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Stimulant Abuse Signs

Stimulant abuse symptoms include rapid speech, high energy levels, excessive sweating, agitation, twitching, reduced appetite and weight loss, and mood swings, among others.

Struggling with Stimulant Addiction? Get Help Now

Stimulant is an umbrella term for any drug that increases activity in the central nervous system. These can be widely available substances like caffeine, legal prescription medications like Adderall, nicotine, as well as illegal drugs like methamphetamines, cocaine, and synthetic cathinones like bath salts. [1]

These drugs vary widely in their effects and impacts on the body, but they are frequently the subject of abuse because they can provide euphoria and enhance physical and cognitive capacities temporarily. Stimulant abuse is very risky and can lead to permanent health complications and increase the risk of life-threatening effects. 

What Is Stimulant Abuse?

Stimulant drugs are everywhere, and sometimes, people use them in an appropriate or non-abusive manner. For example, you might kick off your morning with a warm cup of coffee or push away the afternoon fatigue with a mug of black tea.

People with mental health conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) might use prescription stimulants like Adderall to keep their symptoms under control. As long as they use their therapies per a doctor’s orders, this isn’t considered abuse.

People who abuse stimulants buy drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine from street dealers, and they use these substances to get high. They may also take prescription stimulants without a prescription or use them in a way a doctor doesn’t recommend (like snorting crushed pills).

How Many People Abuse Stimulants?

In the 2022 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, researchers examined how many people abused several different types of stimulants.[7]

Among people 12 and older in 2022, researchers found the following use rates for these drugs:

  • Prescription stimulants: 1.5% misused them. The percentage was highest among people ages 18 to 25. People who were multiracial were most likely to misuse these drugs.
  • Methamphetamine: 1% used this drug. The percentage was highest among people 26 and older, and white people were more likely to use this drug.
  • Cocaine: 1.9% used cocaine. The percentage was highest among people 18 to 25, with no significant difference among racial or ethnic groups.
  • Crack: 0.3% used crack. The percentage was highest among people 12 to 17, with more Black people using this drug than other groups.
  • Synthetic stimulants: 0.1% of people used these drugs. The rate was similar among all age and ethnic groups.

Signs & Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse

Stimulant abuse symptoms include rapid speech, high energy levels, excessive sweating, agitation, twitching, reduced appetite and weight loss, and mood swings, among others.[1]

If you are worried your loved one is abusing a stimulant like cocaine or meth, here are some signs of stimulant abuse to look out for:[1],[2]

  • Abnormal levels of excitement
  • Excessive euphoria
  • Speaking very rapidly and changing subjects quickly
  • Pacing and overall restlessness
  • Sweating profusely 
  • Flushed skin
  • Risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors, such as risky sexual activity
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Twitching and muscle spasms
  • Poor decision-making
  • Anxiety
  • Anger and aggressiveness
  • Dilated pupils
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Hair loss

People who misuse stimulants may do so in a “binge and crash” pattern which involves taking repeated doses of the stimulant, such as cocaine or methamphetamine, in a short period of time to keep the high going. After that, they may experience a “crash” or “come down,” in which they experience fatigue and depression. They may sleep for a few days to recover.

What Are the Dangers of Misusing Stimulants?

Stimulants can be very dangerous because of their impact on the central nervous system and the subsequent effects on the cardiorespiratory system. These risks exist in addition to the general risks that accompany substance abuse, such as having toxic levels of a foreign substance in the body and potential for overdose. [3]

Physical Risks

Abuse of legal or prescription stimulants, and use or abuse of illegal stimulants, can be associated with the following physical risks:[1],[2],[4]

  • Chest pain related to angina
  • Gastrointestinal complications
  • Hypertension
  • Irregular heart rate
  • A major cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke
  • Fever and rise in body temperature
  • Convulsions
  • Seizure
  • Loss of consciousness and coma
  • Death

Psychological & Behavioral Effects

Stimulant abuse can have marked effects on your mind and behavior as well, including these issues:[4]

  • Insomnia
  • Anger and aggression
  • Irritability 
  • Anxiety and panic
  • Depression
  • Mood fluctuations and inability to regulate mood
  • Risk-taking and sensation-seeking behaviors
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Delusions of grandeur

Legal Risks

People showing regular stimulant abuse signs often keep the drug on hand. If they’re caught with these substances, they could face serious consequences.

Per federal law, it’s illegal for people to have (or possess) prescription medications without a valid prescription. It’s also illegal for people to possess illicit drugs like methamphetamine and cocaine.[8]

If you’re caught in possession of stimulants, the consequences will vary by amount. The more you have, the more serious your punishment. Typically, offenses involve fines. However, if you’re caught more than once or with a lot of drugs, you could go to jail.

Social & Relationship Risks

Stimulant abuse signs are often visible to a person’s friends, family, and colleagues. If those symptoms appear regularly, they could become the focus of fights, disagreements, and arguments. 

In some cases, substance abuse can lead to breakups, divorce, and child custody battles. They can also lead to social isolation and despair.

If colleagues notice stimulant abuse signs, they could bring them to the attention of employers. In cases like this, people can lose their jobs and face serious financial distress. You could lose your car, home, and possessions due to your drug use.

