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Stimulant Addiction And Abuse

Stimulants are a class of drugs that increase activity in the brain.  Prescription stimulants are used mainly to treat narcolepsy, ADHD, or as a weight loss aid.  Prescription stimulants are a Schedule II controlled substance under the CSA (Controlled Substances Act) due to their high potential for abuse and addiction.  

Prescription stimulants include amphetamines, dextroamphetamine, or methylphenidates and are available in pill or capsule form.  When used medically, these substances help a person achieve improved concentration and energy.  

When prescription stimulants are used non-medically, the person increases their risk of serious side effects.  This is a concerning issue due to the high number of people who abuse stimulants.  According to the American Journal of Psychiatry, approximately 16 million people use prescription stimulants properly.  More than 5 million people have misused prescription stimulants at least once, and 4 million have stimulant use disorders.  Also, more than 360,000 people were treated for stimulant addictions last year.  

Prescription Stimulants

More than 16 million people use prescription stimulants today for approved medical reasons, according to the National Surveys on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Unfortunately, approximately 1.2 million people intentionally abuse prescription stimulants to enhance performance.  Athletes and college students have a history of using stimulants for this purpose.

Prescription stimulants have a high potential for severe psychological or physical dependence and are considered dangerous when abused.  

The most frequently prescribed stimulants include:

Adderall (amphetamine):

Adderall is the most commonly prescribed treatment for ADHD.  Since its introduction to the market in 1960, it is the most widely used amphetamine today.  Street names include Addies, Bennies, Black Beauties, Crosses, Speed, Truck Driver’s, and Uppers.

Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine):

Dexedrine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant used to treat ADHD.  This drug was approved for medical use in 1976 but was previously used by soldiers in WWII and the Gulf War to help them remain alert on the battlefield.  Street names are the same as those used for Adderall.

Ritalin (methylphenidate): 

Ritalin was approved in 1955 to treat hyperactive children.  It works similarly to Adderall but the effects are milder.  Street names are Kibbles and Bits, the Smart Drug, and Vitamin R.

Concerta (methylphenidate):  

Concerta is another drug that treats ADHD, however, it is an extended-release form of Ritalin that was approved in 2000.  Street names are JIF, MPH, Pineapple, and Skippy.

Desoxyn (methamphetamine):

Desoxyn was prescribed to treat obesity in 1947 but is currently used to treat ADHD.  It can be taken orally, smoked, snorted, or injected.  Street names are Ice, Glass, Crank, Crystal, Meth, Speed, and Yaba.

Ephedrine (alpha/beta-adrenergic agonists):

Ephedrine is often prescribed in place of amphetamines.  It is used primarily as an appetite suppressant but is also used as a bronchodilator for asthma sufferers.  However, dietary supplements containing ephedrine are illegal in the US.  

As an easily obtained over-the-counter drug, ephedrine has been used in illicit meth production.  Common brands that contain ephedrine are Bronkaid and Primatene, but there are many others.  People abuse ephedrine to get high by snorting, injecting, or swallowing the drug.  

Illicit Stimulants

Illicit stimulants, often called uppers, are used to produce a sudden “rush” or “high”.  The most commonly used illicit stimulants are cocaine, crystal meth, and crack.   However, many people abuse prescription stimulants because they produce similar effects to those of illicit drugs.  

One problem with illicitly produced stimulants is that they cause an intense high that is short in duration.  This short-term high leads users to use more of the drug to repeat the desired effects.  Illicit stimulants are available in powder, liquid, or rock forms that can be smoked, snorted, or injected.

Side Effects of Stimulant Abuse

Central nervous system stimulants are considered safe and effective medications when used as prescribed.  However, when misused or abused, high doses of the drugs can result in severe physical effects.  

Mild, short-term effects of stimulant misuse or abuse:

  • Poor appetite
  • Talkativeness
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nervousness
  • Alertness and energy
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse
  • Euphoria

Long-term effects of stimulant misuse or abuse:

  • Psychosis, paranoia.
  • Malnutrition.
  • Anger, anxiety, aggression.
  • Depression.
  • Impaired judgment.
  • Breathing problems (if the drug is smoked).
  • Damages to nasal tissue (if the drug is snorted).
  • Damaged blood vessels of the brain and heart.
  • Liver, kidney, and lung damage.
  • Brain damage, stroke, seizures.
  • HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.
  • High blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke, death.

In addition to the physical side effects, stimulant abuse can result in damaged relationships, social isolation, or job loss.  Abusing these drugs can also lead to addiction and the risk of a fatal overdose.

Stimulant Addiction

When someone develops an addiction to stimulants, the drug becomes their main priority.  The person may ignore daily responsibilities, lose interest in personal hygiene, and neglect close relationships.  Many people turn to desperate steps to obtain more of the drug such as theft, prostitution, doctor-shopping or raiding someone’s medicine cabinet.  

