Stimulant addiction is a severe condition and can have long-term implications. Whether prescribed or taken illicitly, any individual who takes stimulants can experience addiction — a pervasive and uncontrollable urge to engage in substance use. Stimulant misuse can lead to feelings of euphoria and increased alertness, and long-term misuse can cause financial and relationship stress, as well as physical and mental health concerns.
Treatment centers can help those struggling with stimulant addiction heal and prevent long-term consequences. Support services and addiction programs address symptoms to help individuals achieve healthier lifestyles.
Around 4.9 million Americans aged 12 and over abuse prescription stimulants annually, making them some of the most misused substances in the United States. Some more statistics regarding stimulant misuse include the following:
Stimulants increase activity in the central nervous system and target neurotransmitters like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters help regulate several brain and body functions, like mood, motivation, arousal and attention. Consider how stimulants work in the brain and body:
Because they increase neurotransmitter levels, stimulants can cause stimulating effects, from increased energy to enhanced mood and cognitive function. Their effects make stimulants popular treatments for conditions like ADHD, narcolepsy and sometimes depression. However, their effects on the brain and its reward pathways mean that stimulants have a high potential for misuse and addiction. Prolonged or excessive use can lead to dependence and substance use disorder — characterized by the uncontrollable urge to continue taking stimulants regardless of the consequences.
There are many reasons an individual may take stimulants, from reversing feelings of mental or physical fatigue and reducing appetite to increasing alertness or producing feelings of exhilaration. Some individuals may also attempt to intensify these effects using specific routes of administration, including smoking, snorting or injecting stimulants. Stimulants are also often ingested in large quantities to achieve a high or rush, often leading to addiction, overdose, coma or death.
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Stimulants encompass a wide variety of legal and illicit substances, which are classified based on chemical composition, pharmacological effects and medical uses. It’s crucial to remember that even legally prescribed stimulants can be misused for nonmedical purposes, leading to severe health risks. Prescription stimulants should be approached with caution and only used under the guidance of a health care professional.
Here are some common prescription and illicit stimulants.
Prescription amphetamines increase the release and inhibit the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine. They are often used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy and have a slower onset and longer duration than illicit stimulants like cocaine. Amphetamines may:
Adderall, Dexedrine and Vyvanse are examples of common prescription stimulants. Methamphetamine — commonly known as meth — is an illicit form of amphetamine that has a high potential for misuse that can lead to serious health consequences.
Another type of stimulant medication, methylphenidate, is often used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It works by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. The stimulant is available on the market under the following trade names:
While both stimulants affect the central nervous system, methylphenidate differs from amphetamine. The effects of methylphenidate tend to be milder than those of amphetamine prescriptions, which come with several body effects like increased heart rate. Instead, patients report a more pronounced impact on cognitive function and thought processes when taking methylphenidate than amphetamines.
Cocaine is a very powerful stimulant. It is derived from the coca plant, which grows almost exclusively in northern and western South Africa. Cocaine most commonly comes in the form of a fine, white powder, though it can also be made into a solid rock crystal. Cocaine rapidly increases dopamine levels, leading to increased energy and intense euphoria. However, cocaine is illegal due to its high potential for addiction and abuse. Taking cocaine can lead to severe health effects, including the following:
MDMA, also known as ecstasy or molly, is a synthetic psychoactive drug with stimulant and hallucinogenic effects. MDMA increases the release of dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, which results in euphoria, increased energy and heightened sensory perception. This drug is often associated with recreational use in party settings, but it is illegal in most countries and can pose severe health risks.
MDMA is frequently taken with other illegal drugs, and pills sold as MDMA can often contain additives — all of which can contribute to serious and sometimes fatal health effects. MDMA can be addictive, and long-term use is associated with cognitive problems.
Stimulant addiction symptoms and signs can manifest differently, depending on the person. Recognizing the common indicators can help you identify if you or someone you know is experiencing a potential issue with stimulants. Here are some of the signs and symptoms associated with stimulant addiction:
One of the primary signs of stimulant addiction is misusing prescription drugs or taking illicit substances. Take note of the following warning signs of stimulant misuse that can lead to addiction:
Misuse can lead to increased tolerance and dependence, where individuals cannot stop taking stimulant medication without experiencing withdrawal symptoms. An inability or strong reluctance to stop taking their prescription is often a strong indicator of an addiction.
