The Facts about Stimulants

by John Taylor

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What are stimulants?

Stimulants can come in many forms from illegal drugs like cocaine and amphetamines, prescription drugs, over-the-counter stimulants, caffeine and nicotine. "Stimulants activate the central nervous system, causing feelings of energy, happiness, and power; a decreased desire for sleep; and a diminished appetite" (Nolen-Hoeksema, S., 2014). The use of stimulants has been on the rise over the last few decades, so it's more important than ever to know what stimulants are, the symptoms that the use and/or abuse of stimulants can cause, some myths associated with stimulants, and when to seek treatment and who you should look for.

Stimulants used to be prescribed for many health issues like asthma and respiratory illnesses, obesity, neurological disorders and other problems. "But as their potential for abuse and addiction became apparent, the medical use of stimulants began to wane" (National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nov., 2014). Now many physicians prescribe stimulants for fewer conditions and in many cases only when other forms of treatment have not worked. For other stimulants, caffeine is "by far the most heavily used stimulant" and nicotine is "one of the most addictive substances known" (Nolen-Hoeksema, S., 2014). Stimulants have a high rate of abuse, the users often go on binges and sometimes practically collapse from extended use.

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Symptoms and Risk

Some of the physical problems with stimulant use include increases in blood pressure and heart rate, alter the electrical activity and rhythm of the heart, constrict blood vessels. This can lead to heart attacks, respiratory arrest and seizures.

Some symptoms of abuse include:

  • Increased body temperature
  • Euphoria
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Faster breathing
  • Dialated pupils
  • Increased energy and alertness
  • Decreased fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
Other possible symptoms:

  • Hostility
  • Paranoia
  • Aggressiveness
  • Cardiovascular system failure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Reduction of social inhibitions
  • Altered sexual behavior
  • Blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Unrealistic ideas of personal ability & power
  • Convulsions
  • Malnutrition
  • Skin disorders
  • Amphetamine-caused psychosis (Narconon, 2015)

"Substance use (abuse and/or dependence) disorder includes impaired control, the continued use of substances despite negative social, occupational and health consequences, risky use, as well as evidence of tolerance or withdrawal" (Nolen-Hoeksema, S., 2014). These behaviors and signs need to be present for one year or more for a diagnosis of substance abuse disorder. Let's break these down.

  • Impaired control is using larger amounts of the stimulant over a longer period of time, cravings to use the stimulant, having an ongoing desire to cut down or quit, and a lot of time is spent getting, using and recovering from the stimulants.
  • Social impairment is when the ongoing use of the stimulants causes problems meeting home, work or school responsibilities. Social, work-related, or leisure activities are forgotten or cut back because of use, and the person keeps using the stimulant even after these difficulties are made worse from the effects from using the stimulant.
  • Risky use is when stimulants used in potentially dangerous situations like driving or using machinery, and he or she keeps using the stimulants even after you are aware of the problems that using it is causing.
  • Pharmacological criteria means that the person builds a tolerance and needs to use more and more to get the same effects they once had, and also without the substance the person may start to have withdrawals and so they use the stimulant or something similar.

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Myths about Stimulant Use and Abuse

There are many myths and misconceptions about stimulant use and abuse. First, when people think of someone using or addicted to stimulants they often think of "crackheads" or "meth-heads" that we see on TV. The truth of the matter is, there are people addicted to stimulants from al different age groups, genders, races and cultures. It can be the college student addicted to energy drinks to cram for an exam, the mom that wants to lose some weight and takes weight loss stimulants, the business person that needs to drink coffee all day to keep up with the demands placed on them, or really any person that thinks that there may be some potential benefits from the use of stimulants. Many of these myths "either exaggerate or trivialize some of the realities of stimulant addiction or withdrawal" (St. George Detox Hospital, n.d.). Another myth is that using stimulants once results in addiction. "While using the drug once may not result in addiction, being exposed to the drug may increase use, which in turn increases the potential for addiction" (St. George Detox Hospital, n.d.). Finally, one dangerous myth is that since the body processes some stimulants quickly, they don't have long-term negative effects. This couldn't be further from the truth. Some of the lasting effects include changes in how the brain processes chemicals, changes in blood pressure, changes in metabolic processes and an increase of heart disease and strokes.
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What to do if you need help

If you have read through these signs, symptoms and behaviors and can identify any of these with yourself, the time to get help is now, so you can prevent any long-term physical or psychological problems. "Successful treatment may need to incorporate several components, including detoxification, counseling, and sometimes the use of addiction medications" (Nolen-Hoeksema, S., 2014). There are many doctors, therapists and centers that are available to help you. Many of these centers and treatment programs focus on having you get exercise to get your heart and lungs functioning better, taking nutritional supplements to help renourish your body, using saunas to help you sweat out the toxins, getting adequate sleep, and then therapy to help you realize what caused the addiction and help you not to succumb to the stimulants again.

When finding a therapist there are 5 things you want to look for. First, you want to ensure that they have the proper credentials. This means that the therapist should have the education, specializing in drug abuse, as well as have licensing as a psychologist and a drug counselor. Next, find someone with more than 10 years of experience. Ask the questions "how many clients have you seen? How many faced similar challenges to mine? What has your success rate been?" (Chanetsa, B., Jan. 7, 2015). This is your life and a good, licensed therapist will not use you to test out his latest techniques. They will use what they know has worked. Next, find out if they have had a history of addiction. While this may or may not be important to you, it is important to find out how long they have been sober and how they got clean. The therapist should also have a detailed action plan for step-by-step goals, treatment plans and how they will help you be successful. Finally, you must feel safe and trust them completely. If you feel hesitant at all, it won't work. You need to be honest with them and they need to give you the help that you need.

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Good News!

There are many resources available to help you! Talk to your doctor, get a physical, gauge your current health and discuss with him or her any issues you may have with stimulants. They should be able to direct you to the sources you need to get treatment.

You can also call 24/7

Narconon 1-800-775-8750

St. George Detox Hospital 1-844--84-DETOX

With proper help you can live a healthy full life again!


Chanetsa, B. January 7, 2015. 5 things to look for in a recovery therapist. SoberRecovery.

Retrieved from

Narconon. 2015. Signs and Symptoms of Amphetamine abuse. Retrieved from

National Institute on Drug Abuse. November 2014. Prescription drug abuse. Retrieved from

Nolen-Hoeksema, S. 2014. Abnormal psychology (6th ed). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill

St. George Detox Hospital. n.d. Common myths about stimulant abuse. Retrieved from