Stimulant Abuse Information

Understanding Stimulant Addiction

Learn About Stimulant Addiction & Abuse

Stimulants refer to a group of substances that include amphetamines, cocaine, and methamphetamines, or meth. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified stimulants as being Schedule II substances, which means that they pose a high risk for abuse.

Stimulants like prescription amphetamines serve a beneficial purpose in improving the quality of life for those who suffer from attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. These medications, which include Adderall and Ritalin, help enhance individuals’ abilities to sustain attention and place focus on the tasks that they need to accomplish. When individuals who do not have ADHD take these substances, however, they benefit from achieving enhanced mental acuity that can include an increase in alertness, attention, and a significant boost of energy. Cocaine and methamphetamine can produce similar effects, as well as induce an increased sense of self-confidence while inducing pleasant feelings of euphoria. Stimulants are also widely known to suppress appetite, making them appealing to individuals who wish to lose weight.

When individuals abuse any type of stimulant to the extent that it begins to hinder their ability to function appropriately on a daily basis, it is likely that they have developed stimulant use disorder. And once an addiction to stimulants has developed, it can be extremely difficult to overcome without professional help. Fortunately, such help is readily available.


Stimulant Abuse Statistics

Unfortunately, the abuse of stimulants is something that affects many individuals throughout the United States. Methamphetamine is believed to be abused by approximately 1.2 million people, and the Office of National Drug Control Policy states that cocaine abuse affects nearly 3.6 million people. In regards to amphetamines, an estimated 13 million people are said to use these types of substances for nonmedical purposes.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and Risk Factors for Stimulant Abuse

Potential causes and risk factors for the development of stimulant abuse and addiction are discussed briefly in the following:

Environmental: The environment in which one is immersed can play a role in enhancing his or her vulnerability to beginning to abuse stimulants and to developing stimulant use disorder. For stimulants like cocaine specifically, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) notes that being exposed to cocaine prenatally or having parents who use cocaine throughout one’s childhood can both increase an individual’s risk for abusing the substance at some point in his or her life as well. Additionally, being exposed to community violence or to the abuse of other types of drugs or alcohol can also impact an individual’s decision to begin abusing stimulants.

Risk Factors:

  • Having a diagnosis of childhood conduct disorder
  • Suffering from other mental health conditions, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or antisocial personality disorder
  • Being exposed to violence during childhood
  • Growing up in an unstable home environment
  • Abusing other types of substances
  • Being impulsive or possessing other similar personality traits

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse

When individuals are abusing stimulants, the signs and symptoms that they exhibit will vary depending upon a number of different factors. Such factors can include the particular type of stimulant that is being abused, the duration of the abuse, and the frequency with which the drug is being abused. Examples of various symptoms may include:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • No longer participating in activities that were enjoyed
  • Changes in social interactions
  • Engaging in dangerous activities in order to obtain one’s stimulant of choice
  • Repetitive movements
  • No longer fulfilling obligations at school, work, or home
  • Hypervigilance

Physical symptoms:

  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Chest pain
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lowered or elevated blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils
  • Seizures
  • Perspiration or chills

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Experiencing intense cravings for stimulants
  • Confusion

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Psychological distress
  • Lack of emotional reactivity
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Brief periods of euphoria


Effects of Stimulant Abuse

When stimulant abuse is a factor in an individual’s life, he or she becomes vulnerable to experiencing a number of negative consequences. The specific effects that arise will vary depending upon the type of stimulant being used, the route of administration, the length of time that the person has been using, and the frequency of the use.

Abusing stimulants intravenously can place users at risk for experiencing the following detrimental physical effects:

  • Lung infections
  • Puncture marks
  • Contracting hepatitis or HIV/AIDS
  • Becoming infected with tuberculosis

Intranasal stimulant users may be at risk for experiencing the following negative health effects:

  • Nasal irritation
  • Nasal bleeding
  • Sinusitis
  • Punctured nasal septum

Abusing stimulants via inhalation can make users susceptible to experiencing the following effects on their health:

  • Bronchitis
  • Coughing
  • Respiratory distress
  • Pneumonitis

Abusing stimulants in any manner places individuals at risk for suffering from the following:

  • Chest pains
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Malnutrition
  • Significant weight loss
  • Deteriorated relationships
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss

Co-Occurring Disorders

Stimulant Abuse & Co-Occurring Disorders

When individuals are battling stimulant use disorder, they often struggle with other mental health conditions simultaneously. Additionally, these individuals are more susceptible to abusing other types of substances as well. According to the APA, the most common substances abused by people with an addiction to stimulants are those which contain sedative properties. This is believed to be due to the fact that sedative substances can help to alleviate some of the uncomfortable side effects known to arise with stimulant abuse.

The following are examples of various disorders that can co-occur alongside stimulant use disorder:

  • Alcohol use disorder
  • Other substance use disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder
  • Gambling disorder

Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of Stimulant Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of stimulant withdrawal: When individuals either cease their use of stimulants or significantly reduce the amount that they are using, they are likely going to experience an uncomfortable period of withdrawal as their bodies become accustomed to no longer having the substance present. The following are examples of various signs and effects of stimulant withdrawal:

  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams
  • Fatigue
  • Increase in appetite
  • Dysphoric mood
  • Psychomotor agitation
  • Psychomotor retardation
  • Impaired ability to perform occupationally
  • Disturbed social interactions
  • Other types of functional impairment

Effects of stimulant overdose: Unfortunately, the risk for overdosing is very real when individuals are trapped in a cycle of abusing this type of substance. An overdose occurs when individuals ingest more of a substance than their bodies able to metabolize. As the dosage that they are consuming increases, or the frequency with which they are using the substance escalates, so does the risk for overdose. If an overdose does occur, emergency medical treatment should be received immediately. The following signs and symptoms have been associated with stimulant overdose:

  • Flushing of the skin
  • Excessive sweating
  • Irregular breathing
  • Cramping
  • Feelings of panic
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hypertension
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Seizures
  • Stroke

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