Stimulant Toxicity or Overdose

One of the most significant risks associated with stimulant abuse is the chance of overdose or toxicity. This can occur when a dose is too high for the body to process, and the drugs overwhelm the system. However, unlike central nervous system depressants, people can experience life-threatening consequences even when they don’t take a toxic dose. This is because of the stress stimulants put on the cardiovascular system.[3]

Symptoms of a stimulant overdose include the following:[3]

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Convulsions
  • Disorientation
  • Stroke

If left untreated, stimulant overdose can lead to coma and death. If an overdose is suspected, immediately call 911. Professional medical care is needed, and prompt treatment can reduce the likelihood of severe or permanent damage.

In overdose, unless there is medical intervention, high fever, convulsions, and cardiovascular collapse may precede death. Because accidental death is partially due to the effects of stimulants on the body’s cardiovascular and temperature-regulating systems, physical exertion increases the hazards of stimulant use. 

Stimulant Abuse Risks by Type

Many different substances fall into the stimulant class. They all work a little differently and come with different types of risks. This chart can make those differences clear:[1,9,10]

Type of StimulantTypical EffectsSpecific Hazards
CaffeineIncreased awareness, cognitive function, athletic functionInsomnia, shakiness, anxiety, potential for withdrawal
Prescription medicationsHelpful for ADHD, improved sense of performance and attentionAddiction, paranoia, tolerance, withdrawal symptoms
Illegal stimulantsIntoxication, enhanced sense of self-esteem, improved physical performance, reduced appetiteAddiction, agitation, panic, withdrawal, tolerance, overdose, contamination

How to Recognize Stimulant Addiction

Chronic stimulant abuse can cause tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

These are some indicators of a stimulant addiction:[2]

  • Excessive preoccupation with getting and using stimulants
  • Lying, stealing, or manipulating others in order to gain access to stimulants
  • Visiting multiple doctors to receive prescriptions for stimulants
  • Purchasing illegal stimulants or prescription stimulants from another individual who is not a doctor and did not prescribe them to you
  • Perpetually misusing stimulants
  • Multiple unsuccessful attempts to stop using stimulants
  • Financial difficulties due to purchasing stimulants
  • Loss of employment and social relationships due to a preoccupation with stimulant use
  • Reduced interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when they discontinue use

If someone you know demonstrates any of these behaviors, and particularly if they display two or more, they may be addicted to stimulants and need help. 

An addiction can be associated with stigmas and cause shame, leading individuals to attempt to mask their condition. However, stimulant addiction is not a weakness or something to be embarrassed about. It’s a chronic and complex condition characterized by compulsive use despite negative consequences, and it requires comprehensive treatment.

Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms

Prolonged stimulant abuse can lead to dependence, which means that the body has grown accustomed to the presence of the drug and needs it to function. Those who are dependent on stimulants and suddenly quit or lower their dose will experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. 

Stimulant withdrawal symptoms may include the following:[2],[4]

It’s best to have medical supervision during the withdrawal process to ensure your safety and reduce your chances of relapse during detox. 

  • Feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Suicidal ideation
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Nervousness
  • Agitation
  • Dehydration
  • Chills or fever
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Paranoia and hallucinations
  • Loss of memory
  • Slowed movements and thoughts or repetitive movements
  • Increased appetite

It’s best to have medical supervision during the withdrawal process to ensure your safety and reduce your chances of relapse during detox. 

Sometimes, a tapered approach to withdrawal is recommended, in which the average dose is gradually reduced. If it’s a prescribed stimulant, this approach may be employed. 

Medications may be helpful during stimulant withdrawal. Studies have shown promise in using medications to treat cocaine dependence, and research is ongoing into medications that may assist with methamphetamine withdrawal. [6]

A Need for Treatment

If you or someone you know abuses stimulants, it’s never too late—or too early—to receive comprehensive stimulant addiction treatment. The sooner you enter a rehab program, the sooner you can begin to address the underlying factors that caused stimulant abuse in the first place.

There are many levels of care available including:

  • Inpatient rehab: You live at the treatment center for the duration of the program, receiving 24/7 care and support.
  • Partial hospitalization: You live at home and attend therapy for up to 30 hours per week in a hospital setting.
  • Intensive outpatient: You attend counseling for between 9 and 20 hours per week and return home during non-treatment hours.
  • Standard outpatient: The most flexible and least intensive option, you attend a few hours of care per week.

With the right treatment and support, you can begin to live a fulfilling life in recovery without threat of overdose or other harm due to substance abuse.

Updated May 10, 2024
  1. Stimulants. (April 2020). Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration.
  2. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). American Psychiatric Association. (2013).
  3. Amphetamine Toxicity. (November 2022). StatPearls.
  4. How Stimulants Affect the Brain and Behavior. (2021). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  5. Stimulant Use Disorder Treatment. (2020). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  6. The Search for Medications to Treat Stimulant Dependence. (June 2008). Addiction Science & Clinical Practice.
  7. Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States. - 21 U.S. Code 844: Penalties for Simple Possession. Cornell Law School. (November 2023). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  8. 21 U.S. Code 844: Penalties for Simple Possession. Cornell Law School.
  9. What Doctors Wish Patients Knew About the Impact of Caffeine. (January 2024). American Medical Association.
  10. What You Need to Know About Prescription Stimulants. National Institute on Drug Abuse.
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