Substance Use Disorder: Stimulants

Zeeshan Hafiz

What is Stimulant Use Disorder?

Stimulant use disorder is a new diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, also known as the DSM-5. This disorder has a range of problems that arises due to a wide variety of stimulant drugs. Some of these drugs include meth, cocaine, and amphetamines (does not include caffeine or nicotine). Diagnoses for this disorder have been combined with either mild, moderate or severe diagnoses being given. Today, there is no difference in the severity of the disorder because now individuals show physical aspects of dependence, while previously the physical symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal were considered to be the main culprit (Hartney, 2013).

Symptoms of Stimulant Use Disorder

There are a variety of symptoms that may be present in someone who may have a stimulant use disorder. Two of the following several symptoms need to be present in an individual in order to diagnose them with stimulant use disorder:


  • Taking more stimulants than intended.
  • Unsuccessful in trying to cut down or control use of stimulants, despite wanting to do so.
  • Spending excessive amounts of time to activities surrounding stimulant use.
  • Failing in the obligations of home, school or work.
  • Continuing stimulants even after problems arise.
  • Using stimulants in a physically hazardous way.
  • Tolerance to stimulants.
  • Withdrawal from stimulants if you don't take them (Hartney, 2013).

Causes of Stimulant Use Disorder

Like any other mental health disorder, there can be many causes as to how stimulant use disorder appears and develops. The two main factors are environment and genetics. Environmental factors can include an individuals family’s beliefs and exposure to a peer group that encourages drug use have a role in initial drug use. For genetics, once an individual starts using a drug, inherited (genetic) traits start to influence the development into addiction. This may delay or speed up the disorder. There are also changes in the brain that may be the cause of how stimulant use disorder develops. When these changes happen, they can continue remain even if the individual stops using the stimulant (Mayo Clinic, 2014).

Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorder

Getting addicted to a stimulant isn't easy to get out of, but fortunately there are treatment options. The symptoms of withdrawal are easy to manage, but the psychological effects make it difficult to overcome. A combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy, self-help support groups, and other behavioral therapies are the most effective treatment for stimulant use disorder. This disorder takes the brains ability to feel pleasure, so addicted individuals will need support in learning how to function while being sober and manage the drug cravings while the body heals (Elements, 2014).

Myths/Misconceptions about Stimulant Use

There are myths and misconceptions about stimulant use disorder. This can become a problem for both society and those that have a stimulant use disorder. When media portrays the stereotypical addict it tends to cover up the reality that the majority of people don’t fit this mold. There are also misconceptions about the treatment of stimulant use disorder, which gives those needing treatment the wrong idea of how to get it and use it properly. Because of these myths and misconceptions many addicts have given up on the idea of recovery (DARA, 2014).

What To Look For When Seeking Help

When an individual who is seeking treatment meets their therapist they should first explain to them what the treatment plan will be. The treatment plan should be more than movies, lectures, or classes. When being treated for stimulant use disorder the person treating them should be a licensed addiction counselor who will see their client one on one. The treatment should be individualized because one size does not fit all (Brody, 2013).
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