As recently as 2012, officials in Pakistan were calling ephedrine the “poor man’s cocaine,” though other experts argued against such a distinction. Why has it earned this reputation? Probably because it can be abused and, sadly, has an addictive quality to it. This is unfortunate because it is a useful medicine in many circumstances.
However, if you or someone you love is taking this medicine, it’s worth understanding your addiction risk. It may help you stop addiction from developing or inspire you to get the help that you need.
What Is Ephedrine?
Ephedrine is a drug developed from the evergreen shrub ephedra. This plant has been used in Chinese medicines for over 60,000 years and ephedrine is the active ingredient. WebMD defines it as being beneficial to those who struggle with breathing concerns caused by asthma and other problems. Currently, ephedrine can be purchased over the counter without a prescription.
Ephedrine is a stimulant and a decongestant that can also be used as a method of controlling weight loss, helping with quitting tobacco, boosting athletic performance, and helping promote menstruation in women. Its use can sometimes trigger false positives when testing for amphetamines, even if you aren’t abusing it. Overuse of it can cause a variety of serious health risks.
The New York Office Of Alcoholism And Substance Abuse Services defines the adverse effects of abusing ephedrine as including:
- Memory loss
- Heart problems
- Heart attacks
As a result, it’s important to regularly moderate your use of ephedrine. Even if you aren’t abusing it to get high, it is possible to overdose by taking more than the recommended amount. It’s also possible to develop a tolerance to the substance and, later on, an addiction.
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Is It Addictive?
As mentioned above, ephedrine is definitely an addictive substance. However, it isn’t immediately addictive and addiction builds up slowly over time. People who abuse it are more likely to get addicted, but even regularly using it properly could lead to addiction over a prolonged period of months. This is why it is often phased out of many people’s treatments and replaced with other substances.
Though tolerance to ephedrine is slow-acting, it can still develop into a severe dependency. The person who becomes addicted will then need to take ephedrine regularly to feel normal. Stopping the medicine will result in severe withdrawal symptoms. AddictionLibrary.org defines these symptoms as including:
- Seizures and tremors
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach irritation
Any substance that causes withdrawal symptoms is addictive. People coming off of ephedrine have claimed that it is nearly as difficult to beat as cocaine and that it causes symptoms similar to, but not quite as severe, as heroin addiction. As a result, you need to know how to avoid abusing this substance and why people do.
How And Why Is It Abused?
DrugAbuse.org defines addiction as “…a chronic, relapsing brain disease that is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and use, despite harmful consequences. It is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain; they change its structure and how it works. These brain changes can be long-lasting and can lead to many harmful, often self-destructive, behaviors.”
However, abuse is not exactly the same thing as addiction. People who abuse ephedrine often do it for their own personal reasons, thinking that they are gaining something positive. For example, we already mentioned the way that it is used to boost athletic performance. As it isn’t yet tested for presence by many major sporting groups, it is often abused to give athletes an extra edge.
Truck drivers are perhaps the most common abuses of ephedrine, due to its stimulating factor. Reuters magazine reported that about 12 percent of all truck drivers used some form of a stimulant on the job. They use it to stay awake during long drives in order to get to their destination more quickly. On a similar note, college students abuse ephedrine to get an energy boost to study for their finals.
Another group uses ephedrine to lose weight, without realizing it is addictive and potentially dangerous. The Daily Mail reported on a 46-year-old British woman who becomes addicted to ephedrine when using it to lose weight. Her four-year addiction so heavily impacted her health that it caused a severe heart condition that cut her life expectancy to a mere 10 additional years from diagnosis.
Beyond these groups of people are those who use ephedrine simply to get high. Its stimulating effect is often overpowering and can cause a great deal of excitement. It can also trigger temporary psychosis, a condition many thrill-seekers may crave. As a result, they are swallowing, snorting, and injecting ephedrine in order to get high, thinking it’s non-addictive because it can be purchased so easily. That is, most definitely, not the case.
What Symptoms Are There Of Addiction?
While abuse of ephedrine is often a symptom of addiction, addiction to the substance isn’t always the case with abuse. Addiction, as defined above, requires a mental and physical need for a substance. It meets a very specific set of circumstances. Of course, abuse of ephedrine is problematic and needs to be stopped.
If you or your loved one are abusing ephedrine, you can diagnose a true addiction by looking for any of the following behavioral and physical health symptoms: withdrawal; obsessive thoughts about the substance; depression, especially associated with an inability to get ephedrine; shaking hands; hypertension; anxiety; migraines; hallucinations; liver damage; and coma.
Spotting these symptoms can give you the inspiration to check into a treatment center today. Thankfully, a growing group of addiction treatment centers are beginning to understand ephedrine addiction and are learning how to treat it effectively. This means you don’t have to be alone in your fight to regain sobriety.
How Is It Treated?
Ephedrine addiction treatment is similar to other methods but is complicated if the person who is addicted was using it for medical purposes. Simply taking somebody off of ephedrine may cause breathing problems to return (were this the original reason for use), which could trigger a dangerous attack. As a result, they must be weaned off of it and onto a different medicine.
This requires slowly decreasing dosage to avoid withdrawal and replacing it with another substance. As long as that medicine isn’t addictive, it should be safe to use. Once ephedrine has been carefully withdrawn from the body and its medical effects have taken over, the most difficult part of the whole process begins.
Addiction treatment for ephedrine typically takes over 30-60 days and focuses on educating people on the dangers of ephedrine and its effects on the body. This includes discussing the nature of addiction, showing pictures of the damage ephedrine causes, and discussing alternative coping methods. It also requires an understanding of trigger situations and how to avoid relapse.
Since ephedrine is rarely connected with mental health disorders, co-occurring disorder treatment is usually not required. However, if ephedrine use caused a person to develop some form of mental health disorder, or if it exacerbated a preexisting condition, it may be necessary. Often, this goes hand-in-hand with physical health treatments that are designed to get the body back into shape after addiction.
Your Health Is Important
The dangerous addictive nature of ephedrine, combined with its easy-to-obtain state, makes for a particularly problematic addiction. The exact rate of addiction is unknown, but it’s safe to say that many unsuspecting people likely suffer from it. If you are one of them, please contact us at Vertava Health today to get the help you need to recover.