Diet Pills Abuse Causes, Statistics, Addiction Signs, Symptoms & Side Effects

What are Diet Pills?

Diet pills are any types of pharmacological agents marketed to control or reduce weight.  While numerous diet pills have been produced and promoted for weight loss, only one is currently approved by the FDA for long-term use.  Diet pills often claim to achieve weight loss by increasing metabolism, altering appetite levels, or interrupting the normal absorption of fat or calories.

The majority of diet pills can be purchased over the counter, with few needing a prescription from a medical professional.  This can be dangerous as diet pills can be readily available, including to minors.  Diet pills typically contain large quantities of addictive substances, such as ephedrine, caffeine, or herbal stimulants, which can have severe side effects, especially if an individual develops a diet pill addiction.  The following are some of the common classifications of diet pill drugs:

  • Orlistat –  Over the counter diet pill that claims to reduce fat absorption in the body
  • Sibutramine – Appetite suppressant that has risk of causing heart attacks and stroke
  • Rimonabant – Decreases appetite and increases energy expenditure.  Not approved in the United States as an anti-obesity drug
  • Metformin – Reduces the amount of glucose that is produced by the liver
  • Exenatide ­- Used for patients with obesity and type 2 diabetes
  • Pramlintide – Promotes feelings of satiety, delays gastric emptying.

Diet pills

Appetite suppressant medications are the most commonly abused diet pills, and these amphetamine-type drugs have high addiction and abuse rates.  Appetite suppressant diet pills function in the body by increasing chemicals in the body that reduce the sensation of hunger.  Men and women who use diet pills may experience increased stamina, euphoric feelings, or temporary weight loss.

When used for medicinal purposes, diet pills or appetite suppressant medication is prescribed by a medical professional for individuals who are clinically obese or for people who have severe addictive eating disorders.  Diet pills or appetite suppressants are not a solution to weight loss and can be extremely dangerous when abused or taken for nonmedical reasons.  Diet pills can be highly addictive and chronic use of appetite suppressants can lead a person to become anxious or depress, or induce memory loss or paranoia.

Individuals who may feel unsatisfied with their body or who suffer from eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia or body dysmorphia may abuse diet pills more frequently.  Diet pills are associated with dangerous side effects as well as debilitating to one’s mental and emotional well-being.  If you or a loved one is suffering from an addiction to diet pills, you may benefit from professional treatment to help break this vicious cycle.

Diet Pill Abuse Statistics

An addiction to diet pills can develop at any time through the lifespan, with all age groups having vulnerabilities to drug abuse. Statistics about diet pill addictions are helpful in understanding the fragility of this illness and in improving treatment outcomes. The following are statistics about diet pill addiction:

  • A study from the University of Minnesota’s “Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) found that high school-aged females’ use of diet pills nearly doubled from 7.5 to 14.2 percent.  By the ages of 19 and 20, 20 percent of females surveyed used diet pills [1].
  • Abuse of diet pills by individuals with eating disorders is well-documented clinically, with prevalence estimates reported as high as 50% [2].
  • According to a study published in Eating Behaviors, individuals with eating disorders associated with vomiting and other purging behaviors are more likely to use diet pills [3].

Causes of Diet Pills Addiction

Many factors can contribute to the development of an addiction to diet pills.  Typically, diet pills are sought out as a temporary “fix” for weight loss or for the purpose of altering one’s body. Individuals who use diet pills under a doctor’s prescription may have physical needs that warrant consumption of the drug.

However, when diet pills are used recreationally or for non-medical purposes, these behaviors cannot be justified. Men and women, who struggle with their body image, even when at a normal weight, may feel inclined to use diet pills as a method of controlling their weight or appearance. Body image dysmorphia, or a distorted perception of one’s true body, can have many root causes that influence the progression of this disorder, such as biological, social, or psychological.

For example, if a person is suffering from anorexia, body dysmorphia may be a symptom of this disease, and this would be a biological cause of body image dysmorphia. In the societal realm, there are increased pressures to assume a particular body image, and these would be social causes of body dysmorphic disorder.

If a person has undergone psychological trauma, these unresolved issues could influence the way they feel about their body as well. Feeling the necessity to take diet pills stems from deeper, underlying issues, which can all be interconnected. If the problems are not adequately and professionally addressed, diet pills can easily be abused as the addict seeks a short-term solution to their deeper problems.

