Stimulant Addiction: Treatment, Signs of Abuse, and Risks

Written By

Amanda Stevens

Amanda Stevens, B.S.

On November 16, 2023

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Stimulants are designed to give people energy and keep them alert. Prescription stimulants like Adderall® treat various conditions, such as narcolepsy and ADHD. Others, like meth, are illegal drugs that are primarily used on the street. Both types are controlled substances that carry a high potential for misuse and addiction.

What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants influence the nervous system by speeding up its functions. Some stimulants are harmless, like the caffeine in your morning cup of coffee. Others, like crystal meth and crack cocaine, are as dangerous and potentially lethal.

Besides speeding up the nervous system, stimulants also activate the reward system in the brain. This influences the positive effects of stimulants but also contributes to misuse and dependence.

Side Effects of Adderall®

Adderall® is a commonly prescribed treatment for ADHD and narcolepsy but is a Schedule II drug and has a high potential for abuse. The side effects of Adderall® include anxiety, difficulty sleeping, dry mouth, decreased sex drive, and headaches. Common names for it include Addy, blue pills, blues, speed, and truck drives.

Side Effects of Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is also a Schedule II stimulant, meaning it has a high potential for abuse. Raw or manufactured Meth is found illegally on the streets, often mixed with other harmful substances. This stimulant is particularly infamous for its intense energetic effects.

Those who take it often experience an increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and fast breathing. They may also speak and think very fast. People taking meth off the streets may also experience mood swings, aggression, weight loss, and confusion. Common street names include ice, speed, crystal, crank, and glass.

In very small doses, this stimulant can have medical use. The brand name drug Desoxyn® is used to treat ADHD and contains 5 mg of methamphetamine hydrochloride.[1]

Side Effects of Crack Cocaine

Cocaine is a Schedule II stimulant. While it is not often used in the medical field anymore, it may occasionally be used to anesthetize the respiratory tract. Crack cocaine is often found on the street and goes by names such as crack, soda, flake, snow, and blow. Effects include increased heart rate and breathing, racing thoughts, euphoria, and intense energy.

How Are Commonly Abused Stimulants

Adderall® is taken as an oral tablet that should be swallowed whole. When misusing stimulant medications, people often crush and snort the drugs through their noses to create an intense euphoria.

Meth is usually dissolved and injected, resulting in “track marks” or needle wounds at frequent injection sites. Crack cocaine is usually crushed into a fine powder and then snorted, injected, or smoked.

Stimulant Quick Reference Chart

Drug Commercial & Street Names DEA Schedule Administration
Adderall® Addy, blue pills, blues Schedule IIN Oral
Meth Desoxyn®, crank, crystal, glass Schedule IIN Oral, injection, snorting, smoking
Crack cocaine Coca, coke, blow, snow Schedule II Injection, snorting, smoking

Learn More About Specific Stimulant Drugs

  • Adderall Addiction
  • Crack Addiction
  • Meth Addiction
  • Painkiller Addiction

Statistics on Stimulant Abuse, Misuse, and Addiction

5 million people in the United States misuse their prescription stimulants.[2] Misuse is classified as taking Adderall® when you don’t have ADHD, a prescription, or crushing and snorting pills. It can also mean taking more pills than you’re supposed to or taking them more frequently.

Adderall® is commonly misused to increase feelings of alertness or focus. Developing a dependence on stimulants is more likely when misusing them.

Effects of Stimulant Abuse

Stimulant intoxication symptoms are varied. Most people will experience euphoria when they take stimulants by injecting, snorting, or smoking them. This will result in a rush of energy and alertness, followed by a crash. The crash can make one feel sick and sluggish, igniting a craving for another dose. This experience perpetuates the cycle of addiction.

In unregulated doses, stimulants can also be dangerous and even deadly. In 2019, 1 out of 5 overdose deaths were linked to cocaine.[3] Stimulants can also cause brain damage and internal organ failure, particularly with long-term use.

Can You Overdose on Stimulants?

Yes. Street stimulants or misused prescriptions are powerful, and it’s easy to overdose. As the body is overwhelmed by the effects of the substance, it can lead to brain or organ damage and even death.

Signs and Symptoms of Stimulant Overdose

The most common stimulant overdose symptoms include the following:[4]

  • Restlessness
  • Fast heart rate
  • Fever
  • Panic attacks
  • Confusion
  • Heart attack
  • Seizures
  • Fatal stimulant poisoning

What to do if you suspect someone is overdosing on Stimulants:

Because a stimulant overdose can be deadly, it’s important to seek medical attention right away. Leaving a person who has overdosed alone and untreated could lead to fatal consequences. Make sure you call 911 and don’t leave the person’s side until the paramedics get there.

