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Weight loss pills are available as prescriptions and over-the-counter drugs or supplements, so they aren’t exactly “illegal drugs,” however, some people also use drugs illicitly to try and lose body weight will abuse weight loss pills and even get addicted. Regardless of why you’re using weight loss pills and drugs, it’s critical to understand the adverse effects, which can be potentially deadly.

Addiction to Weight Loss Pills

Addiction to weight loss pills is something that can happen to anyone. There are a number of reasons why people may turn to weight loss pills, including wanting to lose weight quickly or feeling pressure to be thin. Weight loss pills can seem like an easy way to lose weight, but they come with a number of risks. For example, weight loss pills can cause digestive problems, heart palpitations, and anxiety. They can also be addictive and lead to eating disorders. 

Remember that weight loss pills are not a magic solution; they should be used as directed by a doctor in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise plan.

Prescription Weight Loss Drugs

Prescription weight loss pills are available, but not everyone is a candidate for these medicines.

A doctor might consider prescribing a drug for weight loss if a patient hasn’t been able to lose weight with diet and exercise. They might prescribe these drugs to patients with a body mass index (BMI) of more than 30 or someone with a BMI of more than 27, along with a serious medical problem related to obesity, like diabetes.

Doctors also consider other factors before prescribing drugs for weight loss, including someone’s full medical history, like their risk of developing heart disease or another chronic disease. They should go over all the pros and cons before providing medical advice.

These drugs aren’t for everyone—for example, pregnant and breastfeeding women shouldn’t take prescription medicines for weight loss.

Prescription weight loss pills for long-term use do, in research, lead to weight loss compared to a placebo. This is especially true when other lifestyle changes accompany medication, like diet and exercise. There may also be other health benefits, like a lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease. 

The long-term weight-loss medicines the FDA currently approves include:

  • Bupropion-naltrexone—brand name Contrave
  • Liraglutide—brand name Saxenda
  • Orlistat—brand name Xenical
  • Phentermine-topiramate—brand name Qsymia

Most prescription medicines work by reducing appetite or increasing how full users feel. Some medicines do both. The only one in the above list that works differently is orlistat. Orlistat works by interfering with and blocking the absorption of fat.

When used as prescribed, the side effects of these medicines tend to be minimal for most people. Side effects might include constipation, nausea, or diarrhea. These tend to get better over time. Some people may experience more severe side effects, which they should discuss with their health care provider. 

Particular serious side effects that may occur with these medicines include:

  • Contrave may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation. Since it contains bupropion, Contrave may cause suicidal thoughts or behaviors, especially when someone first takes it. Other risks include increased heart rate, blood pressure, liver damage, or manic episodes.
  • Saxenda’s side effects are usually gastrointestinal. Severe effects include a higher risk of acute pancreatitis and gallbladder disease.
  • Xenical’s side effects are usually stomach pain and loose stools. The medicine could also cause damage to the kidney or livers and block the absorption of some vitamins.
  • Qsymia can include dry mouth, constipation, and side effects on mental health.

As a side note, some people experience weight loss from metformin. Metformin is a diabetes medication. It can treat high blood sugar levels, and metformin side effects are minimal for most people, usually involving the gastrointestinal system.

Metformin treatment is primarily for people with type 2 diabetes. The common side effects of this treatment for type 2 diabetes include abdominal pain, upset stomach, and gastrointestinal intolerance. There is also a rare but serious potential for problems with renal function and something called lactic acidosis due to the effects of metformin.

While the risk of lactic acidosis is rare, patients with type 2 diabetes prescribed metformin by health care professionals should talk to them about this before taking it. It may require immediate medical attention if it occurs. 

Supplements for Weight Loss 

So-called diet pills available as supplements or over-the-counter can be extremely dangerous. These substances aren’t approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or regulated, but since they’re legal, there’s often an inherent misconception they’re safe.

There are a lot of ways weight-loss supplements might work. Examples include:

  • Some supplements can cut food cravings, such as fennel or bee pollen
  • Supplements like guar gum and psyllium can help you feel fuller for longer
  • Caffeine, guarana, and B vitamins may increase your metabolism
  • Green tea extract, green coffee bean extract, and similar supplements could slow the production of fat
  • Some supplements claim to prevent your body from absorbing fat cells in the foods you eat

These dietary supplements can cause a wide range of adverse events even with short-term use, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Kidney problems and renal impairment 
  • Allergic reaction 
  • Drug interactions 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Liver damage
  • Rectal bleeding

Over the years, a number of products originally sold as supplements have been banned altogether and have led to many instances of people needing emergency medical attention. 

  • For example, ephedra was banned in 2004. Ephedra is an herbal supplement, and there is evidence it can increase the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Hydroxycut was recalled and banned in 2009 because there were reports of serious effects like jaundice and hepatitis. One person taking the supplement needed a liver transplant, and another died.
  • Fenfluramine was one of two active ingredients in a drug called Fen-Phen, which was recalled in the 90s after being linked to heart damage and lung disease.

Illegal Drugs and Weight Loss

Several illegal street drugs can also cause weight loss, and prescription drugs lead to weight loss when used recreationally.

Some people inadvertently lose weight when using illicit drugs, and others use them for that purpose.

  • Adderall is an example of a prescription drug that can lead to weight loss and has the potential for recreational abuse. 
  • Adderall is a stimulant for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 
  • While it can help people with ADHD manage their symptoms, it’s also a stimulant that can reduce appetite and give someone high energy levels and a false sense of well-being. 
  • Adderall abuse is particularly common among young people and college students.

Cocaine is an illegal drug that people use to lose weight. 

  • Weight loss is also a major red flag for someone using cocaine. 
  • Cocaine is a stimulant. When someone uses it, it quickly creates a euphoric high. The drug may cause someone to feel energetic and talkative.
  • The stimulant drug is highly addictive and can be dangerous. For example, it can negatively impact the cardiovascular system and put users at greater risk of heart attack and stroke.

Methamphetamine, also known as crystal meth or just meth, is a central nervous system stimulant, similar to Adderall and cocaine. 

  • Meth creates increased energy and euphoria. 
  • The addictive, synthetic stimulant speeds up the body’s processes, including breathing, heart rate, and blood pressure. 
  • People who use meth also experience aggression, hallucinations, anxiety, and paranoia.
  • The long-term risks of meth include liver, kidney, and lung damage and irreversible damage to the heart and brain. 
  • Someone who uses meth can experience strokes, heart attacks, death, and psychotic symptoms.

Some drugs have the opposite effect and can lead to weight gain. For example, benzodiazepines can lead to excess weight gain because they slow down the central nervous system and cause drowsiness. 

Addiction and Weight Loss

People with eating disorders like anorexia are at a greater risk of developing an addiction to weight loss pills. When someone has an addiction and a mental health disorder, they’re co-occurring disorders requiring dual diagnosis treatment.

A big part of treatment programs for many people is learning or relearning how to be holistically healthy, including nutrition, healthy eating habits, and healing their bodies from the damage caused by actively using drugs. 

If you’re ready to learn about treatment options available for substance abuse and co-occurring disorders in southern California, we’re here and ready to connect. Call Covenant Hills Treatment today at 844-268-8412.