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Are Stimulant Drugs Addictive or Dangerous?

how addictive are stimulants

When we talk about the drug epidemic in the United States, we’re almost always referring to the rise of opioid abuse and overdoses across the country. It’s no wonder, as opioid abuse accounts for more than 70% of fatal overdoses today. However, this does not diminish the potential dangers around other types of drugs, such as stimulants. In fact, recent news has underlined the oft-ignored dangers of stimulant drugs, as well as the rising number of overdoses involving stimulants.

Stimulants are a category of drugs that trigger increased activity and functioning within the body’s systems. Commonly called “uppers,” stimulants can make a user feel more awake, energized, confidant, and alert. While these effects may sound beneficial, stimulants also have many dangers associated with them—whether they are prescription or street drugs. Common stimulant drugs include cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription amphetamines like Adderall and Ritalin.

When we hear about drugs like cocaine, and even Adderall, we typically hear only the upsides of these uppers. Adderall helps increase one’s performance at school. A cocaine high makes a party more fun. Rarely do we hear about the overdoses or the long-term effects of these drugs. For example, did you know cocaine can lead to a loss of brain functioning with repeated use? Or that Adderall poses a high potential for abuse and addiction, according to the DEA?

Still, many people wonder, “Are stimulants dangerous?” and “Are stimulants addictive?” The answer, no matter whether it is a street drug like cocaine or a prescription drug like Adderall, is almost always yes.

The Dangers of Illicit Stimulant Drugs

The most common illicit stimulant drugs used include cocaine and methamphetamine. Cocaine is a drug that’s usually snorted to produce a fast-acting high. It often leads to a boost in energy, euphoria, and feelings of invincibility. However, it can also produce a variety of negative effects. Methamphetamine, commonly referred to as crystal meth, produces a similar, but more intense high than cocaine. For this reason, it is also highly addictive. Both drugs have the severe potential for negative reactions and overdose. In late 2020, the National Institute on Drug Abuse issued this warning to its readers:

“Although deaths from opioids continue to command the public’s attention, an alarming increase in deaths involving the stimulant drugs methamphetamine and cocaine are a stark illustration that we no longer face just an opioid crisis.”

The NIDA believes that the rise of cocaine and meth overdoses is not due to these drugs alone, but rather a combination of drugs. More and more, street drugs are getting laced with intense drugs like fentanyl, which have an extremely high risk for overdose death. Most often, users do not know what they are taking when they are buying stimulants illegally. Additionally, some people will use multiple drugs to intensify their high, with alcohol and cocain, as well as cocaine and heroin, being common culprits. In either situation, overdose is a severe and life-threatening risk. The NIDA continues to warn:

“Overdose is not the only danger. Persistent stimulant use can lead to cognitive problems as well as many other health issues (such as cardiac and pulmonary diseases). Injecting cocaine or methamphetamine using shared equipment can transmit infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis B and C. Cocaine has been shown to suppress immune-cell function and promote replication of the HIV virus and its use may make individuals with HIV more susceptible to contracting hepatitis C. Similarly methamphetamine may worsen HIV progression and exacerbate cognitive problems from HIV.”

It’s clear that cocaine and methamphetamine, and stimulants as a whole, pose great danger to users. Particularly when purchased illegally and off the street, the dangers of stimulants include:

  • Risk of being laced. 

Laced drugs and polydrug abuse can cause the body to go into shock, leading to life-threatening reactions and side effects, including overdose.

  • Risk of overdose. 

Lacing is not the only cause of stimulant overdose, however. Overdose can occur when too much of a drug is used within a period of time. 

  • Negative side effects. 

In addition to fatality, stimulants can cause adverse reactions in the body. Methamphetamine abuse commonly leads to anxiety, insomnia, cardiovascular problems, hallucinations, dental problems, and paranoia, to name a few. Cocaine, meanwhile, often leads to panic attacks, psychosis, heart rhythm problems, stroke, heart attacks, coma, nasal damage, and malnutrition. You can learn more from the NIDA here.

  • Risk of addiction. 

With repeated exposure and use, cocaine and methamphetamine are highly addictive stimulant drugs. Both drugs cause lasting changes in the brain’s reward circuit, leading to dependence and addiction. According to the Drug Enforcement Administration, cocaine and methamphetamine are categorized as Schedule II drugs, meaning they are dangerous with a high potential for severe psychological or physical dependence. Next to these illicit stimulants, the DEA also lists dangerous and addictive prescription stimulant drugs.

The Dangers of Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants, when used exactly as directed by a doctor, are generally safe. They are prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, by increasing alertness, energy, and attentiveness in needing individuals. However, due to their energizing and performance-enhancing effects, many people misuse and abuse these substances.

It is not uncommon for teens and young adults to use prescription stimulants when they are not prescribed the drug. They may wish to cram for a test or simply stay up all night with friends. However, repeated or increased use of stimulant drugs can pose many dangers to their health. These include:

  • Physical Side Effects: 

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), stimulant abuse can lead to problems with your heart, nerves, and stomach. Misusing stimulants can cause a heart attack, stroke, seizures, or failure of circulation. This is because, when they enter the body, stimulants increase the activity of the brain chemical, norepinephrine. Norepinephrine affects blood vessels, blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and breathing. 

  • Mental Side Effects: 

In addition to the physical side effects listed above, the misuse of stimulant drugs— even for a short period of time—can also lead to hallucinations, paranoia, or anger. Stimulants can also affect your sleep, which is vital for memory and learning.

  • Dangers of Addiction: 

In 2018, over 560,000 people (aged 12 or older) had a stimulant use disorder, or stimulant addiction. This means that a person had problems with their health, school, or relationships because of their use of stimulant abuse. According to the DEA, or Drug Enforcement Administration, prescription stimulants like Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine are Schedule II drugs. This means prescription stimulants have “a high potential for abuse, with use potentially leading to severe psychological or physical dependence. These drugs are also considered dangerous.”

  • Risk of Overdose: 

Abusing prescription stimulants can also lead to overdose. A person must use enough of the drug to produce a life-threatening reaction in the body. For this reason, it is important to limit usage to what the doctor prescribes. In the case of an overdose, a person may exhibit symptoms such as restlessness, tremors, overactive reflexes, rapid breathing, confusion, aggression, hallucinations, panic states, abnormally increased fever, muscle pains and weakness.

What to Do In the Face of a Stimulant Problem

If you or your loved one is asking, “Are stimulants dangerous?” or “Are stimulants addictive?”, it is likely because there is some concern at bay. Perhaps you or your loved one is abusing stimulants currently, or has recently started experimenting with drugs like cocaine or Adderall. As we’ve covered above, stimulant abuse does pose serious risk for addiction, and for health problems. However, early intervention can stop these dangerous effects.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the best treatment for stimulant abuse and addiction are behavioral interventions. Behavioral drug treatment can be used effectively to help users overcome the root of their drug use, cope with mental health symptoms, handle drug cravings, and find motivation to live a healthy life without drugs.

Turnbridge offers a stimulant addiction treatment program for young men and young women struggling. If you or your loved one is in need of help, you can always give us a call. It is never too early to seek help for a drug problem, but it can be too late. Call 877-581-1793 today.