Prescription Drugs: Stimulants

By Michael M. (TB 2)

What are stimulants?

Stimulants are drugs that speed up processes and activities in the body. They can be used to treat conditions like ADHD or narcolepsy.

How are they abused?

Prescription amphetamines are usually taken as a pill, but the pills can be crushed and then snorted or injected. Injection can be a problem because small ingredients in the tablets can block blood vessels.

People often use such drugs to enhance academic performance, but studies have shown that stimulants do not increase learning or thinking ability in people who have not been diagnosed with ADHD.

How do stimulants affect the brain?

Stimulants such as amphetamines (e.g. Adderall) and methylphenidates (e.g. Concerta) have similar chemical structures to key neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. Stimulants boost their effects.

When doctors prescribe a stimulant, they start at a low dose until they find the right dose for the patient to treat their condition. If the medication is taken in doses other than what was prescibed, however, dopamine in the brain increases very quickly. This changes the way brain cells normally communicate, producing a "high" at the risk for bad side effects and eventually addiction.

What are the other effects of stimulant abuse?

Taking high doses of a stimulant can cause:

  • Increased blood pressure
  • Irregular body heat
  • Dangerous body temperatures

Can you get addicted to stimulants?

Yes, stimulant abuse can lead to addiction. WIthdrawal symptoms include:

  • Inability to feel pleasure
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Anxiety or irritability
  • Feeling very tired, lack of energy, changes in sleep patterns
  • Intense drug cravings

Can you die from abusing stimulants?

Yes, you can. Taking high doses of a stimulant can raise a person's body temperature and blood pressure and make the heart beat irregularly. This can lead to seizures, heart attacks, and death.

How many teens abuse stimulants?

  • 6.8% of 8th graders,
  • 9.7% of 10th graders, and
  • 10.8% of 12th graders

have abused stimulants in their lifetime.