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Stimulants: 15+ Facts to Expand Your Understanding of Stimulant Drugs

Updated 12 September 2023
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Stimulant Definition

What Is a Stimulant Drug?

Stimulants are drugs that increase your heart rate, breathing rate, and brain function.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has stimulant drugs labeled as a Schedule II class of drug. These prescription drugs can be highly addictive and dangerous, especially if misused.

Some stimulants only affect one organ or system in your body, such as your nervous system.

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What Do Stimulants Actually Do?

Stimulants activate a particular part of the body or nervous system. Providers commonly use prescription stimulants to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, or obesity.

 

What Are the Two Main Groups of Stimulants?

Amphetamines and Methylphenidate are the two main groups of stimulants. 

 

What Drugs Are Considered Stimulants?

Some stimulant drugs are legal and often prescribed to treat conditions like ADHD, narcolepsy, or obesity. The most common prescription stimulant drugs are:

  • ADHD Medications such as Adderall, Biphetamine, and Dexedrine are legal amphetamine stimulant drugs.
  • Concerta, Metadate, Quillivant, and Ritalin are legal methylphenidate stimulant drugs.

Some stimulants are found in over-the-counter and everyday substances, such as:

  • Nicotine
  • Caffeine
  • Pseudoephedrine (commonly used in cold medicines)
  • Chocolate

Other stimulant drugs are illegal and dangerous, especially when misused and combined with other substances. These illegal stimulant drugs include:

  • Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine (also known as “Meth”)
  • MDMA (also known as “Molly” or “Ecstasy”)
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What Are the Common Street Names for Stimulants?

The DEA describes that stimulants can be referred to by many street names, such as:

  • Bennies
  • Black Beauties
  • Cat
  • Coke
  • Crank
  • Crystal
  • Flake
  • Ice
  • Pellets
  • R-Ball
  • Skippy
  • Snow
  • Speed
  • Uppers
  • Vitamin R

 

What Do Stimulants Look Like?

Prescription stimulants are typically in the form of tablets, capsules, or liquids. When used illegally, stimulants are often injected in liquid form or snorted in powder form.

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The 8 Classes of Stimulants

How Are Stimulants Used?

Stimulants can be taken orally, snorted, injected, inhaled, or smoked. How quickly they are absorbed into the body depends on how they are administered.

Drugs that are inhaled or injected typically get into the bloodstream quicker than drugs that are swallowed.

 

What Are the Categories of CNS Stimulants?

The two main categories of central nervous system (CNS) stimulants are:

  • Amphetamines
  • Methylphenidate

There are also eight classes of (CNS) stimulants, which refer to the eight different chemical compounds that make up the drugs. They include:

  • Amphetamine
  • Dexmethylphenidate
  • Dextroamphetamine
  • Lisdexamfetamine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Methylphenidate
  • Modafinil/armodafinil

 

What Is the Most Widely Used CNS Stimulant?

Caffeine is the most popular stimulant. It is easily accessible to anyone at any time or age and is heavily ingrained in American culture.

Some people depend on caffeine to stay awake throughout the day; others use it as a diet aid.

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Prescription VS Illegal Drugs

What Were Stimulants Originally Used For?

According to NIDA, “Historically, stimulants were used to treat asthma and other respiratory problems, obesity, neurological disorders, and a variety of other ailments.”

Stimulants were also used to treat hyperactivity in children, as well as depression, before modern-day antidepressants were developed.

Stimulants were originally used for various respiratory and mental health conditions and even as a diet treatment!

 

What Are the Names of Stimulant Medications?

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) lists the following as prescription medications:

  • Methamphetamine (Desoxyn)
  • Phendimetrazine
  • Benzphetamine
  • Phentermine
  • Modafinil (Provigil)
  • Armodafinil (Nuvigil)
  • Solriamfetol (Sunosi)
  • Numbrino
  • Goprelto
  • Amphetamine/Amphetamine Salts (Adderall)
  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine)
  • Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanase)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)
  • Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin)

 

What Conditions Are They Used to Treat?

Prescription stimulants are often used to treat conditions such as ADHD, narcolepsy, and obesity. Some stimulants, such as Numbrino and Goprelto, are used as prescription anesthetics.

 

Are Stimulants Legal?

Some stimulants are legal if prescribed by a licensed provider and used to treat specific conditions. Certain forms of the drugs become illegal when they are used recreationally in doses that have not been prescribed to treat a specific condition.

 

Why Do People Take Stimulants?

People take stimulants for different reasons. Some are taken for medical use, to focus attention, control weight, or stay awake. Others use stimulant drugs recreationally to fit in, relax, enhance performance, or get high.

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What Are Some Banned Stimulants?

SAMHSA lists the following as illegal or illicit stimulants, including:

  • MDMA (also known as “Molly” or “Ecstasy”)
  • Methamphetamine
  • Cathinones (also known as “bath salts”)
  • Synthetic cathinone
  • Methcathinone
  • Cocaine (crystal crack and powder)
  • Amphetamine

Side Effects of Stimulants

What Are the Effects of Stimulants?

