Stimulant Addiction

Stimulant drugs, commonly referred to as “uppers” are often misused. As with all substance abuse, addiction to these chemicals can develop quickly. Due to the function of boosting performance, energy, and euphoria, stimulant abusers are often reluctant to seek professional rehab treatment.

Some are deterred by a fear of being able to adequately function without these drugs. Others relapse when the withdrawal sets in. In either case, stimulant abuse often persists without proper care, despite the potential dangers and warnings.

What Are Stimulants Drugs?

There are several different types of stimulant drugs, and multiple ways to obtain and use them. These fast-acting compounds affect the nervous system, resulting in enhanced alertness and brain function.

By deterring fatigue and promoting energy, stimulant drugs are at the top of the list for most likely abused, requiring addiction treatment. In fact, different types of stimulants have different routes to acquire and abuse. These include both legal and illegal ways to get a hold of them, as well as increased potential for overdose. 

How Stimulant Drugs Work

Stimulant drugs are classified as central nervous system (CNS) stimulant drugs. This is because of the significant impact that different types of stimulants have on chemical messengers in the brain. Unlike CNS depressant drugs that stifle receptors and slow down brain function, stimulant drugs increase brain activity.

Abuse of Stimulants

Stimulants have the ability to increase the production and transmission of dopamine and norepinephrine within the brain. The acceleration produces effects to alleviate fatigue and brain fog. This also promotes concentration and focus. In larger than recommended amounts, stimulant abuse can induce the sensation of euphoria in users. However, in proper amounts, stimulant drugs benefit those with an appropriate illness, as these effects allow the individual “normal” function. Unfortunately for the addicted user, these lines can become blurred.

Despite being valuable to those seeking relief from an underlying condition, stimulant drugs still come with a warning. Even when people use them properly, there is still a likely chance of dependency because of withdrawal symptoms. These negative and unexpected side effects, often prevent sufferers from lowering their dose or stopping use, which actively encourages addiction. 

Abuse of Pharmaceutical Stimulants 

Healthcare professionals sometimes prescribe legal stimulant medications to treat and manage symptoms of psychological illness. These drugs encourage wakefulness and promote regular functioning. Some of the conditions for which stimulant drugs are may be prescribed to treat include ADHD, chronic fatigue, or narcolepsy. 

Pharmaceutical types of stimulants come in the form of a tablet or capsule. The dosage is recommended and adjusted accordingly while having close monitoring from a therapist or physician. Although these prescriptions typically come in a one-month supply, it is up to the individual to take medication as directed. 

Unfortunately, this makes stimulant abuse easy to accomplish, especially when attempting to self-medicate with increased doses, or by using stimulant drugs recreationally. These prescription stimulant drugs are also often sold illegally, as opposed to being used as intended. 

Types of Stimulants Often Abused

Some of the prescription medications that are highly addictive and often lead to abuse include the following. 

Adderall: For ADHD and narcolepsy, often found among college and high school campuses illegally for studying and test-taking. 

Ritalin: Primarily to treat hyperactivity, however often abused by professionals and athletes, for increased performance.

Concerta: For ADHD, and is found to be very similar to that of ritalin. Unfortunately, due to the chemical makeup of it (very similar to the structure of cocaine), intense cravings between doses are experienced. 

Dexedrine: Primarily for narcolepsy and chronic fatigue, yet occasionally prescribed for severe ADHD. This medication is compared closely to methamphetamine, especially for its ability to encourage addiction and alter brain function. This stimulant drug is most known for its potency and severity of withdrawal. 

Tolerance, Dependency, Self-Medication, and Addiction to Stimulants

It may often be difficult to encourage an individual who is suffering from a mental health disorder that rehab is necessary. That’s because the medication may be helping one issue, yet causing more difficulties in another area without them realizing it. This is why so many individuals continue to suffer with prescription drug addiction, especially with certain types of stimulants. 

Types of Stimulants Often Abused

Illegally acquired stimulant drugs aside, building a tolerance to some medication is a common occurrence. However, because of safety necessities and FDA regulations on these types of stimulants, the legally allowed dosage has a cap. Once a doctor has used discretion or denied an increase, many times self-medication occurs because of developed dependency. This may include overuse of prescriptions, or the illegal purchase of additional supply to compensate. 

Even if a medication is prescribed and used by an individual, the misuse of this drug is considered stimulant abuse. While stimulant drugs may continue to aid in the management of certain psychological illnesses, addiction has debilitating effects otherwise. Getting professional addiction treatment can help in both, addressing addiction, and management of the illness in a safe effective manner. 

Illegal Stimulants: Addiction and Abuse 

On the other end of the spectrum, discussing types of stimulant drugs, are the illegally produced substances. Equally, if not more addictive, these stimulant drugs come with additional risks, such as tampered chemicals and underreported potency. Since they are created liberally and without safety restraints, many compounds used to stretch these substances further, remain unknown. 

