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Speed: Drug Dangers and Signs of Abuse

What is Speed?

Speed is the street name for amphetamines, a type of highly addictive stimulant.

As the nickname may imply, stimulants (also known as “uppers”) are drugs that “speed” up activity in the central nervous system. Amphetamines do this by increasing levels of dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. These are chemicals that increase feelings of motivation, alertness, and well-being, respectively.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, amphetamines come from ephedra (ephedra sinica), a plant native to China and Mongolia. For centuries, this plant was used as a stimulant for treating headaches, congestion, and other maladies. The plant contains ephedrine and pseudoephedrine, medicines that can be used by criminals to manufacture both amphetamines and methamphetamine.

Taking speed, you may feel effects such as:

  • Euphoria
  • Alertness
  • More physical energy; a desire to move around
  • A sense of calm (more common in those who are taking amphetamines to treat ADHD)
  • Focus

You may also experience side effects, such as:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion
  • Aggression

Amphetamines have legitimate medical uses when it comes to treating ADHD and narcolepsy. Some evidence also shows amphetamines can be used to treat obesity. However, speed is a drug purely abused for recreation. Its highly addictive nature is the reason it is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

In this article, you’ll learn the difference between meth and speed and about addiction treatment for stimulant abuse.

What’s the Difference Between Meth and Speed?

Meth and speed are both colloquial terms for stimulant drugs. They are sometimes used interchangeably, but they refer to different substances. The key difference between the two is their chemical composition and potency.

Meth is short for methamphetamine, a powerful, highly addictive synthetic stimulant. It’s a type of amphetamine but is structurally different, containing an additional methyl group. This allows it to cross the blood-brain barrier more rapidly than amphetamine, leading to quicker onset of effects and a more intense high. This, in turn, leads to a higher chance of misuse and addiction.

Methamphetamine can be found in various forms, including a white, odorless, crystalline powder or as “crystal meth,” which looks like shards of glass or bluish-white rocks. It can be ingested by swallowing, snorting, smoking, or injecting.

Physical and mental issues that come from using meth include dental problems, skin sores, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and even death.

Speed typically refers to amphetamine, another synthetic stimulant but generally less potent than methamphetamine. Amphetamines were initially developed for medical use, such as treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, they are also used recreationally and can be found in various forms, like pills, capsules, or powder.

Speed can be ingested by swallowing, snorting, or injecting. Recreational use of amphetamines can lead to addiction, cardiovascular issues, mental health problems, and other serious health risks.

The difference between meth and speed lies in their chemical structure and potency. Between the two, methamphetamine is more potent, but that doesn’t mean the drug speed isn’t dangerous. Both substances have the potential for abuse, addiction, and serious health consequences.

If you or a loved one are addicted to stimulants, please seek addiction treatment.

Is Speed Addictive?

Speed is a highly addictive drug. Speed increases the level of dopamine circulating in the brain. It does this by increasing its dispersal and slowing its reuptake into the synapses.

Eventually, abuse of speed can lead to overly-high dopamine levels. The brain compensates for this by eliminating some of its dopamine receptors, which reduces a person’s ability to feel pleasure.

Depression and suicidal thoughts can become more likely as a result. To just feel normal, the person has to take speed in higher and higher amounts, leading to addiction.

Signs of Speed Addiction

Addiction to stimulants like speed can manifest physically, psychologically, and behaviorally.

Psychological signs of speed addiction mainly manifest as withdrawal symptoms when not using the drug, such as:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fu-like symptoms like muscle aches and fatigue
  • Cravings
  • Suicidal thoughts

Physical signs of speed addiction include, but are not limited to:

  • Faster breathing
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Decreased appetite
  • Elevated body temperature

Behavioral signs of speed addiction are:

  • The drug is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than intended.
  • Inability to cut down despite desire to stop using.
  • Inordinate amounts of time spent obtaining, taking, or recovering from the substance.
  • Giving up important activities and responsibilities to have more time to abuse speed.
  • Use in situations the individual knows are dangerous.

Keep in mind that someone does not need to display every single sign to be addicted to speed. Every person is an individual, and thus won’t present the same signs as the next person. These are just general signs to look for.

How to Find Treatment for the Drug Speed

Speed is a highly addictive drug but addiction treatment is available at South Coast Behavioral Health.

Before starting treatment you would enroll in our medical detox program in California. With medication and constant supervision provided by experts, this would enable you to manage the withdrawal symptoms while purging the drug from your system.

At South Coast, we offer gender-specific care. Depending on whether you are a man or a woman, we offer medical detox in Irvine, California, and medical detox in Huntington Beach, respectively.

After detoxing, proper speed addiction treatment can begin. Recognizing that recovery goes beyond managing withdrawal, our team of experts can also prescribe medication for ongoing cravings.

This allows our counselors the time to address issues underlying speed addiction, as well as other issues you may have. Many who are addicted to speed suffer from mental health conditions such as ADHD, depression, and other issues. This is known as a dual diagnosis, and we offer dual diagnosis therapy to help.

This combined approach can take place along several levels of care, depending on your needs:

Recovery is a long road but it begins with accepting treatment. If you have any questions, please call us at 866-881-1184. Our addiction specialists are available 24/7 to take your call.


Pierce Willans
Kelly McIntyre
Medically Reviewed by Kelly McIntyre, MS, LMFT