The effects of stimulants vary from person to person and depend on how the drug(s) enter the bloodstream, the drug’s purity, and the drug’s potency.

When used for medical purposes, such as to treat conditions like ADHD, prescription stimulants can help the brain focus and hold attention for longer periods than it could without the stimulants. Prescription stimulants can also help people control their weight and stay awake.

It’s important to note that if stimulants are mixed with other substances, such as Adderall and alcohol, they can produce different effects.

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) states, “When used as drugs of abuse and not under a doctor’s supervision, stimulants are frequently taken to:

  • Produce a sense of exhilaration
  • Enhance self-esteem
  • Improve mental and physical performance
  • Increase activity
  • Reduce appetite
  • Extend wakefulness for a prolonged period
  • ‘Get high’

 

What Is the Most Common Side Effect of Stimulants?

The most common side effects of stimulants are increased alertness and heart rate. Overusing stimulants can eventually cause serious issues such as heart failure.

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What Are the Short-term Side Effects of Stimulants?

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) explains the short-term side effects of stimulants might include:

  • Increased alertness, attention, energy
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Narrowed blood vessels
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Opened-up breathing passages
  • High body temperature and irregular heartbeat
  • Heart disease
  • Seizures

 

What are the Long-term Side Effects Of Stimulants?

The long-term side effects of stimulants can include:

  • Heart problems
  • Psychosis
  • Anger
  • Paranoia

 

How Can I Reduce The Side Effects Of Stimulants?

Only take stimulants if a licensed provider prescribes them for a specific medical condition. Even then, follow the provider’s instructions carefully and report any concerning side effects.

It’s also important to notify your doctor of any other medical conditions or medicines you are taking. Stimulants can interact with other medications, even ones that can be purchased over the counter, making them ineffective or dangerous when combined.

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How Do Stimulants Affect the Developing Brain?

Stimulant use can permanently alter how the brain functions, affecting memory, sleep patterns, and mental and physical health.

Do Stimulants Increase the Level of Dopamine in the Brain?

Stimulants increase the levels of the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Norepinephrine impacts blood vessels, blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar, and breathing. Stimulants can even cause psychosis and hallucinations.

Stimulant Addiction

What Is Stimulant Dependence?

Stimulant dependence occurs when a person depends on the stimulant to function in their everyday life. This may include school, social interactions, work, etc. When the user develops a “need” or craving for the stimulant, it’s a problem.

 

Is Stimulant Medication Addictive?

Yes, stimulant medication can become addictive. That is why following the provider’s exact instructions and dosages is essential. When used improperly, stimulant medications can result in dangerous side effects, addiction, or death.

 

What Is Stimulant Abuse Disorder?

Stimulant abuse disorder occurs when the user continues to use stimulants, regardless of how adverse the effects are to their work, school, relationships, or health.

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Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms & Overdose

What Are the Symptoms of Stimulant Withdrawal DSM 5?

The DSM-V puts the symptoms of stimulant withdrawal into the following categories:

  •  Loss of control
  •  Risky use
  •  Social problems
  •  Drug effects

 

What Happens When a Stimulant Wears Off?

Users may experience withdrawal symptoms, depending on the amount of drug they’ve used and how long they’ve been using it.

MedlinePlus explains the following symptoms are signs of stimulant withdrawal:

  • Strong cravings for the drug
  • Having mood swings from feeling depressed to agitated to anxious
  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Seeing or hearing things that are not there (hallucinations)
  • Physical reactions may include headaches, aches, and pains, increased appetite, not sleeping well
  • Life-threatening symptoms in long-time users of certain drugs
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What is Detoxing Off Of Speed Like?

Do Stimulants Need To Be Tapered?

There is debate about whether or not stimulants should be tapered off.

Some say that since many stimulants move so quickly through the body, it’s not necessary to taper off.

Others argue that tapering off, especially for those who have become dependent on stimulants, is necessary to reduce withdrawal symptoms.

 

What Are the Risks of Stimulant Overdose?

Stimulant overdose can quickly become a life-threatening situation. Since stimulants can rapidly increase heart rate and body temperature, they can result in seizures, hyperthermia, stroke, heart attack, or death.

The most important thing to do if you or someone you know is experiencing a stimulant overdose is to call 911 immediately. Emergency services have specific medications they can administer that may slow down the effects of stimulants and, ultimately, save someone’s life.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the following symptoms are life-threatening and require immediate medical assistance from emergency services:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness
  • Tremor
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Rapid breathing, fast heart rate, or arrhythmia
  • Overheating or excessive sweating
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Chest pains or tightness
  • Panic or extreme anxiety
  • Hallucination
  • Psychosis

 

What Are the Symptoms of Overdose From Central Nervous System Stimulants?

People who overdose on stimulants without medical help may experience high fever, seizures, and heart problems before dying. This risk is higher when stimulants are used alongside physical activity.

