The drug class of stimulants is made up of substances that, either directly or indirectly, target the body’s central nervous system. These drugs usually excite activity in the brain and affect the senses of pleasure and rewards, causing serious stimulant withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped. While caffeine technically finds itself in this category, its effects are relatively mild compared to those of more powerful stimulants. People who take these drugs tend to feel:
Although users tend to find these effects pleasurable, the long-term effects can be seriously detrimental to one’s health. These can include:
Addiction is either the cause or the root of many different issues in life. One effect of stimulant withdrawal and addiction is the fact that it can sometimes activate underlying mental illnesses. Many people who haven’t experienced the signs of schizophrenia can initiate these symptoms through stimulant use.
The unique quality of the stimulant drug class is the fact that these drugs tend to work with the amount of dopamine in your synapses. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter (or “chemical messenger”) that affects the brain’s pleasure receptors. It is naturally released whenever you eat, exercise, or do other pleasurable activities.
Stimulants hijack this process and cause there to be more dopamine than usual in your synapses, giving you the euphoric feeling of being superhuman as well as increasing your alertness and sensitivity. Sounds great, right?
Well, eventually, your brain will notice there is too much dopamine in your system. Its response will be to stop producing dopamine naturally altogether. This means that, once you stop taking the stimulant, it will be a while before your brain returns to normal dopamine levels, making the stimulant withdrawal symptoms very intense. To stave off withdrawal, and to continue getting that “feel-good” sensation, users can easily develop a dependence on the drug.
Doctors once prescribed stimulant drugs to treat obesity, asthma, narcolepsy, and other health problems that affect our central nervous system. Once they determined how addictive the drugs could be, limitations were placed on stimulant prescriptions for adolescents with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and some cases of clinical depression. Stimulants are used in instances of severe depression where other medication rendered useless.
In some instances of stimulant use, it will be teenagers that ingest drugs like Adderall as performance enhancers. The pressure that high school or college exams can present can push young adults to take extreme measures. Stimulant drugs allow them to stay up all night to study, which is known for cramming.
In previous years, it was believed that only college students abused stimulants. In 2015, however, a study debunked that theory and showed that the peak age for using study drugs illegally was 16 to 19. The same study showed that females use stimulants nearly twice as much as men, while white and Native American teens use more than any other group.
In 2014, reports revealed that Adderall was the second most popular recreational drug for high-school seniors. A staggering 6.8 percent of them said they used Adderall, and another 1.8 percent said they tried Ritalin. In that same study, 1.3 percent of eighth-graders mentioned their use of Adderall, and 0.9 percent of them used Ritalin.
The data shows the most common reason for young adults to use stimulant drugs is academic pressure they are facing. Many have unrealistic goals set onto their agenda, and reaching those is seemingly impossible without the help of a study aid.
If you are looking for the signs of stimulant addiction in yourself, or if you’re unsure if someone you know is abusing stimulants, knowledge is power. Some people are capable of masking their substance abuse well while others may show some telltale signs such as:
Deep in the heart of South America grows a versatile crop called the coca plant. Natives use the plant’s leaves for their mild anesthetic effects and to treat common ailments. But others process the plant to extract a crystalline powder known as cocaine. Cocaine, a powerful stimulant, can be inhaled or injected directly into the veins. A common form of cocaine is called crack, which acts faster than cocaine and is cheaper to produce. This drug is highly addictive and has the potential to cause irreversible damage to the brain.
Bath salts, which have entered become more public in the past decade, are much more than relaxing spa additives. Because they imitate the effects of methamphetamines, bath salts can cause users to act in alarmingly violent ways. The imprecise and impure method by which the drug is synthesized can make the effects vary widely, also making the drug dangerous and difficult to outlaw.
Immortalized by popular television shows, crystal meth is an incredibly addictive and dangerous drug that has swept the country. Users feel a short spurt of energy and euphoria followed by long-lasting adverse symptoms. The appeal for this drug is its immediate effects, which becomes quicker when the drug is injected directly into the bloodstream. Crystal meth can permanently alter your brain chemistry, making it very difficult to quit without the help of a treatment center.
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One of the more common drugs used to increase concentration in those that have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Ritalin is usually prescribed to younger people as they encounter difficulties in school. When these users become adults, they can develop a tolerance to Ritalin and require more of the drug to achieve the same effects. Ritalin is often bought and sold illegally and has a high potential for abuse.
Also a popular treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Adderall works just like the other stimulants on this list. Taking this drug regularly can cause the user to feel as though the effects bring them into normalcy, creating both a physical and psychological dependence on Adderall. Addiction can also form even if you are taking Adderall recreationally without a previous diagnosis of ADHD.
Using a substance regularly, particularly one that changes the chemical makeup of your brain as stimulants do, can lead to a dependence on it to maintain normalcy. If you stop using the drug, you will likely experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, even if they’re not necessarily dangerous on their own. Many people end up relapsing just to stop the symptoms they experience. Stimulant withdrawal symptoms that may occur when use stops include:
While these symptoms are seldom fatal, they can be extremely dangerous if other drugs are used in conjunction with the stimulant. It is always best to have an addiction professional assess your case to determine the severity of your stimulant addiction.
If you or someone you know is struggling with stimulant abuse or addiction, the best thing to do is to seek help from an accredited treatment center. An addiction professional will assess your case and work with you to determine what level of treatment to place you in based on your needs, goals, as well as the history and severity of substance abuse.
We’ll go through the different levels of treatment that may be a part of your treatment plan after entering a rehab facility. However, each person is unique, and so is their struggle with addiction. Because of this, not everyone with a stimulant addiction will go through all the levels.
The first and most intensive level is detox. Here, you will stay at a treatment facility while your body purges itself of the stimulant. Because withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable, the detox facility will aim to make your experience as easy and comfortable as possible. It also will provide you with an environment free from the temptation to relapse and use during withdrawal. Detox is especially important if you have been using other substances such as alcohol or benzodiazepines with stimulants.
The next level of care is residential treatment. Here, you will live at the addiction treatment center for 30 days to 90 days while participating daily in both group and individual therapies that are designed to help you identify the root of your addiction. While detox handles the physical issues concerning addiction, the clinical treatment in residential will help you manage the psychological aspect. This creates a solid foundation for lasting recovery and equips you with the tools you need to fight relapse down the road.
After residential, you will likely be encouraged to continue treatment in outpatient care. This level ranges in intensity based on how much time you spend in therapy each week. However, the major distinction is that you have the freedom to live at home or in a sober living facility while in outpatient. This is often an attractive option for those who are unable to put their responsibilities on hold to go to residential treatment for a month.
Psychology Today. (n.d.). Dopamine. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/dopamine
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2016, March 2). Stimulants. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/atod/stimulants
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Misuse of Prescription Drugs. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/which-classes-prescription-drugs-are-commonly-misused
(n.d.). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-the-basics/index.shtml
Institute of Medicine (US) and National Research Council (US) Committee on the Science of Adolescence. (1970, January 1). Adolescents and the Risks That Affect Them. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK53412/