Stimulants: The Good, the Bad, and the Upsetting

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Life today is so incredibly busy for many people. It’s no surprise that there has been a rise in stimulant use, abuse, and addiction. While are still only 24 hours in every day, we find ourselves trying to maximize our time in any way we can.

In addition to stimulants becoming an addiction because of modern, chaotic lives, stimulants are commonly used to treat a variety of mental and physical illnesses and symptoms. 

Not all stimulants are illegal substances. Caffeine, one of the most regularly used stimulants, is an addiction that so many people have that tends to be overlooked because it’s legal – nor is its usage monitored. 

Stimulants can be helpful. For some, they simply allow for a normal, functioning life. However, when legal stimulants begin to be abused and when illegal stimulants find their way into someone’s life, addiction quickly follows, and that addiction can be very detrimental to the overall health of the abuser.

What Exactly are Stimulants?

Stimulants are a form of psychoactive drug that speeds up both mental and physical processes in the body. Psychoactive drugs are drugs that affect the body’s brain and nervous system by chemically changing the body’s mental state.

There are both legal and illegal stimulant substances, and all stimulants can be abused and cause addiction. Legal stimulants are regularly used to treat such illnesses as ADHD, mood disorders, chronic fatigue, and narcolepsy. Common illegal stimulants are cocaine, crack, and methamphetamine. 

Most stimulants are either legal and closely regulated by the government or are illegal. However, caffeine and nicotine are two legal stimulants that are not monitored by the government.

Stimulants: The Good

Stimulants can be very helpful in treating both mental and physical health conditions. 

Some common health issues treated with stimulants are:

  • ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)
  • Narcolepsy
  • Obesity
  • Headaches/migraines
  • Depression

For each of these illnesses and conditions, stimulants provide necessary help in order to allow those that suffer with them to lead healthy lives.

ADHD Treatment

ADHD is a mental illness that is characterized by hyperactivity, irritability, mood instability, attention difficulties, lack of organization, and impulsive behaviors. Some people don’t quite understand why a stimulant would be prescribed to help a disorder that is characterized by things like hyperactivity and attention difficulties.

However, the stimulants used to treat ADHD actually help the person suffering from the illness to focus and complete projects. It has an opposite reaction on their brain, allowing them to calm down and organize their thoughts.

Narcolepsy Treatment

Narcolepsy is commonly referred to as the “sleeping sickness.” It is characterized by excessive sleepiness in the daytime and bouts of irresistible sleepiness that cannot be helped. This illness can prevent those that suffer with it from being able to drive vehicles safely and even hold jobs.

Stimulants are able to give narcoleptic people the alertness they need to be able to complete their daily duties and make it through their bouts of extreme tiredness without falling into a deep sleep.

Obesity Treatment

Obesity is a condition in which a person is severely overweight. While stimulants are not the most common treatment for obesity in general, they are used to treat what is referred to as exogenous obesity – obesity as a result of overeating.

Stimulants suppress the appetite and give added energy that can help a person eat less and exercise. Not all doctors will prescribe stimulants for obesity because of the chance of addiction, but some cases do warrant stimulant treatment.


Headaches and migraines are treated often with caffeine, which is probably the most mainstream stimulant. Many headaches and migraines benefits from the ability of caffeine to ease the tension and tightness in the head and allow for the relief from recurring headaches.


The most prescribed medications for depression are antidepressants. However, some symptoms of depression like fatigue, loss of energy, and apathy can be treated with stimulants to improve the quality of life of those suffering from the debilitating mental illness.

Stimulants: The Good, A Summary

There are instances in which stimulant application is a necessary course of action in order to improve someone’s quality of life. Even in these cases, there is great care given to consider all options before resorting to stimulant use because of the high chance of addiction.

Stimulants: The Bad

Once stimulants begin being abused, addiction can happen very fast. The main reason for this is because of the way the stimulants work to begin with. Stimulants are psychoactive drugs that change the chemical makeup within a person.

Verywellmind explains why stimulants are so addictive.

Psychoactive, also called psychotropic, is a term that is applied to chemical substances that change a person’s mental state by affecting the way the brain and nervous system work. This can lead to intoxication, which is often the main reason people choose to take psychoactive drugs. The changes in brain function experienced by people who use psychoactive substances affect their perceptions, moods, and/or consciousness.” – Elizabeth Hartney, PhD. “The Different Types of Psychoactive Drugs”

When someone’s mood entire consciousness is affected by a substance and that person enjoys the new consciousness, they want to repeat the feeling. They “chase the high” that they felt the very first time they used the stimulant.

This is the unfortunate circumstance that doctor’s face when prescribing stimulants to treat illnesses and conditions. They have to weigh the pros of allowing their patient a chance at better health against the cons of possible addiction. 

The very sad reality of many stimulant addictions is that the addict would have never bought illegal substances to abuse. They have simply become addicted to medicine that they were legally prescribed. Some blame the doctors; others blame the patients for not taking their medication as prescribed.

Common Stimulants

Some stimulants, both legal and illegal, are well-known to the general American public. Others are not.

