Stimulants are a type of drug that speed up messages traveling between the brain and the body. They make a person feel awake and energized, providing an intense rush of energy and helping people pay attention or stay alert. There are two main types of stimulant drugs: prescription stimulants and illegal stimulants. Prescription stimulants include medications like Adderall, Ritalin, and Concerta. They work by increasing the amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine present in the brain, and are most commonly used for the treatment of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Misuse of prescription stimulants can lead to short and long-term consequences including heart problems, nerve damage, gastrointestinal issues, anger issues, anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks. Illegal stimulants include drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, which are both highly addictive. They affect the area of the brain that regulates emotion, memory, judgment, and attention, and can lead to a range of serious issues in a short period of time.
If you or someone close to you has been misusing a stimulant drug of any kind, there is help available. Because stimulant addiction is a chronic, progressive, and relapsing condition, it is always a good idea to seek professional help as soon as a problem is identified. Contact us today to learn more about the stimulant addiction treatment options in your area.
What Are Stimulant Drugs?
Stimulant drugs speed up the processes of the body, working to increase energy levels, alertness, attentiveness, and ability to pay attention or concentrate. Some people mistakenly believe that because prescription stimulants were initially prescribed by a licensed medical professional, they are significantly safer to use than illegal stimulants. While they are slightly less addictive, they affect the body and the brain in very similar ways.
Prescription Stimulant Drugs
The National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “Prescription stimulants are medicines generally used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy—uncontrollable episodes of deep sleep. They increase alertness, attention, and energy.” (1) The most commonly used prescription stimulants include dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), dextroamphetamine/amphetamine (Adderall), and methylphenidate (Ritalin and Concerta). If you are taking a higher dose of a prescribed medication than recommended, using someone else’s prescription, or combining a prescription stimulant with another chemical substance, you are actively meeting the criteria for prescription stimulant abuse. The short-term effects of prescription stimulants include feelings of euphoria, increased alertness, hyperactivity, increased body temperature, and increased heart rate and blood pressure. Long-term effects of prescription stimulant misuse include changes to mood, psychosis, persistent anger, anxiety, and paranoia. One of the most severe and common long-term effects of prescription stimulant misuse is the development of an addictive disorder.
Illegal Stimulant Drugs
The two most widely used illegal stimulants are cocaine and methamphetamine. Cocaine is naturally derived, made from the leaves of a plant native to South America. It is most commonly used in a white, powdered form, and snorted (used nasally) or rubbed onto the gums. It is very uncommon to find pure cocaine, as many street dealers mix powdered cocaine with things like baking powder, talcum powder, and flour in order to increase profit. Cocaine is also commonly mixed with less expensive addictive drugs like amphetamine or fentanyl. Cocaine works by increasing the amount of dopamine released into the brain while preventing dopamine from being recycled, which causes dopamine build-up and consequently affects the way the brain processes information. Even several days of cocaine use can lead to physical and psychological dependence.
Methamphetamine is a man-made stimulant drug. It is powerfully addictive and affects the central nervous system. People can ingest methamphetamine by smoking it, snorting it, swallowing it in a pill form, or injecting it directly into the bloodstream. Because methamphetamine is so addictive, even using the drug several times can lead to physical dependence. The long-term side effects of prolonged meth use can be severe, and might include tooth decay, extreme weight loss, malnutrition, changes to brain function and structure, psychosis, anger problems, paranoia, and hallucinations.
Scope of Stimulant Drug Abuse
Both prescription stimulants and illegal stimulants are widely misused. The 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports, “1.8% (or about 5.1 million people) reported misusing prescription stimulants in the past 12 months.” (1) During the same time period 5.2 million people reported using cocaine at least once, and 2.6 million people reported using methamphetamine at least once.
Signs & Symptoms of Stimulant Addiction
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, lays out several diagnostic criteria those with stimulant use disorders tend to experience. If you answer “yes” to more than two of the following questions, there is a good chance you would benefit from some degree of professional addiction treatment.
