Stimulant Addiction

Estimated reading time: 31 minute(s)

Many people in the United States continue using stimulants daily, such as nicotine and caffeine. However, these stimulants are different and rather harmless than the ones prescribed by doctors, like Adderall and Ritalin, to treat disorders like ADHD. In addition, there is a third category of stimulants, including cocaine methamphetamines, and amphetamines, that are illegal to use.

Regardless of the type of stimulants a person uses, these medications can increase energy and focus, tempting people to use and abuse them. This stimulant abuse may present in different types, from a student who buys Adderall occasionally to get through their tests to a person who experiences long-term meth addiction.

Stimulants are available in different types, formulations, and potency and have variable availability. Depending on these factors, the effects associated with stimulant use may vary from minor ones, like occasional insomnia, to potentially life-threatening consequences, like an overdose. Irrespective of the severity of the problem, there are many stimulant intoxication treatment programs to keep this program under control. 

Stimulant Use Quick Facts

  • Stimulant abuse is present in all age groups and socioeconomic lines
  • Around two-thirds of young adults report abusing prescription stimulants like Ritalin or Adderall
  • Approximately ten percent of people report abusing at least one stimulant in the past year
  • In 2013, more than 1.9 million Americans suffered from a stimulant use disorder
  • Around 855,000 people with stimulant use disorder prefer using cocaine as their drug of choice

Common Examples of the Most Powerful Stimulants

The pharmaceutical market is full of different stimulants with their respective potency and addiction potential.[1] Some examples of these common stimulant drugs include the following:


As the most popular drug to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Adderall was first approved for use in 1960. It also holds the title of the most commonly prescribed amphetamine in the U.S.


Also known as Dextroamphetamine, this drug is a potent central nervous system stimulant. It has been a successful part of the American pharmaceutical market since 1976 and is another common medication to keep ADHD in check. Dexedrine is also popular as it was used in tanks, military air, and special forces during special missions, like bombing at night or extended combat missions.


Experts first approved Ritalin in 1955 as a drug to treat hyperactive children. It differs from Adderall and Dexedrine as it is methylphenidate with a similar mechanism of action as amphetamine but produces milder results.


Concerta was approved in 2000 as a drug to manage ADHD. It is an extended-release version of Ritalin with longer working hours.


Introduced in 1947, Desoxyn is a methamphetamine that initially treated obesity but is now known to manage ADHD.


Commonly used as a bronchodilator and an appetite suppressant, ephedrine also possesses the skills to manage ADHD. The drug can treat obesity, lower blood pressure, and manage asthma-related wheezing and chest tightness.

Illicit Stimulants

Cocaine, crystal meth, and crack are examples of illicit stimulants with effects comparable to prescription stimulants. While most prescription stimulants are available as time-release drugs, their illicit alternatives lead to a short-term, relatively intense euphoria.

What Causes Stimulant Addiction? Important Causes and Risk Factors

There are multiple reasons why someone may tempt to use a stimulant. Current research reveals that this type of addiction originates from a combination of both environmental and genetic factors. [2] These factors include:

Genetic Causes

Individuals who grow up in families where siblings, parents, or caregivers use stimulants or other drugs are more likely to use them. Studies performed on identical twins also suggest that genetics also determines a person’s vulnerability to acquiring addiction. Newer studies exploring this link have already identified some potential genetic markers that determine this vulnerability.

Environmental Causes

In addition to the role of genetics in determining an individual’s vulnerability to drug use, certain environmental factors also seem to come into play. For example, individuals who spent their childhood in a household where drug use was normal are more likely to abuse them in the future. Similarly, students with very high academic expectations or individuals with high work pressure may also abuse stimulants to cope with their projects. Other environmental factors that may increase the risk of stimulant abuse include poverty, unemployment, and a history of abuse.

In addition to the causative factors mentioned above, some risk factors make certain people more vulnerable to stimulant addiction than others. These risk factors include the following:

  • Personal history of substance use or mental illness
  • Easy access to stimulant medications
  • Family history of substance use or mental illness
  • Male gender
  • Poverty
  • Long-term exposure to high levels of stress
  • Unemployment
  • Coping with consistently high demands or expectations
  • Personal history of trauma or violence in the past
  • Exposure to stimulants in vitro due to maternal drug use during pregnancy

Common Signs of Stimulant Abuse

Each person addicted to stimulants may display variable signs and symptoms, depending on the type of drug they are using, the duration of use, current mental and physical health, etc. However, some of the most common signs of stimulant abuse that commonly hit the majority of people include the following:

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Lying, stealing, or engaging in deceptive or fraudulent behavior
  • Visiting different websites to order stimulants without a prescription
  • Exhibiting excessive motivation or energy
  • Arranging consultations with more than one doctor to gain multiple prescriptions for stimulants
  • Frequent aggressive or angry outbursts
  • Engaging in risky or impulsive behaviors

Physical Symptoms

  • Changes in appetite
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Weight loss
  • Twitches or jitteriness
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Hair loss
  • Skin problems

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Flight of ideas
  • Hyperfocus
  • Enhanced sensory awareness
  • Confusion
  • Racing thoughts
  • Paranoia
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Poor decision-making skills

Psychosocial Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Aggressiveness
  • Increased confidence
  • Anger

Stimulants Addiction Treatment: What are the Common Steps?

