Stimulants: Examples, Uses & Side Effects
Last Updated Dec 2, 2021
Stimulants are a highly addictive category of drugs that increase alertness, energy, and focus. They may be illegally obtained or legally prescribed.
Misuse of these drugs can be very dangerous, addictive, and sometimes deadly.
Various types of commonly abused drugs fall into the category of illegal stimulants.
Cocaine is a powerful and highly addictive stimulant.
It originates from the leaves of the coca plant, native to South America. This illegal drug can be snorted, smoked, or dissolved and injected.
Short-term health problems associated with cocaine use include increased heart rate and blood pressure, restlessness, anxiety, and erratic behavior. Continued cocaine use can lead to heart rhythm problems, heart attack, stroke, seizure, and coma.
If you’ve used cocaine regularly for a while, withdrawal symptoms may occur when use is stopped, including depression, slower thinking processes, and tiredness. During withdrawal, individuals may experience vivid unpleasant dreams, strong cravings for the drug, insomnia, hallucinations, mood swings, and headaches.
In 2018, 2% of the U.S. population, or 5.5 million people, reported using cocaine. Among drug overdoses, nearly one in five was cocaine-related.
There are no FDA-approved medications to treat addiction to cocaine, but medications may be used to address symptoms of withdrawal, such as anxiety or depression. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often part of a successful addiction treatment program.
Methamphetamine is an extremely addictive central nervous system stimulant. It creates a surge of energy, and users describe feeling as if they can do anything. Commonly, it is known as meth, ice, speed, and crystal.
The effects of meth do not last long. Due to this, it is common for people to binge on the drug to continue the euphoric feeling.
Severe negative health effects associated with meth use include dental problems, itchiness, irregular heart rate, extreme weight loss, and increased body temperature.
Use of the drug is often followed by a “crash,” which is extremely challenging. Withdrawal symptoms may include strong cravings for meth, insomnia, hallucinations, mood swings, and headaches.
Long-term methamphetamine use has severe mental and physical side effects. Long-term users often experience aggression, hallucinations, sagging skin, sores, weight loss, hallucinations, violent behavior, and paranoia.
Research studies show that some changes may be reversible after going off the drug for a year, while other changes in brain chemistry may be irreversible. This can contribute to long-term emotional and cognitive problems. Studies show that there may be an increased risk of developing Parkinson’s disease with long-term meth use.
According to the CDC, in 2020, 2.5 million Americans (ages 12 and older) reported using meth in the prior year.
MDMA, Ecstasy, or Molly
MDMA is a synthetic drug, commonly called ecstasy or Molly. It is a stimulant and hallucinogen. Its effects last between three and six hours.
This powerful drug alters mood, produces feelings of increased energy, and distorts the senses and time perception. It is known as a club drug, typically used at clubs, parties, and raves.
MDMA enhances the party experience and makes people feel happy and loving.
Despite these good feelings, there are dangerous side effects associated with MDMA use, including impulsiveness, dehydration, increased body temperature, nausea, chills, muscle cramping, blurred vision, chills, and irregular heartbeat.
Some people are unaware that ecstasy is not regulated in any way. It may be cut with other drugs, such as cocaine, LSD, heroin, amphetamine, caffeine, rat poison, or even fentanyl.
While the high may be relatively short, the crash following the high can last much longer. In the week following use, people may experience the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Memory problems
MDMA affects the brain by increasing dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Long-term health effects can include confusion, depression, memory problems, sleep problems, and less interest in sex.
High doses of MDMA affect the body’s ability to regulate temperature. This spike in body temperature can create problems in the heart, liver, or kidney, and it may cause death.
Even though Molly is purported to be a “purer” form of ecstasy, this isn’t true. In fact, Molly pills often contain synthetic cathinones, cocaine, cough medicine, or ketamine.
According to recent reports, 5 million American adults are misusing prescription stimulants. Overuse and unauthorized use of prescription drugs can have severe negative side effects and trigger addiction.
Many of the drugs used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are taken for nonmedical reasons and used recreationally. These drugs are known to improve concentration, increase focus, and decrease fatigue.
The most common prescribed stimulants are based on compounds that affect the brain’s dopamine pathways. These cause a euphoric feeling and can be extremely addictive.
These drugs have different molecular structures, but they function in similar ways.
While college students often abuse ADHD medications, studies show that nonmedical use of ADHD prescriptions does not improve intelligence or learning ability.
Adderall is the most popular drug for treating ADHD. In the United States, it is the most commonly prescribed amphetamine. It was first approved in 1960.
Statistics show that 614,000 teens between the ages of 12 and 17 admitted to using Adderall for nonmedical reasons in 2018. Every year, abuse of Adderall results in 1,500 emergency room visits.
