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Stimulant Addiction: Signs, Effects, and Treatment

Stimulants are drugs that increase certain types of central nervous system activity and include prescription stimulant medications and illicit substances.3, 11 People can take stimulants for medical reasons; however, some people misuse them for to enhance performance, or for recreational purposes, to feel a “rush” of euphoria or to keep themselves alert.3 Both licit and illicit stimulants have the potential for misuse, which, over time, can lead to the development of stimulant addiction, a disease that doctors and mental health professionals diagnose as stimulant use disorder.1, 11
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What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants are a class of psychoactive drugs that increase activity in the brain. Stimulants include prescription medications like Adderall (mixed amphetamine salts) and Ritalin (methylphenidate), and illicit substances like methamphetamine and cocaine.1, 3

The legal status for stimulants varies depending on the substance; however, several stimulant drugs fall under Schedule II, including Ritalin, Adderall, Dexedrine, cocaine, and meth. Schedule II substances have a high potential for misuse, which can lead to physiological dependence.4 Dependence is not the same thing as addiction. It means that the body has adapted to the presence of a drug, and if a person stops taking the drug (or significantly) reduces their dose, they will likely experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.12

Effects of Stimulants

All stimulants produce a similar range of psychological, behavioral, and physiological effects. In general, short-term effects of stimulants can include:3, 5, 9

  • Increased energy.
  • Increased alertness.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Increase in body temperature.
  • Feelings of euphoria, particularly at higher doses.

At high doses, prescription stimulants can cause adverse effects, particularly on the cardiovascular system, including irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperature, seizures, and heart failure.9

People who use stimulants by means of injection increase their chances of contracting infectious diseases like hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).5, 9

Stimulant Addiction

Stimulant use disorder is defined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), as a “pattern of an amphetamine-type substance, cocaine, or another stimulant use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.”11

Stimulant Addiction Treatment

A combination of psychosocial treatment and behavioral therapy has been found to be the most effective at treating stimulant use disorders.12

Evidence-based practices like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), motivational interviewing (MI), and contingency management (CM) are commonly used and have shown positive results in stimulant addiction treatment, with CM having the most significant evidence of effectiveness.12

While treatment medications have been developed to assist in the withdrawal from other substances like alcohol and opioids, there are currently no Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved medications specifically indicated to treat stimulant addiction.12

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