Stimulant Drug Addiction

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What is Stimulants Addiction?

Stimulants are a category of drugs that stimulate the central nervous system to make users feel more alert, focused, and energetic. Stimulants can be classified as illegal drugs – such as cocaine or crystal meth – or can be prescriptions drugs – like Adderall or Ritalin.

In high doses, stimulant drugs can cause an excessive release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which induces euphoria. Whether an individual is seeking the perceived performance enhancing effects of the drug or is trying to get high, chronic use of any stimulant drug can rapidly develop into to a stimulant addiction.

As tolerance to the drug develops, the individual will need to take more and more of their preferred stimulant drug to experience the same level of stimulant intoxication, and they will suffer withdrawal symptoms such as depression, fatigue, and insomnia if they try to cut down or quit.

What are the Risks of Stimulants Addiction?

As of 2018, stimulant drug use continues to be an issue in the United States.  Abusing stimulant drugs puts the user at a high risk of medical complications, including:

  • Respiratory damage resulting in asthma, pulmonary edema, pneumonia, lung hemorrhages, and more.
  • Heart disease in all forms, including fatal cardiovascular reactions, which can occur at any dosage of stimulants, even in young people who are otherwise healthy.
  • Toxicity that destroys muscle and can cause kidney failure.
  • Brain hemorrhages, strokes, seizures, brain lesions, and other potentially fatal neurological complications, as well as cognitive deficits that impair thinking, memory, concentration, problem-solving, and learning.
  • Sexual and reproductive problems including spontaneous abortion, loss of libido, impotence, irregular or loss of menstruation, and gynecomastia.

Stimulant addiction also puts users at risk of a number of psychiatric complications and abnormal behaviors, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Repetitive acts
  • Depression
  • Confusion
  • Social isolation
  • Hyperactivity
  • Panic
  • Uncontrolled violence

The various abnormal behaviors induced using stimulants can progress into hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions. Given enough time, these intense psychotic symptoms may evolve into full-blown psychosis. If the user quits stimulant drugs early enough, most of these symptoms will slowly pass as the brain heals, but long-term use of stimulants may produce permanent neurological and psychological damage. 

Types of Stimulants

Adderall: Usually prescribed for ADHD or narcolepsy, Adderall is a mix of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, often abused by people seeking to increase their energy and focus for improved performance in academics, athletics, or other professions. It can be taken in capsule form or crushed and snorted.

Cocaine: Made from the South American coca plant, cocaine is an illicit stimulant drug that can be snorted as a powder, dissolved in water and then injected, or smoked. It creates euphoria, mental clarity, and increased energy for fifteen minutes to an hour during the early stages of use.

Dextroamphetamine: This powerful central nervous system stimulant can be used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It was once used by the military as a “go-pill” to keep troops functioning during nighttime missions or extended operations. It can be swallowed, snorted, or injected, which can cause blood vessel blockages due to insoluble fibers in the pills.

Methamphetamine: Also known as meth, this synthetic stimulant comes in powder or pill form, or can be chemically altered into glassy or rock-like fragments known as crystal meth. Meth can be swallowed, injected, snorted, or smoked. Smoking or injecting produces the most intense effects. Crystal meth produces a rush that lasts around 30 minutes, followed by an extended high can last as long as 16 hours.

Ritalin: Used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Ritalin is often misused by people who take it in large amounts, dissolve it in water then inject it, or crush and snort the drug to experience a short-lived rush of energy and euphoria.

What are the Symptoms of Stimulants Abuse?

Stimulant drugs cause the release of abnormal amounts of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter related to motivation, cognition, movement, pleasure, and reward. It is an essential part of the brain’s reward system, which reinforces pleasurable, life-sustaining activities such as eating and sex. By hacking into the brain’s reward system, stimulant drugs train the user to give stimulants recognition as an important survival activity, and because the dopamine reward associated with stimulants is so unnaturally intense, the brain ranks it above all other activities.

Individuals addicted to stimulants often go into a pattern of using, then crashing, then using again, over and over, in what’s known as a binge. A stimulant binge may last for hours or days, with the user not sleeping or eating, and often becoming paranoid and aggressive. Acts of violence are common following stimulant binges, particularly with cocaine.

Other effects of stimulant abuse include:

  • Elevated heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • Seizures
  • Irregular heartbeat and palpitations
  • Restlessness, jitters
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Teeth grinding
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Insomnia
  • Confusion
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Depression
  • Anhedonia (an inability to feel pleasure)
  • Muscle pain
  • Hostility
  • Paranoia
  • Involuntary movements
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Psychosis
  • Brain damage
  • Heart failure

What are the Signs of Stimulants Addiction?

If someone you love is abusing stimulants, they may experience some of the side effects listed above, such as heart palpitations, stomach problems, or insomnia. You may also notice dilated pupils, and tremors and their energy levels and moods may swing dramatically from high to low.

Other behavioral signs of stimulants addiction include:

  • Exaggerated confidence and self-esteem
  • Hyperactivity
  • Rapid speech and movement
  • Poor impulse control
  • Poor hygiene
  • Neglected responsibilities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Risky behavior
  • Hostility and aggression
  • Strange sleep patterns
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Frequent scratching, skin picking
  • Tooth decay and loss
  • Hair loss
  • Strange behavior
  • Misperceptions and behavior that indicate a break with reality

When to Get Help for Stimulants Addiction

No one intends to develop an addiction to stimulant drugs. Addiction develops in stages, starting with experimentation. Unfortunately, some stimulants, such as crystal meth, can cause addiction after a single dose.

