around using, recovering from, and getting more of the drug.

-Establishing regular times to eat, to sleep, to exercise can help the addicted

person to focus on something other than their drug.

3. Try watching TV, listening to the radio, or reading. But if you can't focus enough to be successful at this, get up and move.

- Make a list of things that you've given up doing because of your drug habit. Take one of these things and start doing it again.

- if you're able to be vigorous and work up a sweat with some kind of exercise and you're physically safe to do it, do it! It's hard to think about using when you're out of breath.

-Find things that can distract you, to keep your attention

for longer periods of time.

4. Don't spend much time alone. Relapse is always a possibility, but the earlier in the process of stopping the person is, the higher the likelihood. Be around people who will discourage you from using.

- Time alone can be time to be in your head, thinking about using, craving to use,

and an opportunity to start again.

5. Keep trying: There's no question this is hard - maybe the hardest thing you'll ever do. But many people have been successful, and you can be too.

Illustration of man racing by @CanStockPhoto Inc/KenBenner

Illustration of ecstatic man by @CanStockPhoto Inc/Morphart

Image of man under noose by @CanStockPhoto Inc/Vlada13

Illustration of writing a list by @CanStockPhoto Inc/Happy pictures


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