Stimulant Misuse: Effects, Addiction & Detox

According to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, approximately 1.1 million people ages 12 and older reported misusing prescription stimulants in the past month, with another 3.4 million people using illicit stimulants during the same period.1

This page will help you learn more about the different types of stimulants, what effects they have on the body, as well as the health risks involved in their use. You can also find out how to get help for yourself or a loved one with stimulant addiction.
Stimulants Overview

What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants are a class of drugs that speed up activity in the body’s central nervous system (CNS).2 Generally speaking, stimulant use is associated with:2,3

  • Increased energy.
  • Wakefulness.
  • Increased focus.

While each stimulant may exert its effects on the brain in a different way, they all increase the activity of certain brain chemicals linked to reward. This can result in positive reinforcement, leading a person to repeatedly use the stimulant to achieve the same effects. 2,3

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies stimulant drugs as Schedule II controlled substances because they are known to have significant potential for misuse that can lead to dependence.4

Types of Stimulants

The different types of stimulants can be separated into 2 categories:2

  • Prescription stimulants—legal substances used for legitimate medical reasons.
  • Illicit stimulants—illegal substances used for recreational purposes.

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants are usually prescribed to help people manage attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy, which is a sleep disorder.5 Some of the most commonly prescribed prescription stimulants include:5

Illicit Stimulants

There are several illicit stimulants that are manufactured illegally and sold on the street.2 Some of these illicit stimulants include:2

  • Cocaine, which is manufactured from the leaves of the coca plant.6
  • Crack, which is derived from cocaine and looks like small rocks.6
  • Bath salts, an illegally manufactured substance also known as synthetic cathinones.7
  • Khat, which is a stimulant derived from the leaves of a plant that is chewed like tobacco or brewed as tea.7
  • Methamphetamine, an illegally manufactured amphetamine-like substance that is usually found in the form of a pill or powder.8
  • Crystal meth, which is a form of methamphetamine. Crystal meth looks like shiny, bluish-white rocks, or it can also look like glass.8
Signs of Problematic Stimulant Use

Signs of Illicit and Prescription Stimulant Misuse

Any use of illicit stimulants is substance misuse. However, people can also misuse prescription stimulants.5 Prescription stimulant misuse includes:5

  • Taking them in a way other than how they were prescribed. Examples of this include crushing and snorting the drug or mixing it with water and injecting it.
  • Taking higher or more frequent doses than prescribed.
  • Taking someone else’s medication.
  • Taking prescription stimulants for the sole purpose of getting high.

What Is Stimulant Use Disorder?

A stimulant use disorder, or stimulant addiction, is the continued compulsive use of a stimulant despite experiencing negative consequences.9

When substance use treatment professionals diagnose someone with a stimulant use disorder, they use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to aid in the diagnosis.10

According to the DSM-5, a stimulant use disorder is likely when a person demonstrates at least 2 of the following signs and symptoms within 12 months:10

  • Taking stimulants in larger amounts or for a longer period than was originally intended.
  • A persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down or control stimulant use.
  • Spending a substantial amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from using stimulants.
  • Cravings or a strong desire to use stimulants.
  • Recurrent use of stimulants that results in a failure to fulfill major responsibilities at work, school, or home.
  • Continued use of stimulants despite having persistent social or interpersonal conflicts caused or made worse by the effects of these stimulants.
  • Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of stimulant use.
  • Using stimulants in situations where it is physically hazardous, such as driving.
  • Continued use of stimulants despite knowing that a physical or psychological problem is either caused or made worse by using these stimulants.
  • Developing tolerance to the stimulant, which means increased amounts of the stimulant are taken to achieve the same effect. This criterion does not apply to someone taking a prescription stimulant as prescribed.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, often using the stimulant (or a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid these unwanted effects. This criterion does not apply to someone taking a prescription stimulant as prescribed.
Stimulant Health Risks

Adverse Effects of Stimulants

There are numerous potential health effects associated with illicit stimulant use or prescription stimulant misuse. These adverse effects can include:7

  • Agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Paranoia.
  • Hostility.
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Headache.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Dizziness.
  • Sweating.
  • Stomach cramps.
  • Heart palpitations.

Other Health Risks of Stimulant Misuse

When people continue misusing substances, they are exposed to additional health risks that can include:3

  • Tolerance, when the person gets so used to the effects of stimulants that they need to keep taking more of it to achieve the same effects.
  • Dependence, in which the person becomes used to the presence of a stimulant that abruptly stopping the use of the stimulant leads to withdrawal symptoms.
  • The development of a stimulant use disorder or addiction.
  • Overdose.

Stimulant Overdose Symptoms

It is possible to overdose on stimulants, whether by using illicit stimulants or by misusing prescription stimulants.3 There is an increased risk of overdose when obtaining stimulants illegally. This is in part due to the mixing of stimulants with other substances, such as fentanyl.3

Some of the symptoms of a stimulant overdose include:5

  • Restlessness.
  • Tremors.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Overactive muscle reflexes.
  • Abdominal cramps.
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Fever.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Weakness.
  • Panic.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Confusion.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Abnormal blood pressure.
  • Seizures.
  • Coma.
  • Death.
Stimulant Addiction Treatment

Stimulant Detox & Withdrawal

As noted earlier, when a person has developed a physiological dependence on stimulants, they can experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop using the drug or cut back on the amount they use abruptly.3

Some common symptoms of stimulant withdrawal include:10

  • Fatigue.
  • Hunger.
  • Sleeping too much or too little.
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams.
  • Depression, sometimes severe.
  • Agitation.

While there are no medications approved for the treatment of withdrawal from stimulants, a structured outpatient rehab program can provide oversight and support during stimulant detox and beyond.11

Typically, severe physical symptoms are not associated with stimulant withdrawal.11 However, some people may experience more serious stimulant withdrawal symptoms.

Of particular concern during stimulant withdrawal is depression, which can be severe and could require immediate intervention. In such cases, a person may be able to benefit from a supervised medical detox program.3

Stimulant Addiction Treatment in Texas

If you or your loved one needs treatment for a stimulant addiction, Greenhouse Treatment Center offers both outpatient and inpatient addiction treatment near Dallas.

At Greenhouse, you’ll find several types of rehab and evidence-based practices, such as contingency management and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), both of which have been shown effective in treating people with a stimulant use disorder.3

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