Adderall is commonly available as a tablet or capsule. When abused, it may be swallowed, snorted, smoked, or injected.
In the short term, it can produce high body temperatures and an irregular heartbeat. Long-term use can cause heart problems, anger, paranoia, and psychosis.
Dexedrine is typically prescribed to treat ADHD. It was once used by the military to help special forces maintain energy and focus during combat. It has been used in the United States since 1976.
Side effects of Dexedrine include loss of appetite, weight loss, headache, dizziness, tremors, and irregular heart rate. It can contribute to hyperactivity and affect impulse control.
Dexedrine can cause new mental health symptoms or make psychosis symptoms worse, especially for people with a history of depression, bipolar disorder, or mental illness. Overdoses of Dexedrine can be fatal.
Ritalin is commonly prescribed to treat hyperactivity in children. Available since 1955, it has an effect that is similar to that associated with amphetamines but milder.
Ritalin is commonly available as a liquid, tablet, capsule, or chewable tablet. When misused, it can be swallowed, snorted, smoked, injected, or chewed.
It produces a sense of alertness, increasing attention and energy. Students use it to cram for exams, improve performance, or experience a euphoric high.
Side effects of Ritalin include sleeplessness, nervousness, decreased appetite, and stomach upset. It can trigger a condition called Raynaud’s syndrome, where the fingers and toes get less blood. Some people experience hallucinations when they take Ritalin.
There is a high potential to become dependent on Ritalin. Long term, it can create heart problems, psychosis, anger, and paranoia.
Concerta is a newer stimulant, prescribed since 2000, to treat ADHD. It is a long-acting drug, whereas Ritalin is a short-acting drug. The effects of Concerta last longer, up to 12 hours.
This is a popular drug that is often used recreationally by teens. Adolescents may get the drug from a friend who has a valid prescription. The pills are typically crushed and then snorted for a stronger effect.
Side effects of Concerta abuse include disrupted sleep, vision disturbances, and stroke.
There is a high probability of becoming dependent on Concerta, abusing the drug, and becoming addicted to it.
Desoxyn is a prescription medication for obesity. It can also be used to treat ADHD. This drug’s active ingredient is methamphetamine, and it has been available in the U.S. since 1947.
Desoxyn is commonly swallowed, snorted, smoked, and/or injected. Due to its extremely addictive nature, it is rarely prescribed, and prescriptions cannot be automatically refilled.
Short-term use creates increased alertness and decreased appetite. Long-term use can trigger anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and mood problems. Continued use can lead to paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, and intense skin itching.
Withdrawal symptoms from Concerta often include anxiety, depression, and tiredness.
Ephedrine is prescribed to dilate the bronchioles. It helps asthma patients by providing relief from wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.
It can also be used as an appetite suppressant in treating obesity. In some cases, ephedrine may be used to prevent low blood pressure or to treat ADHD.
Side effects of ephedrine may include a sensation of spinning, nausea, nervousness, dizziness, headache, and anxiety. Some people experience rapid or irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or discomfort.
Provigil is a medication prescribed for narcolepsy. The generic version is modafinil. Teens may use this drug nonmedically to stay up all night studying for a test.
Common side effects of Provigil are feelings of nervousness, anxiety, trouble sleeping, dizziness, headache, and nausea. Some people experience a rapid heartbeat, depression, constipation, and tremors. Serious side effects include severe rashes, vomiting, and fever.
Mental health side effects can develop with long-term modafinil use, such as hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.
Vyvanse (Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate)
Vyvanse is a prescription stimulant that may be prescribed for ADHD. It is generically known as lisdexamfetamine.
Vyvanse can also be prescribed for binge eating disorder. It was approved in 2007.
Studies show that about 31 percent of college students in the United States use Vyvanse and other stimulants. The drug has a high potential for abuse, especially for people who want to lose weight, stay focused, and increase their energy levels.
Vyvanse use has been connected with severe health problems as well as severe dependence. Side effects include increased blood pressure, augmented heart rate, physical exhaustion, insomnia, and loss of appetite.
After experiencing a high, a crash generally follows with symptoms like agitation, depression, muscle aches, sleepiness, and increased appetite. In severe cases, people may experience hallucinations, agitation, and seizures.
Help for Stimulant Addiction
Psychiatric problems may worsen with high-dose or long-term stimulant use. Heart attack, stroke, and death can occur in cases of overdose.
There is no FDA-approved medication for treating an addiction to stimulants. However, help is available to minimize withdrawal symptoms and reduce dependence on stimulants.
Most addiction treatment specialists recommend comprehensive therapy and ongoing support to avoid stimulant misuse in the long term. With the right assistance, you can effectively stop misusing stimulants today.
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