People who misuse stimulants or take them illicitly often neglect their relationships. They might withdraw from friends and family, spend less time engaging in social activities and lack interest in maintaining meaningful connections. The focus on obtaining and taking the drug becomes their top priority, leading to strained relationships and social isolation.
People with stimulant addiction might also withdraw from loved ones to hide and sustain their addiction. They may lie or steal to continue their substance use, leading to deteriorating relationships.
Stimulant addiction can cause noticeable physical and routine changes. Take note of weight loss, which can occur due to the drug’s ability to reduce appetite and increase metabolism. You might also notice neglect of personal hygiene — a person struggling with addiction may have a disheveled appearance and display poor grooming habits. Changes in sleep patterns, insomnia or irregular sleep can also occur.
The physical effects of stimulants can make it difficult for individuals to carry out everyday functions and keep up with work or school, all of which can have profound implications.
Stimulant addiction can lead to several behavioral changes. You might notice the following signs:
Individuals with stimulant addiction might display hyperactivity or impulsiveness. They may engage in risk-taking behaviors or activities with a high potential for harm or legal consequences. Secretive behavior is also common — people with addiction might lie about their actions or isolate themselves from loved ones to hide their addiction.
People with stimulant addiction will experience withdrawal symptoms when their doses are reduced or stopped entirely. These symptoms can include:
Withdrawal symptoms can be intense, often leading people to continue taking stimulants to avoid discomfort.
The short- and long-term effects of stimulant addiction can take a significant toll on an individual’s physical and mental health. The brain adapts to repeated stimulant exposure, so the reward pathways become less sensitive to natural reinforcers. Below are some of the common short- and long-term effects of simulant misuse:
Initial stimulant addiction symptoms may include the following:
Stimulant use can have a lasting impact on the body when used in the long term. The following physical effects can occur as a result of long-term stimulant use:
Prolonged addiction can have a profound psychological impact on people and can cause mental health problems and changes in behavior or cognition. Consider the long-term mental effects of stimulant addiction:
Addiction to stimulants can strain relationships and have an immense social impact. Any substance use disorder can lead to isolation and difficulties maintaining employment or academic performance. Individuals might withdraw from friends and family members out of feelings of shame or to continue their addiction without suspicion. They may have trouble getting to work or school, leading to job loss or poor school performance.
Stimulant use can also cause personality changes and lead to irritability, aggression and emotional instability. These behavioral changes can make connecting with others and maintaining meaningful relationships challenging. Ultimately, the social impact of addiction cannot be overstated, as it can often contribute to other issues like depression and continued substance use.
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It’s important to note that many mental health conditions can co-occur alongside stimulant use disorder and exacerbate the complexity of a person’s addiction. The most common co-occurring conditions include:
Any of these conditions can further impact a person’s overall well-being and complicate the addiction treatment process. That’s why addressing all aspects of a person’s addiction is crucial to achieving a successful treatment outcome.
Integrated treatment approaches that simultaneously target substance use and mental health conditions can promote long-term recovery. This might involve a combination of medication, therapy, support services and lifestyle changes designed for each individual’s needs.
Stimulant addiction is a complex condition requiring comprehensive care to address all aspects. Professional treatment centers can help you with addiction’s physical, psychological and behavioral aspects and help you get started on a healthier, happier path.
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, learn more about the standard approaches that can help:
Treatment for stimulant addiction often begins with medical detox to address withdrawal symptoms. Without caring for these uncomfortable symptoms, it can be difficult for individuals to focus on the other aspects of recovery.
Withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, paranoia and drug cravings. Medical professionals will monitor you during this stage to keep you safe and comfortable. Many medications can lessen or relieve withdrawal symptoms, while others can help treat co-occurring conditions that impact addiction, such as depression and anxiety.
Following detox, medical professionals will design a treatment program that addresses your stimulant addiction symptoms as well as your unique history and situation. Common treatment environments include inpatient and outpatient treatment centers.
Inpatient, or residential treatment, comprises around-the-clock care within a hospital or residential setting. These environments often provide a mix of therapeutic approaches and medical attention to promote lasting recovery.