Drug experimentation usually leads to the regular use of stimulants. Often this is social use, but individuals who are socially isolated or introverted may choose to use alone. Regular use leads to riskier forms of stimulant use, such as attempting to drive while high, or using drugs while caring for children. At this stage, not all users are physically dependent, but they, and the people they love are likely experiencing adverse effects resulting from drug use.

Chronic stimulant use will lead to physical dependency in a short period of time. The body and brain always seek to maintain balance, so when drug use becomes chronic, the brain adapts to function at a “normal” level with the presence of drugs. This results in a tolerance to the effects of stimulants, so that the user needs to take more, and suffers withdrawal symptoms when they aren’t using. At this point, the individual is addicted and must continue to take stimulants to function normally.

Although it would be best to seek help as soon as drug use begins to have a negative impact on your life, or causes you to take unnecessary risks, you absolutely must seek professional help for a stimulants addiction when you recognize that you are no longer able to function normally without stimulant drugs.

Withdrawal symptoms for stimulant addiction are:

  • Irritability and anger
  • Depression
  • Fatigue and lethargy
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Agitation
  • Paranoia
  • Confusion and brain fog
  • Impaired memory
  • Anhedonia
  • Insomnia and/or hypersomnia
  • Unpleasantly intense dreams
  • Powerful drug cravings 

What to Do If Someone You Love is Abusing Stimulants

Anyone who is addicted to stimulants is at risk of overdosing, and if you love someone with this addiction, it is important to know the signs of stimulant overdose, which may include:

  • Tremors
  • Rapid breathing
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Overactive reflexes
  • Aggression
  • Panic
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Restlessness
  • Muscle pains and weakness
  • Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea
  • Convulsions
  • Coma

If you notice any of these symptoms of overdose, or any other alarming physical or psychological symptoms, immediately call for emergency medical help. While you may want to stay near your loved one, make sure to remove yourself if they show signs of paranoia, aggression, or violence. They may hurt you without realizing what they are doing.

If you have tried to have a calm, honest conversation with your loved one about their stimulant addiction without getting through, you may want to plan a formal intervention. An intervention is when a group of people who care about the individual with addiction works together, possibly with the help of a counselor, religious leader, or professional interventionist; to try and get the individual with an addiction to recognize their problem and the need for professional help.

If your loved one rejects the offer of treatment, make it clear that you will help them get treatment whenever they are ready, and then follow through on the consequences you outlined. Given time, your loved one may change their mind, but in the meantime, keep yourself, and any children who may be involved, safe and away from negativity, emotional upheaval, or abuse.

Which Treatment Options are Available for Stimulant Addiction?

Inpatient treatment

Inpatient treatment is when a person in treatment for stimulant addiction lives full time at an addiction treatment facility that also has medical staff. It can be important to have medical assistance available during detoxification when the body rids itself of addictive chemicals and goes through stimulant withdrawal symptoms. Medical treatment should be available in case of health complications that may arise during detox.

Inpatient treatment provides a structure that a person in recovery needs to begin healing from addiction, and being in a 24/7 healing environment intensifies the experience and allows for faster progress. The security of being inside a treatment facility also prevents patients from being able to give into the temptation to use. By the time they move onto an outpatient program, they will be at a stronger point in their recovery, and less vulnerable to relapse.

Outpatient treatment

Outpatient treatment usually follows inpatient treatment, but some people begin addiction treatment with an outpatient program. At an outpatient program, a person in recovery receives a day, evening, and/or weekend addiction treatment while continuing to live at home. This can be effective if the patient has a safe and stable home environment that is free from addictive substances.

Treatment Interventions for Stimulants Addiction

During inpatient and outpatient treatment programs, a person recovering from an addiction to stimulant drugs should receive a comprehensive range of treatment interventions. These will likely include:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, teaches the patient new ways of coping with conflict and stressful situations, how to recognize their drug use triggers, and ways to avoid those triggers or deal healthfully with those they can’t avoid.
  • Individual counseling allows patients to work with psychiatrists or psychologists to diagnose any co-occurring disorders, identify past traumas, and work through these issues and any current issues or conflicts. Individual counseling is also excellent for setting goals and planning how to achieve them.
  • Family counseling does not have to just involve blood relations but can include any member of the patient’s support system. These sessions help loved ones heal wounds, resolve conflicts, and improve communication. They also allow people who live together to learn how to change their behavior and environment to support the patient’s continued abstinence.
  • Group counseling and/or peer support groups such as 12-step groups give patients an opportunity to confide in people who understand their experience, to receive advice and learn from the experiences of others, and to benefit from the acceptance of a community of people in recovery.
  • Aftercare, vocational counseling, and job or housing placement are helpful for safely transitioning people in recovery out of the treatment environment and back into the community.

Types of Drug Addiction

Nikki Seay Bio Image
Nikki Seay, LPN, BS
Addiction & Mental Health Author
Nikki brings more than 10 years' experience in content and healthcare. She holds a Licensed Practical Nursing degree and a B.S. in Marketing. In recovery since 2010, Nikki understands addiction from both a personal and a clinical point of view, which helps her create content that truly impacts our audience.