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Stimulant Addiction And Abuse

Stimulants include a diverse group of drugs, but they all have one thing in common.  This group of drugs works by increasing the amount of dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine is the neurotransmitter in the brain that regulates how a person experiences pleasure, motivation, or satisfaction.  

The effect of stimulants on the central nervous system (CNS) can improve the ability to concentrate and focus on tasks.  Some individuals report increased energy in addition to improvements in attention and concentration.  These drugs can be beneficial for individuals who suffer from ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity.  But, they can cause adverse effects and addiction.

Caffeine and nicotine are the most commonly used stimulants.  These products are legal and can provide a level of increased alertness for many individuals.  However, some people feel they need something stronger such as a prescription stimulant. 

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants include amphetamines, dextroamphetamine, or methylphenidates.  Today, more than 16 million adults use prescription stimulants.  At least 5 million have misused the drugs, according to the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health.

Some adults misuse prescription stimulants to improve mental performance.  Also, many teens and college students misuse them in an attempt to get better grades.  But, when someone resorts to using prescription stimulants in non-medical ways, it can lead to serious health consequences.

Approximately 1.2 million people intentionally use stimulants for non-medical reasons in the US today.  About 360,000 people received treatment for stimulant addiction in one year alone.  Alcohol was in about 38 percent of ER visits involving stimulants.

The most commonly prescribed stimulants:


Adderall (amphetamine) is the most popular treatment for ADHD.  The drug was first approved in 1960 and is now the most widely prescribed amphetamine in the US today.  


Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine) is a potent CNS stimulant.  It has been available to consumers since 1976 and is prescribed to treat ADHD.  The drug was used during WWII and the Gulf War to reduce fatigue during nighttime bombing missions or lengthy combat operations.


Ritalin (methylphenidate) was introduced in 1955 after being approved to treat hyperactive children.  It has similar effects to Adderall, but the effects are milder than amphetamine-based drugs.


Concerta (methylphenidate) was approved in 2000 for the treatment of ADHD.  Concerta is an extended-release version of Ritalin.


Desoxyn (methamphetamine) has been on the market since 1947.  It was originally prescribed to treat obesity but is also used to treat ADHD.


Ephedrine is often used in place of amphetamines and is mainly used as an appetite suppressant and bronchodilator. Because ephedrine is easily obtained over-the-counter, it has been widely used as an ingredient in meth production. 

Illicit Stimulants

In addition to legal stimulants, a variety of illicit stimulant drugs should be mentioned.  The most commonly abused illicit drugs are cocaine, crack, MDMA, and crystal meth.  The illicitly produced stimulants do not contain the time-release feature found in many prescription stimulants, so they produce a more intense but shorter high.

Stimulants are Controlled Substances

The Controlled Substance Act (CSA) classifies prescription stimulants as Schedule II drugs.  This classification means they have a high potential for abuse and addiction.  According to the DEA:

“Schedule II drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous. Some examples of Schedule II drugs are:

Combination products with less than 15 milligrams of hydrocodone per dosage unit (Vicodin), cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, hydromorphone (Dilaudid), meperidine (Demerol), oxycodone (OxyContin), fentanyl, Dexedrine, Adderall, and Ritalin.”

Prescription stimulants are available as pills or capsules.  Illicit stimulants are available in powder, rock, or liquid forms.  The illicit forms are ingested by smoking, snorting, or injecting the drug.

Effects of Stimulant Abuse 

When used as directed, prescription stimulants are considered safe and effective.  However, prolonged use or misuse can lead to dependency or addiction due to increased tolerance.  

Misuse of prescription stimulants means a person is:

  • Taking the medicine with the intent to get high.
  • Using the medicine in larger doses or more often than prescribed.
  • Taking someone else’s medicine.

When stimulants are abused, the effects on the mind and body can range from mild to dangerous.  For instance, high doses can cause physical effects such as high body temperature, irregular heart rate, heart failure, or seizures.  

Mild or short-term effects can include:

  • Euphoria
  • Decreased appetite
  • Talkativeness
  • Nervousness
  • Alertness, energy
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased pulse and blood pressure

Repeated misuse of prescription stimulants even within a short period can cause psychosis, paranoia, anger, and impaired judgment.  Individuals who inject stimulants are at risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis.  

Stimulant abuse can also lead to social isolation, damaged relationships, job loss, overdose, and death.  The severity of effects depends on the stimulant involved, the extent of the abuse, and the individual’s physical and mental health.

Addiction to Stimulants

Stimulants work by producing an overabundance of dopamine in the brain.  With repeated abuse of the drug, the brain stops producing dopamine because it has learned to rely on the drug.  