It proves to be an especially difficult situation when these drugs are combined with additional substances that lead to addiction as well. Leading to more severe and unexpected withdrawal symptoms, treating illegal types of stimulant addiction requires intensive inpatient rehab treatment

How Stimulant Drugs Work

In inpatient rehab, when cravings and urges peak after withdrawal, individuals will remain away from enabling sources. Swiftly moving into therapy and treatment, ensures an addict the greatest potential to remain clean and avoid immediate relapse. 

Illicit stimulants are even more easily acquired, than are others with a prescription. This is likely due to the abundance of availability, and large amounts of demand driving the market. 

Often, people abuse illicit drugs by snorting these substances in the form of powder. Those with severe addictions to cocaine or methamphetamines may opt for a more direct route, using intravenous delivery methods. Some of the most common types of stimulants illegally abused include:


Derived from the cocoa plant, cocaine is often sold in the form of powder or small white rocks. Although the effects don’t typically exceed an hour, the high produced is described as intense and sudden euphoria and excitement. Easily leading to overdose, cocaine is often used in conjunction with drugs that depress the nervous system and cause fatigue. The most common substance abused with cocaine is alcohol, although potential combinations are endless. 


Commonly referred to as crystal meth, can be found in the form of blue crystal-like substances or white powder. Just like cocaine, meth runs a very high risk for quickly developed addiction. Similarly, it also produces intense euphoria and feelings of excitement, increasing the flow and supply of dopamine. In contrast, however, meth generates a high that lasts significantly longer. 

Typically hours from a single dose. Administration of this type of stimulant is also versatile. It can be snorted, injected, ingested, or even smoked, all affecting the duration of onset. 


Ecstacy, with the active compound MDMA, enhances the brain’s “feel good” region, producing hallucinogenic euphoria. Known as the “rave drug,” these stimulant drugs encourage a rush of dopamine, coaching the user to ingest more and more.

However, throughout the duration of the high, ecstasy depletes much of the reserves of dopamine found in the brain. So while the high can last 3 hours or more, the lingering effects can persist for weeks. While the brain and body work to recover, many users use the drug again. This results in causing more damage and inevitably addiction, as well as psychological disturbance.

Crack Cocaine

Essentially, the difference between cocaine and crack cocaine is the way it is produced and used. In general, the active ingredient is much the same, however, crack is often laced or cut, which comes with increased dangers of its own. Because of this additional action in the chain of production, the product is stretched even further. This makes it an affordable option and more likely to abuse when finances are an issue. 

Warning Signs of Stimulant Abuse and Addiction

A person engaging in stimulant abuse may develop an addiction to stimulant drugs. Even if some degrees of addiction may not be as apparent, the dangers associated are much of the same. Getting help for an addiction caused by stimulant abuse can be lifesaving.

If you suspect an addiction to stimulant drugs, look for some of the warning signs, then reach out for help. Some indicators are:

  • Dilation of pupils
  • Aggression, mood swings, or anxiety
  • Rambling speech or unusual repetition
  • Racing tendencies or impulsive behaviors
  • Rapid heartbeat or increased blood pressure 
  • Increased or excessive energy or restlessness
  • Decrease in appetite, or significant weight loss
  • Hyperactivity, sweating, and repetitive behaviors
  • Unreasonable increase of focus, energy, or motivation
  • Frequently going through periods of time unmedicated
  • Multiple doctors with multiple access to prescription notes
  • Superior sense of confidence and self-worth (usually inconsistent)
  • Lying, stealing, or sneaking around to hide illegal or unacceptable behaviors

If you suspect addiction or stimulant abuse is present in your life or in the life of someone you know, reach out for help. Professional treatment can help to bring this struggle to an end.

Health Risks Associated With Stimulant Addiction

While behaviorally, stimulant addiction can be disruptive, physical and mental harm are also potential. Foregoing professional care and continuing the abuse of stimulant drugs can have both short and long-term consequences. 

Those who continue stimulant abuse, despite the risks are more likely to experience debilitating ramifications, such as:

  • Stroke
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Heart arrhythmias
  • Increased chance of physical injury due to overexertion
  • Dangerous fluctuations in blood pressure

Individuals taking part in stimulant abuse are often ignorant to the dangerous risks associated. Most often this is because of the temporarily rewarding features stimulant drugs provide, while the damage is being done. This is also why developing an effective relapse prevention plan during rehab is essential, especially after long-term stimulant abuse. 

Physical Effects of Stimulant Abuse 

Some of the physical effects of an addiction to stimulant drugs can impact the quality of life. This is often observed after long-term use, however, can occur quickly, sometimes after only a short time. In order to prevent ongoing suffering after detox and treatment, get help for addiction as soon as possible. The longer chronic drug use is allowed to continue, the higher the risks will be to recover from. 

