According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), stimulants were previously used by the medical community to treat conditions such as obesity, asthma and other breathing problems, neurological disorders and other medical ailments.

Known for increasing a person’s energy, alertness, and attention, stimulants also elevate the rate of respiration, blood pressure, and heart rate. As noted by the NIDA, use of stimulants by physicians has decreased as their potential and incidences of abuse has risen. Currently, “only a few health conditions, including attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy, and occasionally, treatment-resistant depression” are treated with stimulants.

Types Of Stimulants

Stimulants can be classified into two categories: those that are available legally and those that are obtained illegally. Stimulants that are legal are typically obtained with a prescription from a physician. In other cases, they can be purchased over the counter.

Stimulants that are illegally obtained might be purchased on the street. Sometimes, they can be purchased from friends, family, and other individuals.

Legal Stimulant Types And Brands

Stimulants that are currently prescribed are either a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine or methylphenidate. Though all stimulant medications are typically prescribed to treat ADHD or narcolepsy, some patients respond to one type of medication better than others. Sometimes it’s a matter of trial and error to find the right medication.

Common brands of legal stimulants include:

Adderall: a prescription stimulant used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, and ADHD, Adderall is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine that acts on the central nervous system to help some people focus, control their behavior, and pay attention.

Dexedrine: like Adderall, this medication is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Because it contains amphetamines, Dexedrine works by changing the amounts of chemicals that already occur naturally in the brain.

Ritalin: also known as methylphenidate. It’s used to treat a sleep disorder known as narcolepsy as well as ADHD. Ritalin changes the brain chemistry of the user and is available in both long- and short-acting pills.

Concerta: a registered brand name for methylphenidate. It’s used to treat ADHD and can improve focus, increase listening skills, and control behavior issues.

Desoxyn: a brand name for a medication known as methamphetamine. In addition to its use as a treatment for ADHD, Desoxyn is also used by physicians as part of a short-term weight loss treatment for patients who are significantly overweight and who have not been successful at losing weight with other methods.

Frequently Abused Illegal Stimulants

Many of the legally-prescribed medications described above can also be—and frequently are—abused. For example, Desoxyn is popularly used to treat ADHD when prescribed by a doctor, but it’s also known as meth on the streets.

Other common illegal stimulants include:

  • Ephedrine is an active component of ephedra, an herb. It was previously prescribed to patients as a treatment for bronchospasms caused by asthma, for nasal congestion, and as an aid to weight loss. In 2004, the FDA warned that the herb is unsafe. All weight loss products and diet pills containing ephedrine alkaloids were pulled from the United States market. Nevertheless, ephedrine thrives as an illegal and addictive stimulant. In addition, ephedrine is a key component in the manufacture of illegal methamphetamine, also known simply as meth. For this reason, it is kept behind the counter where it is sold. The FDA limits the amount that an individual can purchase monthly. Everyone who buys products containing ephedrine must present a photo ID, and their information must be entered into a log book.
  • Cocaine is a highly-addictive stimulant that is white and powdery in appearance. Cocaine can be smoked, also known as freebasing, snorted, or dissolved in water and injected. Cocaine, which can also be called blow or coke, makes the user feel alert and euphoric.
  • Crack is a form of cocaine that is made by mixing either ammonia or baking soda into cocaine’s powdered form. This substance dries into rocks that are known as crack cocaine. The typical method of using crack includes vaporizing it by using a glass pipe, aluminum foil or a soda can.
  • Methamphetamine—or simply meth—is a highly-addictive substance that releases over three times more dopamine than cocaine. Though meth has a legal form, it’s limited to those people who are obese or who have severe ADHD. Sometimes called crystal meth, crank, ice, or redneck cocaine, meth is typically a white powder that is odorless. It can be injected, taken orally, or snorted.