After prolonged stimulant abuse the drug becomes the individual’s main priority.  They ignore the adverse consequences to their health or lifestyle.  Some people turn to drastic measures to obtain more of the drug such as doctor-shopping, theft, prostitution, or other illegal means.  

One indicator of stimulant addiction is that a person will experience withdrawal symptoms if the drug is withheld.  

Detox and Withdrawal Symptoms 

The first step in overcoming stimulant abuse is detoxification.  This process should be conducted under medical supervision due to unpredictable withdrawals that can occur.  Professional detox programs can administer medication to help manage withdrawal symptoms and ensure patient comfort and safety during the procedure.  

When withdrawal symptoms begin during detox, addiction specialists and medical personnel monitor the symptoms 24/7.  They assist the patient in managing any uncomfortable symptoms that appear such as:

  • Fatigue, lethargy
  • Irritability or angry outbursts
  • Memory impairment
  • Depression
  • Increased appetite
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Sleep disturbances or unpleasant dreams
  • Bone and muscle pain
  • Intense cravings for the drug

The frequency of the stimulant abuse and the dosages will determine how long it takes for a person to successfully detox from stimulants.  Typically,  withdrawal symptoms appear within a few hours or several days after the last use of the drug.  Some symptoms can persist for as long as 12 to 18 months after detox.  Individuals with co-occurring disorders may experience more intense or severe withdrawal symptoms that take longer to overcome.

Signs and Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse or Addiction

As with any drug addiction, there are some warning signs or symptoms that can help determine whether someone is abusing stimulants such as:


  • Impulsive or risky behavior
  • Ordering the drugs online
  • Excessive energy and motivation
  • Angry outbursts or aggressive behavior
  • Doctor-shopping


  • Weight loss
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Twitching or jitteriness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Skin problems


  • Enhanced sensory awareness
  • Paranoia
  • Racing thoughts
  • Confusion
  • Delusions
  • Poor decision-making


  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Aggressiveness
  • Anger
  • Mood swings
  • Increased confidence

These signs and symptoms vary with each person depending on factors such as physical or mental health, duration of the addiction, and the substance involved.  

Signs of Stimulant Overdose

A stimulant overdose occurs when a person takes more of the drug than their body can metabolize.  An overdose can be potentially life-threatening and produces some of the following warning signs:  

  • Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Delirium or confusion
  • Shallow breathing
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Stroke, coma, death

Many people mistakenly believe that prescription stimulants are safer than illicit ones.  However, any prescription drug can be dangerous if abused or taken in high doses.

Intervention for Stimulant Abuse and Addiction

Many people who abuse stimulants aren’t aware that they have lost control of their drug use.  So, the purpose of an intervention is to help a person realize that they have a stimulant abuse problem.   For this reason, family and friends can stage an intervention to help their loved one overcome denial and reach out for treatment.  

Staging an intervention should be supervised by a professional interventionist to ensure a productive outcome.  These professionals are experienced in avoiding situations that may cause the individual to react aggressively during the intervention process.

Treatment for Stimulant Addiction

Although there are no drugs that can treat stimulant addiction, studies show two existing drugs that may help reduce cravings.  Prozac is one of those drugs.  It is prescribed to treat mood disorders such as depression or OCD but has shown potential for reducing stimulant cravings.  The other drug is Naltrexone.  Commonly used to treat opioid and alcohol addiction, Naltrexone may prove helpful in treating stimulant dependence.  

The most reliable treatment options for stimulant addiction are inpatient or outpatient rehabilitation programs.  For the best results in overcoming addiction, a person must enter treatment immediately after completing detox.

Inpatient programs offer 24-hour supervised care in a residential type facility.  These treatment programs provide the best chance of successfully overcoming addiction.  Treatment includes a comprehensive program of education, counseling, skills training, and support.  Clients learn about the underlying reasons for substance abuse.  Through targeted activities and groups, clients gain the skills and confidence needed to achieve a lifestyle free from the negative influence of stimulants.

Outpatient programs are best suited for people who must continue working, attending school, or maintaining other daily responsibilities.  Patients continue living at home while attending regularly scheduled counseling sessions a few times a week.  Outpatient programs also provide continuing guidance and support for inpatient graduates as they attempt to reenter society.

Overcome Stimulant Abuse at Design for Change Recovery

If you suspect that a loved one is struggling with stimulant addiction, contact us at Design for Change Recovery in Lancaster, CA today.  We can recommend a treatment program customized specifically for your loved one’s needs.  Our treatment approach seeks to heal a person from the emotional, physiological, and spiritual aspects of their addiction for a lasting recovery.  


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