Another sign of stimulant addiction is the appearance of withdrawal symptoms when the drug is withheld.  Other noticeable signs include rapid breathing, dilated pupils, and high energy.  They may also exhibit behaviors such as social isolation, hanging out with different friends, staying out later than usual, or having financial problems.  

The signs and symptoms of stimulant abuse or addiction fall under four classifications:


  • Extremely high energy and motivation.
  • Ordering drugs online.
  • Aggressive behavior or angry outbursts.
  • Risky or impulsive behavior.
  • Doctor-shopping.


  • Nervousness.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Rapid pulse.
  • Appetite changes.
  • Weight loss.
  • Skin problems.
  • Profuse sweating.


  • Confusion, paranoia.
  • Delusions.
  • Poor decision-making.
  • Heightened sensory awareness.
  • Difficulty focusing on tasks.


  • Mood swings.
  • Increased confidence.
  • Anxiety, aggressiveness, anger.
  • Depression.

Several factors may contribute to the intensity of the above symptoms.  For instance, a person’s physical or mental health, the substance being abused, and the duration of their addiction can have an effect on the symptoms experienced.

Symptoms of Stimulant Withdrawal

As with any drug addiction, stimulant addiction can result in withdrawal symptoms if the drug is not available.  The duration of the addiction and the stimulant involved will determine the scope of withdrawal symptoms the person experiences.  

Withdrawal symptoms can persist for a few hours to several days.  Others may last as long as one year or more.  

The most common stimulant withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Irritability, anger, anxiety.
  • Lethargy or fatigue.
  • Depression.
  • Memory problems.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Sleep disturbances.
  • Nightmares.
  • Bone or muscle pain.
  • Hallucinations, delusions.
  • A strong craving for the drug.

In some cases, withdrawal symptoms can be severe or life-threatening.  For this reason, professional detox is the best way to ensure a safe and successful withdrawal process.  

At Cycles of Change Recovery, our detox program provides 24/7 medical supervision during the detox process to ensure our client’s comfort and safety at all times.  We understand that this process is difficult and can be painful at times.  Therefore, our compassionate and skilled staff is dedicated to providing the support and encouragement needed during the transition.

Intervention for Stimulant Abuse

When someone is in denial about the extent of their stimulant abuse, they will not seek treatment voluntarily.  Some people aren’t even aware that their stimulant use is a problem.  So, it often becomes necessary for friends and family to take action.  Staging an intervention is an effective method for helping a person break out of denial and agree to seek treatment.  

An intervention is a delicate situation.  It requires careful planning to ensure that things go smoothly and achieves the desired results.  Everyone must be careful not to say things that could result in heated emotions or physical confrontations.  For that reason, enlisting the services of a professional interventionist is the best recourse.  They are trained to manage the process to avoid unexpected reactions.  

Our intervention services at Cycles of Change Recovery can help families and friends plan the entire process.  If the family chooses, one of our skilled experts will lead the intervention to ensure an effective outcome.

Treatment Options for Stimulant Addiction

Overcoming addiction involves more than eliminating the physical dependence on a substance.

Effective treatment for stimulant addiction should include modalities that target the physical, mental, and spiritual factors involved. 

Identifying the reasons for stimulant abuse is one of the first things a person must learn.  Unless they understand why they were compelled to use the drug in the first place, it will be hard to achieve lasting recovery.  Treatment should also include activities and classes to help a person develop the effective coping skills needed for relapse prevention.  

Treatment options for stimulant addiction include inpatient or outpatient programs.  However, experts agree that an inpatient program provides the most effective, longer-lasting results.  The differences between these two types of treatment options are:

Inpatient programs – clients remain in the facility 24/7 during treatment.  In this environment, they are protected from outside influences and can focus on healing.  The programs can include counseling, skills training, education, and aftercare services.  Targeted activities and classes help clients gain the skills and confidence for maintaining a substance-free lifestyle.  

Outpatient programs – individuals who have mild addictions or must continue working will be the most likely candidates for outpatient treatment.  They may continue living at home but must attend scheduled counseling sessions a few times per week.  These programs require a lot of determination and self-control to maintain sobriety because they still have contact with outside influences and triggers.  

Overcome Stimulant Addiction at Cycles of Change Recovery

A person in recovery needs encouragement, respect, compassion, and support during this difficult time.  At Cycles of Change Recovery, we provide a customized approach to treatment to ensure that each of those needs is met.  We are a fully accredited and licensed facility that is dedicated to helping clients achieve their recovery goals.  

If you or someone you love is struggling with stimulant addiction, contact our Palmdale, CA facility today.  One of our knowledgeable staff members will be available to answer your questions and recommend a treatment program that is right for your needs.  Our goal is to assist clients in achieving their full potential in life.  


  • drugabuse.gov/ – Five Million American Adults Misuse Prescription Stimulants
  • usdoj.gov/d – Methamphetamine (Desoxyn) 
  • psychiatryonline.org/ – Prevalence and Correlates of Prescription Stimulant Use, Misuse, Use Disorders, and Motivations for Misuse Among Adults in the United States

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