In residential care, clients live with others facing addiction and receive support services. The space is free of substances and triggers that could provoke stimulant use. Inpatient treatment centers provide:
Treatment programs in residential settings can involve individual and group therapy sessions, dual-diagnosis programs to address co-occurring conditions and medicines to manage withdrawal or mental health symptoms. These treatment centers often provide medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to help you manage cravings and withdrawal symptoms while receiving therapy.
Residential treatment centers can provide many benefits for clients with stimulant addiction, including a substance-free environment, a structured schedule to promote healthy habits and 24/7 support from therapists and medical health professionals. The structure and support of inpatient care are designed to encourage a substance-free lifestyle post-treatment.
Unlike residential treatment, outpatient care allows clients to attend their addiction programs during weekdays and return home at night. The flexibility and convenience of outpatient treatment make it helpful for professionals and students hoping to recover from addiction while keeping up with academic, career and personal obligations.
Intensive outpatient programs tend to be more affordable than inpatient care, as they are typically only offered a few times a week. The type of treatment suits people hoping to balance home or childcare duties and treatment or those uninterested in residential care.
And for those who want a more intensive program, partial hospitalization programs can provide both addiction treatment and health care services while allowing clients to return home at night. Similar to inpatient treatment, these programs offer medicines, therapy and structured plans to help clients achieve a substance-free lifestyle.
Whether you choose inpatient or outpatient stimulant addiction treatment, you can opt for the following therapies to help you with underlying issues and achieve a healthier, happier life free of substances:
Here are the answers to common questions about stimulant addiction and addiction treatment.
Generally, treatment lasts from several weeks to several months. However, the specific duration of stimulant addiction treatment varies on a person’s needs, the severity of the addiction and their response to treatment.
The first step in treatment is detox, during which your body gets cleansed of substances. Detox might last a few days to a week. Inpatient care can last around a month or longer, while outpatient treatment can span several months and include regular therapy sessions and check-ins.
Always try to remember: Recovery from addiction is a lifelong journey. Ongoing support is crucial — after completing formal treatment, it’s often imperative to participate in aftercare programs, continued individual and group therapy, and healthy lifestyle changes to maintain sobriety and promote overall well-being. Health care professionals should determine your treatment program length. They will assess your progress and needs on an individual basis.
Tolerance can sometimes affect the withdrawal process. When someone develops stimulant tolerance, their body gets used to the presence of a substance. Because of this, the body requires higher doses to achieve the same effects as before. People who become tolerant of stimulants may take increasingly larger amounts to keep experiencing the desired effects.
People who stop taking stimulants or reduce their stimulant intake enter the withdrawal stage. The withdrawal phase is often accompanied by uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous side effects. Individuals experiencing tolerance may have more severe withdrawal symptoms because their body has become accustomed to higher doses. They may have intense psychological and physical symptoms when they suddenly stop taking the drug.
Withdrawal symptoms and their severity and duration depend on the person. Seeking withdrawal management from health professionals who can provide the proper guidance and support. They may also prescribe medications to help manage symptoms and aid in the detox process.
Stimulants come in various forms:
The following strategies can help minimize the risks of stimulant use:
These harm reduction strategies prioritize the health and well-being of those taking stimulants while acknowledging that abstinence might not be immediately possible or realistic. Professionals can help you keep loved ones safe with tailored harm-reduction strategies.
Vivitrol or Suboxone are sometimes recommended to aid clients through withdrawal and detox. These medications are not a substitute for long-term care, but they can help individuals focus on their recovery and help the body heal from the effects of stimulants. Medical professionals may also recommend medications that help with co-occurring mental health conditions like depression or anxiety.
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Stimulant addiction is complex, and it has various causes and multiple short- and long-term effects. When they receive the proper treatment and support, individuals can overcome addiction to lead fulfilling lives free of substances.
If you or someone you love is struggling with stimulant addiction, Gateway Foundation in Chicago can help. Our experienced team of professionals understands the complexities of addiction and offers individualized treatment tailored to your specific needs. We provide a range of services to promote long-lasting recovery, including evidence-based therapies, counseling, support services and a range of holistic services. Our team of health professionals is committed to helping you regain control of your life and achieve long-term sobriety.
Contact us today to start your journey toward healing.
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