What Are Stimulants?
Stimulants are drugs that work by affecting the central nervous system (CNS). The drugs can be prescriptions or illicit substances, and produce effects such as increased alertness and energy, and heightened cognitive function.
Prescription stimulants are generally used to treat conditions like ADHD or sleep disorders. For people with attention or hyperactivity issues, stimulants can help them concentrate and focus their energy. For people with narcolepsy or other sleep disorders, stimulants may help them increase their wakefulness, feel more alert, and increase daily productivity.
However, because stimulants also produce a sense of well-being and euphoria, the drugs are often targets of abuse. Abuse of stimulants includes taking a prescription more often, changing method of administration, taking a higher dosage, taking a prescription that doesn’t belong to you, or seeking stimulants through illegal means.
Stimulants increase certain body functions, including heart, blood pressure, and breathing rates. When abused, the drugs increase these rates to dangerous levels, increasing risk of overdose. Stimulant abuse also fosters addiction, a mental cycle which can keep people caught in its grips until every aspect of health is changed or affected.
Understanding stimulants—what they are, how they are abused, and the consequences of abuse—helps us to understand the need for treatment of stimulant addiction.
There are many types of prescription stimulants on the market. The two main types include prescription amphetamines and prescription methylphenidate. The conditions these medications are most used to treat include ADHD, narcolepsy, depression, and obesity.
Chemically, amphetamine and methylphenidate prescriptions are distinctly different. Yet abuse of the drugs produces similar effects. Patients are prescribed either amphetamines or methylphenidate depending on their condition, potency of the medication, and how long they will need to take the medication.
Common amphetamine medications include the following:
- Adderall XR
- Adzenys XR
- Dyanavel XR
Side effects of amphetamine abuse may include increase in energy, social functioning, and euphoria. Amphetamines may increase your perception of self-confidence, self-awareness, or make you believe your clarity in thinking has improved.
Abuse of amphetamines can have dangerous health consequences, which may include the following:
- Body tremors
- Decrease in appetite
- Impairment to memory and thought processes
- Increased body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure
- Skin lesions
- Sleep troubles
- Weight loss
Increased abuse of amphetamines can lead to tolerance to the effects of the drugs. If you have built up a tolerance, you are more likely to abuse the drug more often, increasing risk of overdose and developing addiction.
It is difficult for individuals to quit use of stimulants like amphetamines once addicted, especially without help. However, many inpatient drug rehab programs have proven effective at helping addicted individuals overcome stimulant addiction and build a new life free from substance abuse.
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Methylphenidate prescriptions work similarly to amphetamines. They produce rapid heartbeat, blood pressure, and breathing, or increased body temperature.
Common methylphenidate prescriptions include:
- Aptensio XR
- Contempla XR-ODT
- Metadate ER
- QuilliChew ER
- Quillivant XR
Side effects of methylphenidate abuse include many of the same side effects of amphetamines, but may also cause dizziness or nervousness, nausea or vomiting, drowsiness or body tremors, headache, muscle tightness, and more.
Prolonged abuse of methylphenidate can also lead to serious consequences, such as:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Heart failure
The U.S. National Library of Medicine reports, “methylphenidate may cause sudden death in children and teenagers, especially children or teenagers with heart defects or serious heart problems.” The same is true for adults, and particularly for people who regularly or recreationally abuse the drugs.
Other Prescription ADHD Medications
Some other prescription ADHD medications include non-stimulant medications, such as Strattera (atomoxetine) and Intuniv (guanfacine). Non-stimulant medications work to treat ADHD quite differently than stimulant medications.
For example, Strattera works by increasing the amount of time that the neurotransmitter norepinephrine is available to the brain’s neurons—this changes how the brain absorbs norepinephrine and how your body uses it.
However, these changes may not take effect for weeks, which is why the drug sees lower instances of abuse than an amphetamine, like Adderall. Used effectively, Strattera can help people with ADHD improve their focus, decrease hyperactivity, and learn to manage impulsive behaviors. Yet Strattera is a dangerous drug of abuse because it can cause suicidal thoughts and ideation.
Other drugs used to treat ADHD include antidepressants, such as nortriptyline (Aventyl), desipramine (Norpramin), imipramine (Tofranil), bupropion (Wellbutrin). Antidepressant drugs also act on the central nervous system in a manner somewhat similar to stimulant drugs, causing feelings of calmness, relaxation, and euphoria. Like stimulants, antidepressants see large numbers of abuse due to the effects produced by the drugs.
Methamphetamine is drug that is produced and used legally (Desoxyn), and produced, sold, and abused illegally (commonly known as meth). Desoxyn is a prescription stimulant used to treat ADHD or obesity.
