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Ephedrine addiction: definition, causes, symptoms, and treatment

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Ephedrine addiction: definition, causes, symptoms, and treatment

Ephedrine addiction is defined as the prolonged consumption of the stimulant medication, ephedrine, in abnormal quantities. It is a versatile drug that is commonly used to treat several medical issues, including low blood pressure, bronchitis, asthma, menstrual pain, narcolepsy, and urinary issues. 

Apart from these uses, ephedrine can also serve as a concentration aid and appetite suppressant. It stimulates the brain, increases metabolism, heart rate, and blood pressure. It is, however, due to these very effects that ephedrine is a commonly abused drug, especially by weightlifters, bodybuilders, and other athletes. 

Asthma medications such as Bronkaid and Primatene are formulated with ephedrine. The causes of ephedrine addiction include genetics, chemical imbalance in the brain, its perceived benefits, and ease of access to the substance. Symptoms of Bronkaid abuse may also manifest in physical and psychological ways, such as nausea, dizziness, irritability, vomiting, and hallucinations. 

Treatment for ephedrine addiction mainly involves pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic measures. 

What are the causes of Ephedrine addiction?

ephedrine addiction

The causes of ephedrine addiction are genetics, chemical imbalance in the brain, the perceived benefits of the medication, and environmental factors such as ease of access to the substance and growing up in an environment where substance use is rampant. 

Genetics has long been known to play a role in addiction. Individuals who have blood relatives who struggle with substance dependency problems are more likely to eventually develop an addiction to ephedrine. Regular use of the medication can also cause the brain to produce or transmit less dopamine, which is a pleasure-inducing brain chemical. Low dopamine levels due to the absence of ephedrine in the system can result in a chemical imbalance in the brain, causing uncomfortable ephedrine withdrawal symptoms and strong cravings. 

Athletes are the ones who are at the highest risk of abusing ephedrine for its perceived benefits, such as muscle strength, increased energy, and stamina, as well as fat loss. Failure to realize the harmful effects of excessive ephedrine use eventually leads to addiction. Ephedrine is also one of the most abused over-the-counter medications. This easier access to the drug is another contributory factor to its abuse. 

Lastly, growing up in an environment where the use of substances such as drugs and alcohol is rampant also makes an individual more likely to find themselves trapped in the vicious cycle of addiction as well.

What are the symptoms of Ephedrine addiction?

Bronkaid addiction can have physical, psychological, and behavioral effects that may significantly affect all aspects of a person’s life. The effects of ephedrine addiction include muscle tenderness, memory loss, aggressive behaviors, pulmonary damage, difficulty concentrating, seizures, cognitive deficits, and sexual dysfunction, among several others. 

Similarly, the effects of the disorder may also resemble the signs that indicate stimulant medication abuse. The symptoms of ephedrine addiction are listed below.

1. Nausea

Nausea is a symptom of ephedrine abuse or withdrawal. It is often accompanied by the need to vomit, and at times comes with a sense of vertigo. Taking substances in excess amounts or without following prescription guidance can result in this uneasy sensation. 

2. Vomiting

Vomiting is another unpleasant experience that occurs in people who have developed a dependence following prolonged ephedrine use. It is also one of the ephedrine withdrawal symptoms and does not resemble a normal symptom that people usually have during a cold or common flu. Vomiting could be mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the duration in which one has abused the substance.

3. Headache

Evidence exists that the most frequent cause of a periodic headache transforming into a chronic daily headache is substance abuse. The problem may also arise when over-the-counter agents such as ephedrine are abused. Chronic headache occurs with the gradual escalation in amounts of medication consumed by the afflicted person.

4. Dizziness

Dizziness is linked to substance abuse or addiction, in particular, both as a sign of ephedrine addiction and withdrawal. As one of the symptoms of addiction, dizziness is experienced when a person takes more or less of the drug of their choice. 

5. Irritability

Irritability is one symptom that results from the consumption of stimulant medications such as ephedrine. A person who experiences irritability may easily get agitated, frustrated, and upset. Irritability is more commonly considered as a part of ephedra withdrawal, which happens when the effects of the drug wear off.

6. Nervousness

Ephedrine abuse often causes symptoms that resemble anxiety, such as agitation, fear, lack of sleep, and nervousness. While some people who engage in addictive behaviors around ephedrine may use the medication to ease their nervousness, the relief it offers is only temporary. After the effects of the drug wear off, nervousness typically comes back worse.

7. Hypertension

Medications that contain ephedrine such as Bronkaid and Primatene may increase blood pressure. Therefore, Bronkaid or Primatene tablets abuse can cause hypertension and a fast heart rate. 

8. Hallucinations

Drug-induced hallucinations frequently stem from taking too much of a certain medication that the excess amounts in an individual’s system provoke a psychotic episode. Hallucinations that directly result from substance abuse are also called drug-induced psychosis or stimulant psychosis.

How is Ephedrine addiction diagnosed?

Ephedrine addiction is diagnosed by using the diagnostic criteria for stimulant use disorder as described in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Some of these criteria include taking more stimulants than intended, showing increased tolerance to the substance, being unable to quit stimulant use, and demonstrating withdrawal symptoms in the absence of stimulants. 

All in all, the DSM-5 lists 11 clinical features and symptoms for diagnosing stimulant use disorder. Individuals with at least two symptoms within 12 months will receive a stimulant use disorder diagnosis, or in this case, an ephedrine addiction.

Who can become addicted to Ephedrine?

person addicted to ephedrine

Both males and females can become addicted to ephedrine. However, evidence exists that females are more susceptible to the rewarding effects of stimulants in general. That said, women also have more motivators than men for stimulant use. 

For instance, women report using stimulants such as ephedrine due to its energy-increasing ability, which they need for work, child and home care, and other family responsibilities. Weight loss is another reason for stimulant use that is more often reported by women than by men. 

Female stimulant users also tend to start using the substance at an earlier age than men. Lastly, women who use ephedrine have high rates of co-occurring depression. 

When should we seek treatment for Ephedrine addiction?

Seek treatment if you think you are having problems with ephedrine use. The topic may be something that feels embarrassing to you, but remember that doctors or mental health professionals are trained to provide care and empathy, not judge you.

It is ideal to identify an early issue with substance use before it becomes a full-blown addiction and results in adverse health effects. It is also worth noting that it is imperative for an individual who has exhibited at least two symptoms of ephedrine abuse within 12 months to seek treatment for ephedrine addiction. 

What are the withdrawal symptoms of Ephedrine addiction?

Ephedrine addiction withdrawal symptoms

Once you find yourself asking “How many Primatene tablets to get high?”, it indicates that you have already developed tolerance to the medication. This means that your body has gotten so used to the substance that you need more of it to experience the same desired effects. 

And once a person notices the red flag that their substance abuse is becoming worse, they may realize the need to quit. Ironically, however, things will get much worse at this point, as the absence of the substance makes it harder and even painful for a person to function. This worse feeling is called withdrawal. The withdrawal symptoms of ephedrine addiction are listed below. 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Irritability
  • Dizziness
  • Involuntary shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Decreased energy and mood