Stimulants
Addiction

Over-The-Counter, Prescription, and Illegal

Article Contents

What are Stimulants?

Stimulants are a class of drugs that come in many forms. Stimulants may be illegal drugs (cocaine or methamphetamine), legal (caffeine or nicotine), or prescription medications (Adderall or Ritalin).

Stimulants work by speeding up the messages that go from the brain to the body and they can help promote energy, focus, and mood among many other things. However, stimulants can be addictive and can cause many adverse effects.1 Many people will use stimulants as mood boosters or help them improve productivity.

Abusing stimulants over a long period can lead to dependence and cause addiction. Different stimulant drugs will cause different effects and different levels of addiction. This is why it’s important to know how to tell them apart.

Types of Stimulants

Prescription Amphetamines

Prescription amphetamines are stimulant drugs that are often prescribed to treat medical conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. However, some people also abuse prescription amphetamines recreationally as a mood or energy booster, and to increase productivity.
Abuse of prescription amphetamines is common among college students or young adults who take these drugs to help with late-night studying or to help them work long hours at their jobs. Two common prescription amphetamines are Adderall and Ritalin.

Adderall

Adderall is a combination drug made up of amphetamine/dextroamphetamine. It’s often prescribed for people who struggle with ADHD or narcolepsy. However, Adderall is a drug that is commonly misused and abused. It is used regularly at college campuses as an upper drug that helps students stay up late and study longer.

Ritalin

Ritalin is another prescription stimulant that is often prescribed to treat ADHD. It works by changing the amounts of certain natural substances in the brain to increase attention, focus, and control behavioral problems. However, if Ritalin is misused or abused it can cause addiction and withdrawal symptoms.

Illegal Amphetamines

Meth

Methamphetamine is an illegal stimulant that is produced and sold for recreational use. Meth often comes in a crystal form that is clear or a whitish-blue color. It can be used by snorting, injecting, or smoking it. When meth is taken it creates a quick euphoric high that provides a sudden burst of energy. The high doesn’t last long which often leads to repetitive use of this drug.

When use suddenly stops, withdrawal symptoms can be severe. If you are struggling with an addiction, seeking the help of a medical professional and treatment center is recommended.

Cocaine

Cocaine is another illegal stimulant that is produced and sold for recreational use. Cocaine will often come in a white powder that can be snorted, smoked, or dissolved and injected. People use cocaine for the euphoric high and the energy boost it provides.

Withdrawal symptoms from cocaine addiction can be serious and proper treatment during recovery is best for long-term sobriety.

Legal Stimulants

Caffeine

Caffeine is a common legal stimulant that is found in products like coffee and energy drinks. People often take caffeine for an energy or mood boost. It can also help you stay focused and boost productivity levels. Even though caffeine is a legal stimulant that is commonly used by many people, it still has addictive properties. Unlike other stimulants, caffeine addiction is much less harmful and common withdrawal symptoms are things like a headache or feeling lethargic.

Studies have shown that caffeine does have some health benefits like boosting cognitive performance, fat burn, and it can aid in post-exercise recovery.2 However, consuming caffeine in excess can have some downsides, including increased anxiety and stress as well such as increased blood pressure and heart rate which can be damaging to the body over time.

Is Nicotine a Stimulant?

Nicotine is a stimulant drug that speeds up messages traveling between the brain and the body.3 Nicotine is commonly found in tobacco products such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco. When nicotine is consumed, it causes mild stimulation, an increase in heart rate, increased ability to concentrate, and relaxation.

Nicotine products are highly addictive if taken frequently and can have many negative health effects. Using nicotine products over a long period can cause health problems such as cancer, respiratory diseases, and a lowered immune system among many other things. When you quit using nicotine products after consuming them regularly you will experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, trouble concentrating, and cravings. Quitting can be difficult, but withdrawal symptoms are usually not dangerous with these products.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

This is a common question that is asked because upon consuming alcohol it does seem to have a mood-boosting and even an energy-boosting effect.4 However, alcohol is a depressant that reduces the functions of the central nervous system when it is consumed. As you consume larger amounts of alcohol, your motor control, and cognitive ability will be inhibited more and more.

This is why doing things like driving when you are drunk is so dangerous. It’s important to take the right precautions before consuming alcohol to stay safe and it’s best for your health and well-being to avoid regularly consuming alcohol in excess.

Stimulant Addiction

Are Stimulants Addictive?

Stimulants are addictive and long-term misuse and abuse of these drugs can lead to developing both physical and psychological dependence. The severity of addiction and withdrawal symptoms upon stopping will depend on the type of drug and how often or how much it was taken. Some withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous, requiring proper help during the recovery process.

Abusing Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin are drugs that are often abused. These drugs when taken recreationally or more than prescribed can be very addictive and lead to many negative health consequences. Many young people such as college students and young professionals will commonly abuse prescription stimulants. It can be difficult to spot addiction in these individuals, but there are some signs.

Effects of Stimulants

Short-Term Effects

Even short-term use of stimulants can have negative effects on the mind and body. Common short-term effects are:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased heart rate
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Panic
  • Hallucinations

Long-Term Effects

When misused or abused over a long period, stimulants can have many negative health consequences. Common long-term effects are:

  • Addiction
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Chronic insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Heart failure

Stimulant Overdose

When stimulants are abused over a long period, tolerance will develop. This means more of these stimulant drugs are taken at increasingly higher doses to get the same effect. This is what can lead to a stimulant overdose.

A large percentage of overdose deaths involve stimulants alone or a combination of opioids and stimulants. According to a study on cdc.gov, “among 16,236 drug overdose deaths in 24 states and DC, 7,936 (48.9%) involved opioids without stimulants, 5,301 (32.6%) involved opioids and stimulants, 2,056 (12.7%) involved stimulants without opioids.”5

Addiction Treatment

Therapy

Behavioral therapy can often be beneficial for treating addiction. A behavioral therapist will help you reroute negative behavioral patterns into more positive outlets, provide coping mechanisms for things that trigger drug use, and help you cope with the stresses of life without the use of drugs.

Therapy can also help find other underlying issues that may be contributing to the addiction, such as mental health problems or dealing with past traumas.

Treatment

For someone at the beginning of the recovery process from addiction, going to a treatment center can be a good option. A treatment center can help you get through the withdrawal process while having around the clock medical supervision. They provide you with therapy to work on any underlying issues and will provide you with the skills you need to maintain sobriety after the treatment program is over.

Medications

There haven’t been any medication developed that are used specifically for treating stimulant addiction. However, studies have shown potential for certain drugs that can help reduce cravings during the recovery process.

Two drugs that have shown potential are Prozac and Naltrexone. Prozac is often prescribed for mood disorders like depression and OCD, but it has shown limited potential in reducing cravings. Naltrexone is often used to treat alcohol and opioid dependencies but has also shown potential in treating prescription stimulant dependence.

Key Points to Remember

Stimulants are a class of drugs that work by speeding up the messages that travel from the brain to the body. Stimulants come in many forms that are prescription medications, illegal drugs, and legal products that are sold over the counter.

Stimulants can be addictive, and you can develop a physical and psychological dependence on them. Recreational misuse and abuse of stimulants are very dangerous and can lead to many negative health consequences.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction there are resources available. Get help today.

Dual Diagnosis