The Consequences of Stimulant Abuse

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Substance addictions can develop from the use and abuse of various types of drugs. Stimulants are one class of drugs that are heavily abused in both legal and illegal contexts. One of the hallmarks of stimulants is that they decrease physical and mental fatigue and, in turn, produce extended wakefulness. However, stimulant abuse has serious long-term effects on an individual's physical, social, and emotional well-being.

What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants, also known as "uppers," are a class of drugs known to increase the activity of the central nervous system. Certain stimulants are legal prescription medicines, commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, other stimulants are used illicitly as street drugs.

Stimulants are used for a variety of purposes besides treating ADHD and narcolepsy. For example, some people use them recreationally for performance enhancement. Others may use them for side effects they may cause, such as a dietary aid for weight loss. However, many reasons for stimulant use are unsafe.

Which Drugs are Stimulants?

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) created a fact sheet of the different stimulant drugs. They list the following.

Prescription Stimulants

  • Amphetamines (brand names include Adderall and Dexedrine)
  • Methylphenidate (brand names include Concerta and Ritalin)
  • Diet aids (brand names include Didrex, Bontril, Preludin, Fastin, Adipex P, Ionomin, and Meridia)

Stimulants With No Licit Use

  • Methamphetamine (meth)
  • Cocaine
  • Methcathinone

It is also important to recognize caffeine as a type of legal, stimulant drug.

Short-Term Effects of Stimulant Use

As stimulants increase activity in the central nervous system (CNS), an individual may experience the following short-term effects:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Increased breathing rate
  • Decreased blood flow
  • Increased alertness, attention, and energy
  • Decreased appetite

Individuals who use stimulants may also experience a variety of adverse effects, even from a one-time use. For example, some individuals report bouts of aggression, paranoia, psychosis, and physical exhaustion after stimulant use.

Understanding Stimulant Abuse

There are three types of substance use: use, misuse, and abuse. Unfortunately, all types of use can become problematic and contribute to the development of addiction.

Stimulant use occurs when a person uses a stimulant. This occurs when someone takes their ADHD medication or simply has their morning cup of coffee. The use of stimulants may be less likely to lead to addiction and other serious outcomes in these cases.

However, stimulants are not safe simply because they have been prescribed. For prescription drugs, use becomes misuse in the following circumstances:

  • Taking medication in a higher dose than what was prescribed
  • Skipping a dose
  • Taking someone else's medication

Misuse develops into abuse when an individual uses a drug with the intent to get high. Additionally, all illicit drug use can be considered drug abuse. This is because there is no appropriate way to use illicit drugs.

Adverse Effects of Stimulant Abuse

Many serious adverse effects can result from stimulant abuse. The severity of these effects may be affected by the:

  • User's body weight
  • Stimulant being used
  • Frequency and intensity of stimulant use
  • Individual's tolerance to the drug

It is important to become familiar with the potential adverse effects that stimulant abuse can produce. These effects may include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Jitteriness
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Psychosis
  • Paranoia
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Hypertension
  • Tachycardia
  • Seizures
  • Arrhythmias
  • EKG abnormalities
  • Cerebrovascular event
  • Life-threatening consequences, such as sudden cardiac death

Increased Risk of Addiction

In addition to all of the potential consequences mentioned above, stimulant abuse can also increase an individual's risk of developing addiction. The National Insitute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) defines addiction as “a chronic disease characterized by drug seeking and use that is compulsive, or difficult to control, despite harmful consequences.”

Regular engagement with stimulants can cause an individual to rely on these drugs for energy and motivation on a daily basis. Eventually, a user may find themselves needing to use stimulants to feel normal or to reduce the intensity of withdrawal effects. These are hallmarks of addiction. They occur because substance use and abuse can cause lasting alterations in brain structure and functioning.

Treatment for Stimulant Abuse

Recovery from addiction and substance abuse can be a challenging road. Individuals may feel guilty or blame themselves for their condition. However, this only furthers their substance abuse and delays their treatment entry and engagement. People affected by prescription drug abuse, cocaine addiction, or other forms of stimulant abuse benefit from knowing that treatment is available, and recovery is possible.

Treatment for stimulant abuse will likely begin with detoxification. For the body to heal from the physical and emotional effects of addiction, the remnants of substances in the body must be eradicated. Following detox, individuals can begin a long-term treatment program for substance abuse, such as the residential program at Pathways Recovery Center.

At Pathways, individuals will learn about the biological, social, and psychological factors that have played a role in their addiction development. Treatment will involve the use of various therapeutic approaches. These include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), to name a few. In treatment, clients will learn new coping skills and positive thinking patterns that will help them resist substance use temptations and cravings long-term.

Stimulant drugs increase the activity of your central nervous system and other body systems, producing symptoms of extended wakefulness. These drugs are available in the form of legal prescription medications and illicit street drugs. Unfortunately, like all other types of drugs, stimulants are highly abused. Stimulant abuse can lead to various physical, emotional, and social consequences, in addition to increasing your risk of developing an addiction. Pathways Recovery Center offers a residential treatment program for all types of substance abuse and addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with stimulant abuse, we can help. For more information about our programs and services, do not hesitate to give us a call today at (888) 771-0966.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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