As the name implies, stimulants are highly addictive drugs that temporarily increase alertness, energy, and attention in a user. Often called “uppers,” stimulant substances are most commonly abused among adolescents and young adults who are looking for an easy and instantaneous means to get up and go. Some adolescents abuse stimulants to stay focused on school assignments, other young adults abuse these drugs to stay awake long enough to party. Many stimulant users, regardless of age or reasons behind their use, develop a tolerance and use the drugs solely to function throughout the day.
Stimulants cover a large category of drugs of abuse, drugs of which can be either legal or illegal. On one end of the stimulant spectrum, there are illicit street drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth, and crack. At the other end, there are prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin that are neatly packed away in tablets or capsules and appear completely safe to use. Yet regardless of their form and their legality, all stimulant drugs pose an easy risk of dependence and addiction, especially in youth whose use is not being monitored.
At one point in time, stimulant drugs were commonly used to treat medical conditions such as asthma, respiratory issues, neurological disorders, and even obesity. As we became more aware of their high potential for abuse, however, stimulant medical use began to diminish. Today, stimulant drugs are only prescribed for few cases of ADHD, narcolepsy, and depression.
For adolescents who struggle with attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, it is true that stimulant drugs can improve communication, thinking ability, and promote focus on specific priorities. All the while, more and more youth are being diagnosed with ADHD and being medicated at a young age as a result. This frequency makes prescription stimulant drugs appear in medicine cabinets throughout our neighborhoods, increasing their accessibility for teens craving a quick high. Prescription stimulants are most commonly abused by teens that crush the pills and snort the drug for an instant, powerful high. Others will ingest much higher quantities to achieve the same effects. Stimulant abuse produces a rapid increase in dopamine levels in the brain, generating great feelings of euphoria at first, followed by severe withdrawal symptoms such as fatigue and depression.
Warning Signs of Stimulant Addiction
Side effects and symptoms of a stimulant addiction will differ depending on which stimulant drug is being abused. Illicit drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, are manufactured (often in home labs) and vary in their composition. These drugs can be cut with household products, and therefore carry serious health risks of their own—so much, in fact, that just one dose can be fatal if a user tries a lethal batch.
While many users believe that stimulant drugs can enhance mental capacities, abuse of stimulant substances can actually negatively impact brain function. In many cases, stimulant drugs will cause bizarre, erratic behavior and even psychosis. Users of stimulant drugs often experience great hostility and paranoia. In high doses, these drugs can produce delusions, hallucinations, and even suicidal or homicidal thoughts.
If you believe your son is abusing stimulant drugs, his physical health may also be at great risk. If he is exhibiting any of warning signs of a stimulant addiction, such as manic behavior and restlessness, it is important to seek professional drug treatment as soon as possible. With long-term use, stimulant drugs can cause severe damage to the heart, nervous system, and respiratory system. High doses can dangerously increase body temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, and heartbeat—leading to heart failure and permanent brain damage. Other physical side effects of stimulant drug abuse include:
- Decreased appetite, weight loss, and malnutrition
- Interrupted sleep patterns and insomnia
- Excessive sweating
- Chest pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cardiovascular problems, such as palpitations, stroke, and heart attack
Stimulant Addiction Treatment
Stimulant drug abuse in adolescents and young adults, no matter how much or how frequent, can quickly lead to addiction. Even with short-term use, stimulants will produce a “down” that almost immediately follows their “up.” Because their high is both fleeting and intense, stimulants almost always bear severe withdrawal symptoms—immediate exhaustion, apathy, and depression. It is these debilitating symptoms that lead stimulant users to use the drugs again, not necessarily to get “high” anymore, but rather, to get well, to feel any bit of energy. When withdrawal symptoms develop, an addiction likely has as well, and professional intervention will be needed.
Over two million Americans today are addicted to stimulants such as cocaine and Adderall. For teens addicted to stimulant drugs, detoxification may be needed to ease symptoms of withdrawal and to treat any other co-occurring side effects. There are currently no medications used to treat stimulant addiction, and the most effective stimulant addiction treatment known is through a series of behavioral therapies. At Turning Point, we have found that behavioral therapies and contingency management are the best ways to help addicted individuals unlearn their addiction, to resist any cravings, and to further build a lifestyle free of stimulant drugs.