Signs And Symptoms Of Stimulant Abuse and Addiction

Regardless of which stimulant is used, the symptoms the user experiences tend to be similar. The differences lie in the legality of the drugs, how addictive they are, and how long the “high” lasts. Those people who have recently used stimulants could experience one or more of the following:

  • Increased energy
  • Dilated pupils
  • Irritability
  • Paranoia
  • Increased alertness
  • Impaired judgment
  • Confusion
  • Rapid speech
  • Excess confidence
  • Dizziness
  • Reduced coordination
  • Weight loss
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Aggression
  • Tremors
  • Hallucinations
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Nasal damage and congestion, if snorted
  • Depression as the effects dissipate
  • Tooth decay, mouth sores, or gum disease if smoking

Dangers Of Stimulant Addiction and Abuse

Anyone who uses stimulants, whether they have a prescription from their medical professional or have obtained the drugs illegally, can experience the long-term side effects. These include the following:

  • Convulsions
  • Obsessive behavior
  • Paranoia
  • Compulsive behaviors
  • Cravings
  • Respiratory distress
  • Violent behavior
  • Difficulties with coordination

Some signs of a stimulant overdose warrant quick action including a call for medical assistance. Any of the following signs mean that the individual should seek emergency medical care as soon as possible:

  • Chest pain
  • Stroke
  • Excessively high blood pressure
  • Heart attack
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Psychosis

Stimulants And Alcohol Abuse 

Drinking alcohol during treatment could be dangerous, even those people who have a prescription for a stimulant, such as Adderall, Ritalin, or Concerta, for the treatment of a medical condition. When stimulants and alcohol are combined, the effects could lead to behavioral problems, alcohol poisoning, and heart issues.

In some people, the effects of alcohol could be at least partially masked by stimulants. Other individuals might notice that the effects of stimulants are decreased because of the depressive nature of alcohol.

Stimulant Withdrawal And Detox

Withdrawing and detoxing from stimulants is likely to cause the individual to experience significant symptoms. Many of these symptoms can be challenging for the person to manage on their own. For this reason, it’s recommended that detox and withdrawal be managed by trained medical professionals.

Some stimulant withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • Depression
  • Loss of verbal capabilities
  • Extreme fear
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Mood swings
  • Loss of interest in surroundings
  • Cravings for the drugs
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Inability to experience pleasure

Fortunately, there are a number of medications that a medical professional can use to help a person who is withdrawing and detoxing from stimulants.

Vistaril is the brand name for hydroxyzine, an antihistamine that is often used to combat nausea, itching, motion sickness, and vomiting. It is often used to treat withdrawal symptoms from stimulants.

Baclofen is sometimes prescribed under the brand name of Lioresal. As a GABA receptor antagonist, it reduces the positive psychological effects felt when taking cocaine.

Antabuse is a medication often used to address the symptoms experienced when withdrawing from alcohol. A brand name of the drug disulfiram, this medication can help an individual who is detoxing from cocaine.

Norpramin is the brand name for desipramine. This medication is a tricyclic antidepressant. It has been extensively studied and has had a positive effect on those who are detoxing from cocaine.

Treatment Options For Stimulant Abuse And Addiction

Treatment and rehab options for those individuals who use stimulants are varied. In nearly all cases, it’s advisable to undergo a detoxification process. It’s important to remember that a person who has taken stimulants for a long period of time and who uses significant amounts will have a longer detox period.

Moving from detoxification into an inpatient rehabilitation program that is targeted for those who use stimulants provides the individual with the tools, resources, and support needed to stop using these drugs. In addition to detox, inpatient programs offer support groups and therapy for their patients. Most inpatient rehab facilities provide programs lasting between 30 and 180 days.

Long-term treatment for those individuals who use stimulants is recommended. While detox rids the body of the drugs and addresses the physical aspects of stimulants, the person’s psychological health must also be addressed. Even when an individual is no longer using drugs, a memory, smell, or sight could trigger a longing to use once again.

Ongoing treatment in the form of outpatient therapy and support groups helps the person address these possibilities and provides them with the tools they need to resist the temptation to use stimulants in the future.