Stimulant Addiction

The opioid epidemic has drawn a lot of attention when it comes to dealing with the nation’s current drug problems. While opioid misuse continues to cause high rates of addiction and overdose, stimulants are also a significant problem all over the country. 

In some cases, drugs like cocaine are on the rise and contribute to local public health issues as much as opioids do. In the 1980s, cocaine use was a drug crisis like the one we see today with opioids, and that problem continues in many areas. 

Stimulant addiction is a chronic disease that can infiltrate many aspects of your life, including your health, relationships, and finances. Learn more about stimulant addiction and how it can be treated. 

What Is a Stimulant?

Stimulants are a class of drugs used for medicinal and recreational purposes. Stimulants, also called central nervous system stimulants, increase activity in the brain. Stimulants often cause feelings of empowerment, alertness, and cognitive and physical euphoria. 

Stimulants are also used in medicine, including amphetamines and methylphenidate, which are both used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Prescription stimulants are sometimes abused for recreational purposes, but they’ve also become popular as performance enhancers. 

Some university students use ADHD medicine to increase their alertness and wakefulness when studying for long hours. It’s thought that the drug can help you retain more information and study longer. However, misusing prescription stimulants can be dangerous.

Illicit stimulants are also used for recreational purposes. Common illegal stimulants include methamphetamine and cocaine. These drugs are used to achieve a euphoric high. Both cocaine and meth increase the amount of dopamine that binds to its receptors, which increases feelings of excitement and reward. Stimulants can cause unpleasant comedowns, which is the period of time where your body adjusts to the drug as it wears off. 

Meth and cocaine users may also binge the drug to lengthen the period of euphoria and stave of the comedown. However, your body can only produce a certain amount of dopamine in a short period of time. Binging can cause long periods of insomnia, followed by drowsiness and lethargy.

Why Is Stimulant Misuse Dangerous?

Prescription and illicit stimulants are potent drugs that can significantly affect your brain and body. High doses, binging, and frequent use can lead to chemical dependency and addiction. Meth, in particular, is known to lead to a substance use disorder quickly. The long-term use of a powerful stimulant can cause long-lasting changes in your brain. People in recovery from a meth addiction often report a symptom called anhedonia, which is not being able to experience pleasure. 

This can happen when dopamine receptors are flooded with the brain chemical so much that they become damaged. Normal activities that would release dopamine, like eating your favorite meal, may not create feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. It can take a long time for your brain to recover, which could lead to severe depression. 

Addiction can start to take over different parts of your life, and your dependence on a chemical progresses. You may need to use increasing doses more often, which can start to get in the way of your everyday responsibilities. Addiction can also change the way your brain reacts to the drug and to stress and triggers. 

You may subconsciously start to prioritize drug use over other needs and responsibilities. It can be difficult to maintain relationships, careers, and health. Plus, among other illicit drugs, cocaine is fairly expensive, which can quickly lead to financial ruin. 

Stimulants can also cause dangerous side effects, and high doses can be fatal. Stimulant binges can lead to days without sleep because your nervous system is constantly stimulated. This can lead to stimulant psychosis, which is a condition marked by psychotic symptoms. 

A stimulant overdose can cause a racing heartbeat, sweating, anxiety, paranoia, nausea, and chest pains. In some cases, an overdose can cause a fatal heart attack. Stimulants may be even more dangerous when they’re mixed with depressants and opioids. The two substances may work together to mask some of each other’s effects. This may cause a user to think they can handle higher doses, leading to an overdose. 

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Why Do Stimulants Cause Addiction?

Stimulant addiction is defined by the compulsive use of a stimulant drug, despite the consequences that occur because of drug use. Addiction can quickly get out of control, taking over several aspects of your life, including your health, relationships, and finances. Addiction is a disease that affects the reward center of the brain. 

Your reward center is designed to pick up on activities that cause a release of certain brain chemicals that are tied to positive feelings. Dopamine is one of the most significant neurochemicals that are involved in reward. It’s released when you experience life-sustaining things like your favorite meal or a warm hug. However, stimulants also increase the amount of dopamine in your system dramatically. Some increase dopamine release, while others decrease the removal of dopamine, which is called reuptake. 

Either way, your brain is flooded with dopamine, and your reward system thinks taking meth or cocaine is a powerful, life-sustaining activity. Your brain learns to encourage stimulant use on a compulsive level. Addiction often goes hand-in-hand with chemical dependence, which is when your brain chemistry adapts to and relies on a chemical substance. As your addiction grows, you go from taking the drug for recreation to taking it just to feel normal. 

What Is the Scope of Stimulant Addiction?

Stimulants, like cocaine, were at the center of a drug epidemic in the 1980s, similar to the one we’re experiencing today with opioids. Although cocaine use has remained relatively stable since 2009, its use is still a problem, along with amphetamines. 

According to the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 5.5 million people over age 12 had used cocaine in the past year. The survey also found that 1.9 million people used illicit methamphetamines.

How Is Stimulant Addiction Treated?

Woman being consulted about stimulant abuse

Stimulants can cause a severe substance use disorder that would be challenging to get over on your own. In many cases, addiction treatment is required for you to achieve lasting sobriety. Stimulant addiction is a chronic disease, but it can be treated with the right care and therapies. Addiction treatment often begins with medical detox, which involves medically managed treatment, 24 hours per day. 

Detox is designed to help people going through the withdrawal phase of recovery. It can also help treat people with co-occurring medical needs. Stimulants aren’t known to cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms in the way that depressants can. However, stimulant withdrawal can be extremely unpleasant, causing severe depression, anhedonia, extreme fatigue, and other symptoms. 

In some cases, detox may be necessary to treat medical conditions or complications. You may also be treated with antidepressants to help overcome psychological symptoms.

After detox, you may go through an inpatient (residential) treatment program, especially if you have high-level biological and psychological needs. If you can live independently, you may go through an intensive outpatient or outpatient program. 

In treatment, you may go through many different therapies, according to your needs. Individual and group therapies are common in addiction treatment. Behavioral therapies are staples in helping you engage with treatment and form relapse prevention plans. However, your treatment plan will be unique and personalized to your needs.

Sources

American Psychiatric Association. (2017, January). What Is Addiction? Retrieved from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/addiction/what-is-addiction

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, June 6). Prescription Stimulants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Opioids. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/opioids

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, March 6). Prescription CNS Depressants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-cns-depressants

SAMHSA. (2018). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States. Retrieved from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/cbhsq-reports/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018/NSDUHNationalFindingsReport2018.pdf

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