If you or someone you know has been abusing stimulants, remember that treatment is available in various therapies. Most of these treatment plans begin with a detox to help addicts go through withdrawal with comfort and ease. The withdrawal stage can be extremely dangerous and uneasy, with symptoms like anxiety, drug cravings, paranoia, and fatigue. However, with proper support and help from professionals, it is possible to keep them under control while moving forward toward recovery.

Read Also About Oxycontin Detox

As a part of the detox process, some experts also use medications to ease the process and make recovery more effective. While there are no FDA-approved drugs to keep stimulant abuse in control, some other drugs can be safely used to promote long-term treatment. Following the detox process, the addicted individuals swiftly move into a rehabilitation phase where they seek help from evidence-based therapies based on their unique needs. The two most common treatment environments that offer this stage of treatment include the following:

Outpatient Treatment

In an outpatient program, clients go through regularly-scheduled individual and group counseling sessions to identify and overcome addiction triggers. After attending therapy in the daytime, clients are free to return to their homes in a supportive environment/

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment provides round-the-clock care to people who do not have supportive family members back home. Such people live at dedicated sober living homes or alternative living arrangements while receiving help and care under constant monitoring. This level of care is more suitable for those with severe stimulant addiction.

Some examples of evidence-based therapies that can help people successfully overcome stimulant addiction include the following:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy: CBT is a goal-oriented therapy that helps addicts understand their challenges, experiences, and problems and change their thinking and behaviors.
  • Contingency management: This behavioral therapy reinforces certain positive behaviors through incentives. These incentives can be in the form of prizes, cash, or other privileges.
  • Community reinforcement: This part of treatment involves job skills training, relationship counseling, and vocational guidance, along with conventional contingency management. Community reinforcement aims to help people identify certain behaviors that reinforce stimulant use and replace them with positive ones to make life more rewarding.

Motivational interviewing: As a client-centered type of counseling, motivational

This client-centered counseling helps people overcome ambivalent feelings and insecurities in order to become more engaged with treatment efforts and more motivated to reduce or stop stimulant use.


How do people use stimulant drugs?

People may use stimulant drugs in different ways, such as:

  • Injecting: This method of consumption significantly increases the risk of an overdose and develops abscesses and infections at the injection site. Moreover, sharing needles to inject a stimulant may also lead to the spread of Hepatitis C or HIV
  • Smoking: Smoking a stimulant medication often triggers breathing issues in users
  • Snorting: Snorting a stimulant causes damage to the nasal tissue

How does stimulant abuse affect a person?

Stimulants can lead to diverse side effects, depending on the type of drug, its extent and length of abuse, and multiple individual factors. Nevertheless, some common effects of prolonged stimulant abuse may lead to the following:

  • Social isolation
  • Relationship issues, such as estrangement, divorce, or loss of child custody
  • Stress
  • damage to the kidneys, lungs, liver, or the heart
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Seizures
  • Development of cognitive deficits associated with concentration, memory, attention, and problem-solving
  • Loss of job
  • Financial issues
  • Erratic behavior
  • Death


Can stimulant addiction co-occur with other disorders?

Yes, people who are experiencing a stimulant addiction may also develop other mental illnesses at the same time. Some examples of these mental illnesses include the following:

  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders

Can stimulants be addictive?

Yes, stimulants can be highly effective because of the euphoria they lead to by acting on the central nervous system. As soon as these drugs reach the brain, they act on various neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine. Stimulants mainly target dopamine and norepinephrine and increase their activity to trigger a high and reinforce rewarding behaviors. Because stimulants affect the brain, they have an inherent risk of misuse. Even if not prescribed for a medical reason, many people may use them to reduce mental fatigue, trigger weight loss, experience a high, or increase mental alertness. These benefits are desirable for many people willing to smoke, snort, or ingest these medications, depending on whatever suits them the most.


1 NIDA. 2018, June 6. Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts.

2 NIDA. 2018, June 6. Understanding Drug Use and Addiction DrugFacts.

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