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Stimulant Addiction Treatment

What Are Stimulant Dependency Treatments for Teens?

The type of treatment for teens will depend on the severity of their substance use and the treatment center’s access to resources.

Some treatment centers only provide outpatient treatment for adolescents, which may include partial hospitalization programs (PHP) or intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Typically, clinicians want to keep adolescents’ lives as stable and consistent as possible, especially if they have a healthy support system at home. Attending outpatient treatment can allow the patients to still attend school and treatment simultaneously.

 

What Is the Best Treatment for Stimulant Addiction?

The effectiveness of treatment for any substance use disorder will greatly vary based on the individual. Factors such as medical history, mental state, genetics, and co-occurring disorders can all influence how effective treatment is.

The most common forms of treatment for stimulant addiction include:

  • Psychotherapy and behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Group therapy
  • Individual counseling
  • Family or couples counseling, when applicable
  • Medication-assisted treatment (MAT), when applicable
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What Are Inpatient Stimulant Addiction Treatment Options?

The type of treatment offered will vary based on the treatment center’s resources and the clinicians’ expertise.

Some treatment centers offer residential treatment, in which the patient lives on campus while they attend extensive, daily treatment. The duration of the stay will depend on the types of substances used and the duration of substance use.

When determining if residential treatment is right for the patient, the treatment center will also evaluate the patient’s access to food, shelter, transportation, employment, and healthy relationships.

Additionally, some treatment centers provide specialty residential treatment programs for people who cannot take significant time off work to attend treatment. This may allow the patient to continue working their job remotely while attending intensive treatment on campus.

 

What Are The Outpatient Stimulant Addiction Treatment Options?

Depending on the available resources, treatment centers may offer various outpatient programs. Outpatient programs allow the patient to attend treatment and still live at home. This type of treatment may be chosen if the patient is a caretaker, has a healthy support system, and has access to reliable transportation.

Some treatment centers offer partial-hospitalization programs (PHP) or intensive outpatient programs (IOP), in which the patient still receives daily intensive therapy but doesn’t have to live on campus.

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SAMHSA explains that stimulants can cause a variety of disorders, depending on how the drug is administered. For example, people who orally ingest methamphetamine are more likely to get “meth mouth,” which can cause tooth decay.

Additionally, stimulants can also cause cardiovascular conditions like:

  • Hypertension
  • Angina
  • Valvular disease
  • Stroke
  • Increased risk for heart attack

NIDA further states that using stimulant drugs can lead to a “risk of HIV, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases from shared needles.”

For some people, especially those with ADHD, stimulants may have a calming effect. This is a result of the way stimulants can interfere with how the brain releases chemicals to the rest of the body.

Stimulants can have aging effects on people in different ways. The most concerning effect is that drug use puts such strain on the body, particularly the heart.

As a result, when cardiovascular processes begin to slow due to substance use, the rest of the body follows suit.

Heart Asia found that “…the effects of stimulant abuse may compound with time, and may become more severe as time progresses and life passes by, which in turn implies that stimulants compound and accelerate the normal time-dependent degeneration of physiological systems.”

Since stimulants change the chemical balance in the brain, they can affect the user’s personality. Drugs lower inhibition and decision-making ability and often result in the user making choices they would’ve never made otherwise.

Everyone will react differently to stimulant drugs based on any preexisting conditions, co-occurring disorders, the purity of the drug, and how the drug is administered. As a result, some people react to stimulant drugs with paranoia, aggression, or violent behavior.

The DEA verifies, “Chronic, high-dose use is frequently associated with agitation, hostility, panic, aggression, and suicidal or homicidal tendencies.”

Aggression and violent behavior are especially prevalent when methamphetamine or cocaine are used. Since drugs interfere with the brain’s ability to make decisions, these dangerous behaviors are even more likely if multiple substances are used at once.

Yes, cocaine is considered a Schedule II class of drug by the DEA. It works by interfering with the dopamine-recycling process in the brain.

NIDA confirms, “If cocaine is present, it attaches to the dopamine transporter and blocks the normal recycling process, resulting in a buildup of dopamine in the synapse, which contributes to the pleasurable effects of cocaine.”

Since stimulants heighten the senses, for some, hypersexuality can be a side-effect of the euphoria of stimulant drug use.

However, for others, certain stimulants might have the opposite effect. For example, there have been many reported cases of low libido or disinterest in sex in patients who use Adderall.

Furthermore, NIDA confirms that any drug can significantly impact one’s sexual nature, as substance use often leads to risky behaviors, which can result in unplanned pregnancy and diseases like HIV or Hepatitis C. “Drug intoxication and addiction can compromise judgment and decision-making and potentially lead to risky sexual behavior, including trading sex for drugs, and needle sharing.”

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At Sandstone Care, we understand the challenges of overcoming stimulant use. We provide personalized treatment and evidence-based techniques for teens and families seeking healing. Whether it’s addiction or a mental health issue, we’re here to help with dignity and respect.