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Stimulant Abuse, Addiction and Treatment Options


What are Stimulants and How do They Affect Your Health?

Stimulant – Caffeine

Stimulants (psychostimulants) are a class of prescription drugs used today that increase a person’s energy and alertness.  In the past, these drugs were used to treat conditions such as asthma, obesity, and neurological disorders, among other ailments. Because of their high potential for abuse and addiction, stimulants are used sparingly for treating depression, ADHD, and narcolepsy.  

The stimulants used to treat asthma are known as epinephrine, theophylline, and salbutamol.  Those used for treating sleep disorders are known as eugeroics (Modafinil).  Obesity is often treated with stimulants known as anorectics.

Although these medications have beneficial effects, they can also cause some adverse reactions such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and respiratory problems.  Some stimulants such as caffeine or nicotine provide mild effects, and these substances are legal to use. However, other stimulants such as methamphetamine have much stronger effects, and these substances are illegal to use.

Drugs That are Classified as Stimulants

Also known as “uppers,” stimulants are often misused to help a person counteract the effects of sleeping pills or alcohol. This type of abuse can have dangerous effects on a person physically and emotionally.  Some of the drugs used in this manner can include the following:

  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Cocaine
  • Prescription painkillers

The American Heart Association suggests that before giving a child any of these drugs for ADHD, an electrocardiogram should be done before starting the medication.

The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) advises manufacturers of ADHD drugs to warn patients about the risk of cardiovascular and psychiatric effects if they have underlying heart problems.  There are reports of heart attack, stroke, and death in some adults who have those specific risk factors.

Warning Signs of Stimulant Abuse or Addiction

When used as directed, stimulants will elevate mood, increase the ability to focus on tasks, improve sociability, and enhance energy levels.  But, when used in high doses, the drugs have the opposite effect and can produce euphoria and decrease a person’s need for sleep.  Many college students abuse stimulants for the neurocognitive effects, meaning the drug helps them focus and stay awake for long periods to cram for exams.

Some of the signs or symptoms that indicate stimulate abuse can include, but are not limited to:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Stomach ache
  • Irritability
  • Sudden outbursts, anger, rage
  • Confusion
  • Shakes
  • Insomnia
  • Decreased growth rate

Stimulant abuse can cause a collection of symptoms that are referred to as “stimulant psychosis.”  Some of these psychosis symptoms are:

  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures

In most cases, the above symptoms show up following an overdose.  However, some individuals (one out every 1,000) can experience these reactions after several weeks of therapy.

DEA Classifications for Stimulant Drugs

Stimulants that have been studied and classified by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) fall into different categories based on their known or approved medical use and their potential for abuse or addiction.  Most stimulants are classified as Schedule II Controlled Substances.  This means they have a high potential for abuse with the possibility of severe physical or psychic dependence.  Prescriptions for Schedule II stimulants must be written in ink or typewritten and signed by the physician. No automatic renewals are allowed.




How Did the Rampant Stimulant Abuse Begin?

The history of stimulant abuse in the United States is a lengthy narrative, but it began with cocaine and has expanded to include many other drugs that are causing needless loss of life daily.

Cocaine:  In the 1800s, a German chemist recognized the stimulant properties of the cocaine plant.  Later, in the 1880s, the anesthetic properties of the drug were discovered and was then used in nose, throat, and eye surgeries. When physicians became aware of the psychoactive properties of the drug, they began prescribing it to treat anxiety, depression, and morphine addiction.  Fast-forward to the 1980s, and cocaine had become widely used for recreational purposes with as many as 8 million people using the drug regularly.  By the mid-1980s, crack cocaine had replaced heroin as the primary illicit drug in the country.  Cocaine continues to be one of the most widely abused drugs globally.

In summary, the legal, medical, and societal problems we struggle within the United States are an ongoing challenge. Increased education and awareness have helped in many respects, but there are still far too many addicts who need treatment.  

Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders

As with any other drugs, stimulant abuse and addiction have profound effects on a person’s mental and physical health.  An effective treatment program should provide a balanced curriculum of methodologies that encompasses all aspects of the disorder.  The goal of treatment is to heal not only the physical aspect but to address the emotional and spiritual factors that may have caused or exacerbated the addiction.  A comprehensive program should include the following classes or activities:

  • Detoxification
  • Life Skills Training
  • Communication Skills
  • Physical Fitness
  • Nutritional Guidance
  • Group and Individual Counseling
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Music and Art Therapy
  • Faith-Based Programs (if desired)
  • Responsibility
  • Parenting
  • GED Preparation
  • Financial Planning
  • Family Involvement
  • Aftercare Services

Each facility has a different philosophy and will offer various options, but, the above features are considered the most effective for addressing each client’s specific needs.  

Other options for stimulant treatment include inpatient/residential, PHP (Partial Hospitalization) or IOP (Intensive Outpatient) programs.  Some facilities offer financial arrangements, and many are partially covered by insurance carriers.