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Stimulant Addiction and Abuse

Stimulants are often abused among students and athletes trying to enhance their performance. They are also used recreationally.

Understanding Stimulants

Stimulants work by acting on the central nervous system to increase alertness and cognitive function. Stimulants can be prescription medications or illicit substances such as cocaine. These drugs may be taken orally, snorted or injected. If you have a stimulant addiction, seek help today.

Prescription Stimulant Brands

Prescription stimulants are used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy and sometimes obesity.

The most common prescription stimulants are amphetamines and methylphenidates.

Although there is a molecular distinction between amphetamines (such as Adderall) and methylphenidates (such as Ritalin), effects of abusing these stimulants are essentially the same. Patients are prescribed either amphetamines or methylphenidates depending on the potency and duration needed. Some of the most well-known prescription stimulants include:

  • Adderall — Approved in 1960, Adderall is currently the most popular ADHD treatment drug and the most commonly prescribed amphetamine in the United States.
  • Dexedrine — On the market for American consumers since 1976, Dexedrine is most commonly used to treat ADHD. The drug was used by the U.S. Air Force during World War II through the Gulf War to help pilots stay awake.
  • Ritalin — This drug was approved for the treatment of hyperactive children in 1955. Ritalin differs from Dexedrine and Adderall because it is a methylphenidate. Methylphenidates have the same stimulant effects as amphetamines but have a different molecular structure.
  • Concerta — Approved in 2000, Concerta is a relatively new drug used to treat ADHD. It is a methylphenidate like Ritalin, but differs in strength and duration of effects.
  • Desoxyn — Desoxyn is a prescription methamphetamine. Introduced in 1947, it was the first medication prescribed for obesity. It is also used to treat ADHD.
  • Ephedrine — Ephedrine is most commonly used as an appetite suppressant and bronchodilator for those with asthma, but has similar effects to other stimulants. It is often available over the counter and is commonly used as an ingredient in clandestine meth labs.

Illicit Stimulants

The stimulants class wouldn’t be complete without mentioning cocaine, crack and crystal meth. These drugs all produce effects similar to those of prescription stimulants. While prescription stimulants are designed as time-release drugs, illicit stimulants produce a shorter and more intense high.

Stimulant Effects and Abuse

Prescription stimulants are classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act because they have a high potential for abuse and addiction. Approximately 900,000 Americans abuse prescription stimulants every month.

The effects of stimulants include:

  • Euphoria
  • Decreased appetite
  • Wakefulness
  • Talkativeness
  • Energy
Many people abuse prescription stimulants to enhance performance rather than to get high. In fact, athletes and students have a long history of abusing prescription stimulants to outperform their peers.

Stimulants produce an overabundance of dopamine, the pleasure-inducing chemical in the brain. After continued use of stimulants, the brain can no longer produce normal amounts of dopamine on its own. This need for dopamine reinforces stimulant abuse, which can develop into an addiction over time.

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Addiction to Stimulants

For those addicted to prescription or illicit stimulants, these substances are the main priority in their life. An addicted person will ignore negative consequences, whether personal or health-related. Stimulants flood the brain with the pleasure-inducing chemical dopamine, which is why many people use it again. Stimulant abuse can cause immediate and long-term effects on a person’s health.

Understanding the symptoms of a stimulant addiction can help determine if you or someone you know has a problem. There are 11 criteria of an addiction as outlined by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Learn about the symptoms of addiction.

Stimulant Abuse Statistics

The rates of emergency room visits for stimulants has steadily increased over the years, from 2,303 in 2004 to 17,272 in 2011.


In 2012, there were an estimated 1.2 million nonmedical users (aged 12 and older) of prescription stimulants in the United States.


In 2011, alcohol was present in 38 percent of emergency room visits that also involved stimulants.

360Kin treatment

Nearly 360,000 people received treatment for a stimulant addiction in 2012.

Getting Help For Your Stimulant Addiction

If you have an addiction to stimulants and are ready to get help, you have made the most important step toward recovery. Beginning the recovery process can be scary, but there are countless people available to provide you with the support you need. You aren’t alone in your journey — find help today.

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Sources & Author Last Edited: April 6, 2016

  1. Ruiz, P., & Strain, E. (2011) Substance Abuse: A Comprehensive Textbook, Fifth Edition. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
  2. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2013). DrugFacts: Cocaine. Retrieved on March 18, 2014, from:
  3. U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. (2014). Drug Schedules. Retrieved on March 18, 2014, from:
  4. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2013). Stimulant Abuse, Cocaine and Mental Illness. Retrieved on March 18, 2014, from:
  5. National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). DrugFactsL Stimulant ADHD Medications. Retrieved on March 18, 2014, from:
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