Stimulant Addiction

Some of the physical effects of abusing different types of stimulants include:

  • Extreme increase in body temperature which can affect function, organs and lead to loss of consciousness
  • Rash that can spread or appear over large areas of the body, accompanied with unmanageable itchiness
  • Chronic dry mouth, often leading to the destruction of teeth, bones of the jaw and face, as well as facial deformity
  • Cognitive disruptions, such as uncontrollable body movements and tremors, limiting charge of motion

The function of stimulant drugs is to send the body into overdrive. That includes speeding up functions within the body. While no part of the body is exempt, the most easily and commonly affected biological operations to sustain damage include:

  • Blood sugar
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart rate regulation
  • Constriction and dilation of blood vessels
  • Functioning of the respiratory system

Many of these interferences have the potential to be deadly. However, if treated properly, remission and resumed functioning may be achievable in time. 

Long-Term Effects of Stimulant Use and Abuse

In combination, the physical and psychological changes made to a person’s body during active addiction, change a person fundamentally. Many times, treatment will require physical, medical and psychological therapy, during rehab and post-addiction treatment. 

Additional long-lasting effects of untreated stimulant abuse include:

  • Liver damage or failure
  • Manic or psychotic illnesses
  • Anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder
  • Depressed lung function due to damage sustained
  • Permanent damages to the kidneys and renal system
  • Aggressive behaviors adopted during active addiction
  • Eating disorders or malnutrition that can become life-threatening

Because of this, it is important to participate in professional avenues of care for addiction and stimulant abuse. Therapists specially trained in the need of these individuals help to restore peace of mind, after active drug addiction.

Detox and Withdrawal of Stimulant Drugs

One of the major components of addiction is the experience of withdrawal. Although many types of stimulants induce energy and euphoria keeping the user hooked, the ensuing effects often drive subsequent use. After an individual has come down from the high of stimulant drugs, it becomes very uncomfortable. Because of this, even if an addict has committed to stopping the abuse, they are most likely going to relapse. 

Rehab for stimulant addiction is designed to assist in this uncomfortable process, ensuring that proper detox is carried out. While in the care of trained professionals, the individual will be monitored and administered appropriate measures when necessary.

Additionally, while detoxing within a rehab facility, actions can be taken to ease this process. In some cases, this includes the use of drug therapy. MAT, or medicated-assisted treatment, will be offered and administered to those that qualify, during and often after detox is completed. 

Treatment Options for Stimulant Addiction and Dependency

Of the most important reasons that participating in treatment from a licensed rehab facility is necessary, is screening for dual diagnosis. Often, when a person abuses stimulants, it is in an attempt to alleviate symptoms from an existing illness. Qualifying as an individual with a dual-diagnosis, translates to suffering with one or more illnesses, in addition to addiction. 

Because of the impact that mental illness has on addiction and overall health, these conditions must be treated separately. For example, a person that is suffering from ADHD is prone to relapse, due to the urges of self-medication. However, by participating in a rehab program that is designed to treat multiple illnesses along with addiction, dual-diagnosis is prioritized. 

Doing the work to detox and get sober is just one part of the process. The other is to treat the underlying condition, that may have been the driving force behind the illness of addiction. In combination, working toward solutions that benefit the individual in a rehab setting, offers the best outcomes for continued wellness. Treating psychological illness appropriately, lessens the likelihood of relapse, and promotes sobriety moving forward. 

In fact, the use of CBT is often implemented for those that have already developed an addiction. During therapy sessions, the individual works with a therapist to correct negative behaviors that can intensify mental illnesses. Although withdrawal and addiction treatment is being carried out, many must still manage their underlying illness. For that, CBT is effective. 


One of the most common reasons that stimulant abuse goes unreported and untreated, is because the addict is unaware of the problem. However, to those around them, it is usually more noticeable. Often loved ones struggle with the idea of holding an intervention

But, although an addict might be reluctant to participate at first, interventions are considered life-saving measures. The most effective interventions include several different approaches to encourage sobriety and making positive change. 

Getting Rehab Treatment For Addiction and Stimulant Abuse

Many individuals that are addicted, and abuse any type of stimulant, are unsure how to reach out for help. Although their addiction is getting the best of them, the fear of withdrawal and life after drugs, keeps many using. However, you don’t have to live this way.

Being confined to the hold of addiction is frustrating and can cost you as much as your life. Instead of suffering, be proactive; ask for help. It’s just that easy to get started. Rehab is designed to guide you toward recovery, while giving you the tools to be both successful and sober. A life of stimulant abuse doesn’t have to define your reality. Take your life back, by committing to get sober.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Laura Riley

Medical Reviewer

Laura comes to NJRC with 23 years of vast clinical experience in hospital, residential, outpatient, and community outreach settings where she has worked, supervised clinical teams, and volunteered. She has provided substance abuse and mental health counseling, clinical coordination, and advocacy to individuals, families and groups, and specializes in co-occurring disorders for both adults and adolescents.