Stimulants Symptoms & Effects

Stimulants are a category of substances that increase a user’s sense of energy, focus, and mood by boosting the performance of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. The neurotransmitters are part of the brain’s reward system and are associated with feelings of pleasure, motivation, and satisfaction.

The category of stimulants includes a wide range of legal and illegal substances. For example, caffeine and nicotine are both stimulants, as are cocaine, amphetamines, and methamphetamine. Many substances that are marketed as herbal supplements, such as gingko, guarana, taurine, chlorophyll, coconut oil, and B vitamins, are actually stimulants. Common prescription stimulants include Adderall, Dexedrine, Evekeo, Ritalin, and Vyvanse.

In addition to being misused for purely recreational purposes, stimulants are often abused by individuals who are trying to lose weight, stay awake, increase energy, or improve focus and concentration.

Stimulant abuse can lead to dependence, which can be difficult to overcome without professional intervention. At Twelve Oaks, we have developed comprehensive programming that has proved to be particularly effective in the effort to help people overcome their addiction to stimulants and make the changes in their lives that will allow them to successfully pursue a healthy drug-free future.

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Statistics

Cocaine is the world’s second most commonly abused illegal drug in the world. In the United States, more than 35 million people have used cocaine at least once, and about two million have abused the drug in the past month. Cocaine is responsible for about 500,000 emergency room visits every year.

Experts estimate that about 2.5 million people in the United States abuse prescription stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall on an annual basis.

More than 15 million Americans have admitted to abusing amphetamines, and experts estimate that about two million people have abused these substances in the previous 30 days.

Causes and Risk Factors for Stimulant Abuse

No single factor can definitively predict if a person will abuse or become addicted to a stimulant, but the following are among the more common genetic and environmental influences and risk factors:

Genetic: People whose parents or siblings have struggled with chemical dependency and/or mental illness are at increased risk of having a problem related to drug abuse. Research involving twins and adopted children supports the idea of genetic predisposition to substance use disorders and addiction. Also, recent advances in the study of human genetics have led to the identification of several genes and gene clusters that appear to influence whether or not a person will struggle with drug addiction.

Environmental: Substance abuse within one’s family can also be an environmental influence, as people who grow up in houses where drug use is common may be more likely to replicate this behavior. Other environmental influences on substance abuse include chronic exposure to stress, living in poverty, associating with peers who engage in substance abuse, and experiencing trauma.

Risk Factors:

  • Being male
  • Having ADHD (which is often treated with stimulants)
  • Having access to stimulant-based medications
  • Family history of substance abuse and/or chemical dependency
  • Family history of mental illness
  • Personal history of prior substance abuse
  • Personal experience with mental illness
  • Poverty
  • Poor stress management skills

Signs and Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse

No single set of symptoms is common among every person who abuses a stimulant. However, many people will exhibit signs such as the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Acting with increased energy
  • Grinding one’s teeth
  • Speaking rapidly
  • Acting with uncharacteristic aggression
  • Lying or otherwise acting deceptively regarding one’s whereabouts or activities
  • Borrowing ADHD medications or other prescription stimulants
  • Stealing ADHD medications or other prescription stimulants
  • Visiting websites that traffic in illicitly obtained stimulants

Physical symptoms:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased energy
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating
  • Dry mouth
  • Rapid breathing
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Weight loss
  • Insomnia

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Heightened focus and concentration
  • Enhanced sensory awareness
  • Lack of impulse control
  • Poor judgment
  • Temporarily improved attitude
  • Preoccupation with drugs

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Sense of self-aggrandizement
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Anger and irritability when unable to acquire stimulants
  • Expressions of anxiety or paranoia
If you feel that you are in crisis, or are having thoughts about hurting yourself or others, please call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room immediately.

Effects of Stimulant Abuse

Even though some stimulants are widely prescribed and safely used by many people, these drugs are far from harmless. Abusing stimulants can lead to myriad negative outcomes, such as the following:

  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular distress
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Disorientation
  • Depression
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Financial problems
  • Legal problems
  • Academic failure
  • Job loss and unemployment
  • Family discord
  • Social isolation
  • Ruined personal relationships
  • Suicidal ideation

Co-Occurring Disorders

The following are among the common co-occurring disorders that are experienced by people who are engaging in stimulant abuse:

  • Anxiety disorders
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Depressive disorders
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Effects of Withdrawal and Overdose

Effects of stimulant withdrawal: The following are among the common symptoms of stimulant withdrawal. Depending upon the nature and severity of a person’s stimulant abuse, these symptoms may develop within hours of cessation and last for seven days or longer:

  • Strong drug cravings
  • Generalized aches and pain
  • Anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Physical exhaustion
  • Irritability
  • Nightmares
  • Hallucinations and delusions
  • Depression
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia

Effects of stimulant overdose: Stimulant overdose can lead to several dangerous and potentially lethal results. Anyone who experiences the following symptoms after abusing stimulants should be brought to the immediate attention of a qualified healthcare provider:

  • Twitches and tremors
  • Increased body temperature and blood pressure
  • Irregular breathing
  • Psychosis
  • Seizures and convulsions
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Stroke
  • Coma
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