Dangers of Long-Term Stimulant Use

While stimulants are meant to give you energy, they can lose their potency after one builds up a tolerance. This can lead to chronic fatigue, depression, and anxiety. It can also lead to muscle deterioration, stomach pain, and weight loss. Long-term stimulant use can also damage the neurons in your brain and lead to cognitive decline.

Mixing Stimulants with Other Drugs

Stimulants should never be mixed with other dangerous drugs, especially other stimulants. This can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or death. You should also not mix stimulants with alcohol, as this could also lead to a heart attack.

Stimulant Addiction and Abuse

A stimulant addiction can affect anyone. However, those who already have substance use disorders are more likely to become dependent on or misuse these substances.

How Addictive Are Stimulants?

Taking stimulants as prescribed may not lead to severe addiction. Taking them in an unapproved fashion creates an intense feeling of euphoria and energy, which can make you feel invincible. This sensation, followed by the resulting crash, compels someone to take more stimulants to achieve positive effects. As a result, stimulants are more addictive when snorted, injected, or misused.

Signs of Addiction to Stimulants

Cravings are common symptoms of addiction. You may also experience withdrawals when not taking stimulants. You may feel nauseous, weak, and in pain. Other signs of stimulant dependence include anxiety, paranoia, and mood swings.

Stimulant Addiction and Mental Health

When you first start taking prescription stimulants, you may only experience the positive effects. But the longer they are part of your routine, you may notice increased feelings of fatigue, depression, anxiety, and panic or have a difficult time controlling emotions and behaviors. These problems will only get worse as stimulants degrade the brain over time.

Cutting Agents Used for Stimulants

Street drugs like meth and cocaine are often cut with cheap and dangerous substances to make them more affordable. These include:

  • Cat litter
  • Laundry detergent
  • Baking soda
  • Rat poison
  • Drain cleaner
  • Talcum powder

Stimulant Addiction Treatment

Addiction treatment takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months when participating in a full continuum of care. From Detox and Partial Hospitalization to Intensive Outpatient Programs and Relapse Prevention, practical support is only a phone call away. During treatment, participants will engage in therapy, coping skill development, and peer support to create healthier habits and a sustainable lifestyle.

Therapies Used in Stimulant Addiction Treatment

True holistic healing requires a comprehensive treatment approach via evidence-based therapy modalities. These interventions help you understand the nature of your substance use disorder and implement solutions to overcome it.

  • Art Therapy
  • Accelerated Resolution Trauma Therapy
  • Boxing & Body Movement
  • CBT Therapy
  • DBT Therapy
  • Family Dynamic Therapy
  • Family Therapy
  • Group Therapy
  • Individual Therapy
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Relapse Prevention Therapy
  • Spiritual Therapy

Dual Diagnosis for Co-Occurring Disorders

In many cases, those taking prescription stimulants like Adderall® have ADHD. This condition can make treatment more complex. Treating both mental health and substance use disorders makes patients more likely to find lasting recovery.

Stimulant Withdrawal Management Treatment

The first step in withdrawal management is to safely detox from harmful substances. Medication-assisted treatment combined with therapy is one of the most effective treatment options available. This process will alleviate withdrawal symptoms and reduce cravings making early recovery as comfortable as possible.

Drugs Used in Stimulant Withdrawal Management

Prozac and naltrexone are two common medications used to reduce cravings and make the withdrawal process more manageable. They may also be used with OTC medications, like Tylenol, to minimize discomfort.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who Uses Stimulants?

Many people with ADHD use stimulants like Adderall®. Those with substance use disorders or who have other risk factors like mental health conditions or a family history of substance abuse may consume illicit or illegal stimulants.

Are Stimulants Legal?

Prescription stimulants are legal when taken by the prescription holder. Street drugs like crack cocaine and crystal meth are illegal. 

Where Do Stimulants Come From?

Prescription stimulants are made in safe lab environments in a controlled environment based on FDA standards. Illegal stimulants are produced by illegal drug manufacturers and often contain dangerous fillers. 

Overcome Stimulant Addiction Today

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Sources

[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2022c, June 9). What is methamphetamine?. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-methamphetamine on May 19, 2023.

[2]NIDA. (2018, April 16). Five million American adults misusing prescription stimulants. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/2018/04/five-million-american-adults-misusing-prescription-stimulants on May 19, 2023.

[3] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, May 12). Other drugs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/deaths/other-drugs.html on May 19, 2023.

[4] NIDA. (2018, June 6). Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/misuse-prescription-drugs/overview on May 19, 2023.