The most abused stimulants are:

  • Prescription Amphetamine – commonly prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy; normally abused by teens and young adults, especially for studying and the increased confidence it gives
  • Anabolic steroids – a synthetic drug that mimics testosterone; normally abused by those active in sports or bodybuilding
  • Caffeine – is the most widely used stimulant of all; can be found in coffee, soft drinks, chocolate, tea, and more; lots of people are addicted to caffeine without realizing that they are addicted to a stimulant
  • Cocaine – a synthetic drug that comes in the form of a white powder that is normally snorted or injected; the effects wear off relatively quickly which encourages repeated use
  • Concerta – this is another drug prescribed for ADHD but has effects that act more like cocaine; leads to a strong craving for subsequent doses
  • Crack Cocaine – highly addictive and extremely dangerous version of cocaine that is mixed with baking soda to create small chunks, commonly called “crack rocks;” can cause a stroke or heart attack with only one use
  • Dexedrine – used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy; chemically similar to methamphetamine, causing extreme brain dependence
  • Ecstasy – commonly known as MDMA, this is a drug taken to enhance the user’s level of dopamine; it releases large amounts of dopamine, creating an extremely pleasureful high and resulting in an equally as extreme low once the dopamine is drained; the extreme highs encourage addiction
  • Nicotine – used in cigarettes; a very addictive substance that is as commonplace as caffeine
  • Methamphetamine – commonly called “meth” or “crystal meth,” this drug is synthetic and appears as a white powder or white-blue crystals; causes euphoria and intense energy with large releases of dopamine; results in detrimental physical effects on teeth and skin and mental effects with extreme lows
  • Ritalin – used to be a popular drug prescribed for ADHD; normally abused by athletes, teenagers, and young adults because of the energy and confidence it causes

Effects of Stimulant Abuse and Addiction

There are many telltale signs of stimulant abuse and addiction. People exhibit signs, whether they are behavioral, emotional, or physical changes.

Some of the signs of stimulant abuse and addiction are:

  • Euphoria
  • Heightened alertness
  • Enhanced energy
  • Increased arousal
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Abnormal behavior

Those that abuse stimulants for long amounts of time can suffer:

  • Tremors
  • Heart attack
  • Tachycardia
  • Insomnia
  • Brain damage
  • Tooth decay
  • Organ damage
  • Sudden death

Other signs of stimulant abuse are excitability, nosebleeds, dilated pupils, and weight loss. Addicts can experience extremely high body temperatures and severe itching. Sores can form on the body from scratching and picking at the skin.

Because of the chemicals in stimulants, cognitive issues can develop. Additionally, addicts can begin to experience very depressive episodes and extreme withdrawals when they do not have the stimulant.

Stimulants: The Bad, A Summary

Because of their ability to trick a brain into believing it is confident and happy, stimulants are very easily abused and are very highly addictive. 

Think about the stimulant that no one really considers a stimulant – caffeine. Most adults depend on coffee every single morning to get through their day. Many will experience fatigue or low energy if they do not have their coffee in the morning. This is just a simple, relatively easy form of stimulant withdrawal.

The reality of the extent of stimulant abuse and withdrawal is much, much more terrifying.

Coffee | Stimulants | The Hills

Stimulants: The Upsetting

According to RehabSpot, “406,000 young adults aged 18 to 25 abused stimulants in 2014. Hospital emergency room visits related to the use of methamphetamine rose from about 68,000 in 2007 to about 103,000 in 2011. About 169,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 were current nonmedical users of stimulants in 2014, including about 45,000 current methamphetamine users.”

The truly upsetting fact about stimulants is this:

“With the nation still reeling from the opioid crisis, drug forecasting experts say a new wave of addiction is coming and the United States isn’t ready for it. Abuse of stimulants like methamphetamine, cocaine, and even prescription drugs like Prescription Amphetamine and Ritalin is surging across the country, fed by cheap, potent, and plentiful supplies.” – Brenda Goodman, MA “Experts Warn of Emerging ‘Stimulant Epidemic’”

Our country has been focused on its opioid crisis for years while a stimulant addiction crisis has been forming right before its eyes. 

Statistics reveal a grim reality.

Statistics taken from WebMD.

  • In 2016 an estimated 2.3 million people started using opioids to get high for the first time, while 2.6 million people started using stimulant drugs for the same purpose.
  • In 2016, an estimated 3.8 million people said they used opioids to get high within the last month, while 4.3 million said the same about stimulants.
  • In 2017, 7,663 people died from a stimulant overdose, up from 5,992 in 2016.
  • In Oregon, the rate of stimulant prescriptions written for every 1,000 adults ages 30 to 44 increased from 159 in 2012 to 238 in 2016, about a 50% increase. 

Addiction crises tend to happen in cycles – the heroin epidemic of the 1970s was followed by a crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and a cocaine epidemic in the 1990s. These addiction cycles led to a rise in ecstasy addiction in the 2000s that was followed with an opioid crisis.

And the next addiction epidemic seems to be stimulants.

Stimulants: The Hope

In the wake of a stimulant addiction epidemic, we must remain hopeful. We have more substance abuse help available now than ever before. We can find anonymous addiction meetings in most towns and cities, and we can even find support groups online.

There are phone numbers that we can call. More people than ever before are calling for mental health and addiction reform. There are sober homes and rehabilitation facilities available.

It is easier to get sober than it has ever been.

What Can We Do?

Spread awareness of the ease in which stimulants can cause addiction. If you or a loved one is suggested a stimulant to treat an illness or condition, educate yourself on that particular stimulant. Research what it will do to your body and consider all of your options before accepting the prescription.

Education on the effects of stimulants is the only way to prevent addiction. 

If you notice someone that you know is exhibiting symptoms of a stimulant addict, reach out to them.

You can do much more than you think when it comes to helping others learn and become aware of a danger that may not realize exists.

And, if nothing else, you can drink less coffee.

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