Signs and Symptoms of Diet Pills Abuse

Certain signs and symptoms will be evident if you or a loved one is suffering from a diet pill addiction. Diet pill effects can range in severity and can impact a man or woman physically, psychologically, and socially. Review the following signs and symptoms to learn more about these signs and symptoms that result from abusing diet pills:

  • Chest pain
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea
  • Tremors
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Stomach pain
  • Rapid respiratory rate
  • Severe headaches
  • Blurred vision
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Liver/Kidney damage
  • Chronic mood swings
  • Blackouts
  • Memory loss

If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms as a result of a diet pill addiction, it is recommended that you contact your doctor immediately.

Diet Pill Effects

Short and long term consequences will result from an addiction to diet pills. Though the physical effects may be the most obvious, having an addiction to diet pills will impact your life in multiple ways:

Physical Effects – The non-medical abuse of diet pills can interfere with the normal metabolism of the body, which can hinder or damage organs and systems. In cases of overdose, irreversible damage or death can occur. Some of the physical effects are as follows:

  • Unstable weight
  • Fluctuations with appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Tightness in chest
  • Heart palpitations
  • Menstrual cycle and sex drive disturbances
  • Urinary tract difficulties
  • Dizziness
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Respiratory failure

Psychological Effects – Abusing diet pills can lead to psychological disturbances, such as anxiety attacks, increased mood disturbances, or depression. A diet pill addict might become emotionally dependent on the drug, thinking that it is necessary to continue taking the drug in order to maintain a certain body weight. Psychological effects may include:

  • Mood swings or instability
  • Increased paranoia, anxiety
  • Nervousness, restlessness
  • Depression
  • Low self-esteem/body image

Social Consequences – As addicts become controlled by their drug consumption, it will become increasingly more difficult to maintain the relationships and family units around them. Increased isolation will hinder their ability to have healthy relationships with others. These are some of the social effects that may result from diet pill abuse:

  • Division within friendships and family units
  • Avoidance of social encounters and interactions
  • Increased isolation
  • Difficulty in maintaining healthy relationships

Individuals addicted to diet pills will incur destructive outcomes to the other aspects of their lives, such as in their psychological health, financial responsibilities, social life, and familial relationships. Diet pill addicts will continue to experience these consequences until professional help is sought and appropriate treatment is received.

Diet Pills Withdrawal

A physical dependence on diet pills can develop once a person has reached the point where they can tolerate the substance. Withdrawal symptoms can occur when the dosage typically consumed has been reduced or stopped completed. Withdrawal symptoms can vary from person to person depending on how long diet pills have been used and the dosages typically taken. Withdrawal symptoms will typically begin anywhere from 6-36 hours after the last use of the drug and can include the following:

  • Fatigue, or “brain fog”
  • Weight gain
  • Cravings for other drugs or substances
  • Low mood or depression
  • Muscle aches
  • Irritability

When a person withdraws from a dependent substance, such as in the case of a diet pill addict, complications may occur. For this reason, the withdrawal process should always take place under medical supervision. Generally, withdrawal symptoms are the most discomforting in the first 1-2 days after discontinuing the medication. If you are concerned that you may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms from diet pills, contact your primary physician to discuss these signs.

Diet Pills Treatment and Help

If you or a loved one has been struggling with an addiction to diet pills, you can take hope in knowing that recovery is a possibility for you. Learning how to undo years of damage is not an easy process, but in choosing the road to recovery, you are seeking a life of freedom and peace. Can you imagine going through your day without the need for diet pills or concern about your body image? This can be a reality for you as you work through your recovery from diet pills in an accredited addiction rehab center. There is nothing more valuable than your life, wellness, and peace and you are deserving of the freedom that is experienced apart from dependence on a drug. You will ultimately have the ability to overcome this addiction by receiving the help you need.

Other Articles on Diet Pills

  • With the diet industry being a billion dollar business, it comes as no surprise that diet pills are something that continues to be utilized by countless individuals across the nation. What exactly are diet pills, and what is it about these products that entice users to continue buying and using them? Read more about the diet pill industry here.


[1]: Accessed 20 February 2013.

[2]: Steffen KJ, Roerig JL, Mitchell JE, Crosby RD. A survey of herbal and alternative medication use among participants with eating disorder symptoms. Int J Eat Disord. 2006 Dec; 39(8):741-6.

[3]: Reba-Harrelson, Lauren; et al. Features Associated with Diet Pill Use in Individuals with Eating Disorders. Eating behaviors. 2008 Jan; 9(1)73-81

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on June 10, 2017
Published on, Treatment Information on Substance Abuse