- Do you often use more of the stimulant drug than you intended, or do you use stimulants for a longer period of time than you intended?
- Have you attempted to quit using stimulants on your own with limited success, or have you attempted to cut back on the amount of stimulants you use unsuccessfully?
- Do you experience cravings for stimulants throughout the day?
- Do you spend a significant amount of time obtaining stimulants, using stimulants, and recovering from the effects of stimulant use?
- Have you started to experience problems at work or at school directly related to your stimulant drug use?
- Do you continue to use stimulants despite newly developing or worsening physical and psychological symptoms?
- Have you been instructed to cut back on your stimulant use by a licensed healthcare professional, and have you made the decision to ignore their advice?
- Do you engage in risk-taking behavior while under the influence of stimulants, like driving while under the influence or mixing stimulant drugs with other substances like alcohol, opiates, or benzodiazepines?
- Have you started to neglect activities you previously enjoyed as a direct result of your stimulant drug use?
- Have you developed a physical tolerance, meaning more of the stimulant is required in order for the desired effects to be achieved?
- Do you experience withdrawal symptoms when you attempt to quit stimulants on your own?
Stimulant Drug Withdrawal
Because the physical symptoms associated with stimulant withdrawal are rarely life-threatening, you might be tempted to try detoxing on your own. This is never recommended. While the physical symptoms of stimulant withdrawal can be easily managed, the psychological symptoms can be severe and should always be professionally monitored. Common stimulant withdrawal symptoms include:
- Persistent headaches.
- An inability to concentrate or pay attention.
- Mood swings.
- An increased appetite, sometimes leading to temporary weight gain.
- Feelings of fatigue and exhaustion, often coupled with an inability to sleep.
- Agitation and irritability.
- Severe anxiety and panic attacks.
- Severely depressed mood, which sometimes leads to suicidal ideation.
If you have been misusing a prescription stimulant like Adderall or Ritalin or an illegal stimulant like methamphetamine for a prolonged period of time, some degree of psychiatric intervention might be beneficial. It is important to find a medical detox with a licensed psychiatric professional on staff.
Treatment Options for Stimulant Addiction Recovery
The best treatment option for stimulant addiction depends on several factors, including:
- What type of stimulant drug you have been taking — prescription stimulant or illegal stimulant like cocaine or methamphetamine?
- How long you have been taking the stimulant drug.
- How frequently you have been taking the stimulant drug, and at what dose.
- The potential for withdrawal symptoms (usually predominantly psychological).
- Whether or not you have been combining stimulants with other chemical substances like alcohol or opioid narcotics (this increases the risk of severe withdrawal symptoms).
- The presence of an underlying mental illness like anxiety or depression.
In most cases, the best course of action is committing to a multi-staged recovery program that includes the following levels of clinical care:
- Medically Monitored Detox.
- Inpatient/Residential Rehab.
- Partial Hospitalization (PHP).
- Intensive Outpatient Treatment (IOP).
- Outpatient Treatment (OP).
The length of your stay in each level of care will depend on your personal needs. Your aftercare plan will be developed as you move through treatment, adjusted to your changing needs as you progress in your recovery. Aftercare often looks like a continuation of individual therapy, ongoing psychiatric intervention, and regular involvement in a peer support group of your choosing.
Once stimulant drug misuse progresses to physical and psychological dependence, some level of professional addiction treatment will be necessary. The right level of clinical care for you or your loved one will depend on several factors, including the severity of the stimulant addiction, the presence of dual diagnosis disorders, and whether or not stimulants are being used in combination with other chemical substances. If you have made the decision to seek professional help and reclaim your life, the first step is reaching out. As soon as you make the decision to contact us you will be connected with an experienced Advisor who will help you determine which treatment options will best meet your unique, personal needs. We will help you find a reputable treatment center in your area and answer any additional questions you might have. We look forward to speaking with you soon and helping you get started on your journey of stimulant addiction recovery as quickly as possible.