Desoxyn can help people effectively lose weight, but is powerfully addictive, and is typically only prescribed for a short time when treating obesity. Methamphetamine can cause addiction quickly, and also fosters physical dependence, a condition which causes uncomfortable, sometimes dangerous consequences.
Like other stimulants, the short-term effects of methamphetamine include an increase in wakefulness or energy, euphoria, rapid or irregular heartbeat, increased breathing rate or blood pressure, and decrease in appetite. Methamphetamine abuse can also lead to a number of harmful consequences, and more instances of abuse lead to increased health risks.
Consequences of methamphetamine abuse may include:
- Extreme weight loss
- Dental problems known as “meth mouth”
- Severe itching, leading to skin issues
- Sleep troubles
- Violent or erratic behavior
Meth is an extremely dangerous drug of abuse. Many consequences may be resolved after seeking treatment for meth addiction and quitting use of meth. However, meth abuse actually results in changes to the brain’s dopamine system, which can lead to long-term changes in coordination and impairment to verbal learning.
The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns, “although some of these brain changes may reverse after being off the drug for a year or more, other changes may not recover even after a long period of abstinence.”
Meth, the illicit form of the drug, is often produced by people abusing the drug in clandestine labs. Crystal meth, a form of meth that is smoked, has gained popularity in recent years and is one of the more potent drugs of abuse.
Treatment for methamphetamine addiction must be completely comprehensive, integrating methods to target and treat all aspects of health affected by meth abuse.
Cocaine is an illicit stimulant drug, abused for its euphoric effects. The U.S. National Library of Medicine explains, “cocaine speeds up your whole body.”
People who abuse cocaine may feel an immediate “high” (euphoria), followed by an extended period of alertness, increased energy, and excitement. But after the “high” comes the “low,” or the “comedown,” a period of intense anger, depression, nervousness, or paranoia. This state of being can last for several days.
People who abuse cocaine regularly may develop a tolerance to it, and increase usage. Like other stimulants, cocaine is a dangerous drug of abuse, and increasing use of it increases risk of serious health consequences. Some of the most dangerous consequences associated with frequent cocaine abuse are heart attack and stroke.
Cocaine is often abused by method of injection, and injection of any drug comes with its own set of consequences. These may include skin lesions or infections, increased risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases or infectious diseases, and abscesses.
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug. People who quit use of it may feel cravings for years to come. It is readily available throughout the U.S., so it is one of the most highly-abused stimulants. Treatment for cocaine addiction can help people learn to manage symptoms of addiction, like cravings, and prevent relapse.
Crack cocaine is a form of the illicit stimulant cocaine. The Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR) reports, “‘crack’ is the name given to cocaine that has been processed with baking soda or ammonia, and transformed into a more potent, smokable ‘rock’ form.”
CESAR explains that cocaine is risky to abuse in any form, but crack is the most risky form. This is due to how this form of the drug is abused. Crack is a solid form of cocaine that is smoked. Any substance that is smoked reaches the brain faster than with other methods.
Smoking crack also fosters addiction more quickly than abusing cocaine by other methods, such as snorting. Abusing crack comes with the same short-term side effects and consequences as powder cocaine, but when smoking cocaine in crack form, even one dose can lead to fatal overdose. In other words, each time a person abuses crack cocaine, they are at risk of overdose.
If a person does not overdose on crack, prolonged abuse of the drug may still have some severe health consequences. These include those already mentioned for cocaine, but also include increased instances of risky behavior, sexual dysfunction for men, reproductive damage or infertility, respiratory failure, seizures, or death.
Treatment for cocaine abuse may include a multidisciplinary approach. Cocaine can cause symptoms of withdrawal, like fatigue, depression, and irritability. Some people may benefit from medication to ease these symptoms, and alternative therapy which teaches skill-building to help build a life free from substance abuse.
Inpatient Treatment For Stimulant Addiction
An individualized inpatient drug rehab program is often the best solution for an individual addicted to stimulants. Each person brings different needs to treatment, and will require different treatment modalities based on the drug of abuse, duration of abuse, and frequency of abuse.
A person who began abusing prescription amphetamines due to prolonged use of the drugs may have a very different treatment program than someone who fell into cocaine abuse and also suffered trauma. That’s why it is so important for each person to receive a custom, individualized treatment program which first assesses treatment needs, then builds a recovery program to meet those needs.
Find Help In Inpatient Drug Rehab
If you are struggling with stimulant abuse and addiction, we would love to help you find the right treatment program. Contact us today at InpatientDrugRehab.org to learn more.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration—Stimulants