People who want to increase their alertness, pay attention for longer periods, and enhance their performance may take stimulants to achieve all of these things and more. Their desire to go faster and push their personal limits leads them, whether for the short-term or long-term, to turn to prescription stimulants, which are legal, or street drugs that are not legal to achieve their goals.
However, there is a price to using drugs to speed things up. Chronic stimulant use can lead to a never-ending battle with substance abuse and addiction. It is easy to fall into a habit but difficult to stop it, and in many cases, professional drug rehab is the only way for many users to stop on their own.
Stimulants are psychoactive drugs that speed up the body’s central nervous system and raise users’ alertness and energy levels. Also known as “uppers,” these drugs boost activity in the brain while activating its pleasure receptors. This category includes caffeine and nicotine, legal prescription stimulants used in the medical field, and illegal street drugs such as methamphetamine and cocaine.
Despite the legitimate uses for stimulants—such as those that help people stay awake to medicines that help people lose weight—these drugs are commonly abused, and chronic use can lead to dependence and addiction. Effects can vary depending on the stimulant used, but they generally over-excite the brain.
Stimulant use is habit-forming, and addiction can happen rapidly with chronic or long-term use. Chronic use floods the brain with dopamine, which causes the organ to stop producing feel-good chemicals on its own. Instead, it starts to rely on the drugs to produce them.
Cocaine is a highly addictive drug produced from coca leaves found in South America. The drug’s euphoric and pleasurable effects can last anywhere from five minutes to nearly two hours after use. People who use it regularly may experience uncontrollable mood swings, paranoia, and severe anxiety. Street names for it include blow, coke, White Girl, powder, sugar, and snow.
These synthetic drugs are derivatives of cathinones, a stimulant found in the khat plant, that is grown in southern Arabia and East Africa. The natural leaves become a mild stimulant when chewed. However, the manmade version, which can come in a white or brown crystalline powder, contains harmful chemicals that mimic the effects of methamphetamines despite being sold as “plant food” or “jewelry cleaner.” These misleading labels keep makers of these dangerous substances steps ahead of the authorities because they are harder to track down. Their use can cause serious health complications, strange and erratic behavior, and even death. Street names for bath salts include Flakka, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Cosmic Blast, Vanilla Sky, and Scarface.
Crack-cocaine, the crystallized version of cocaine, is sold in yellow, white, or pale pink rocks. Crack cocaine is a potent crystallized version of the stimulant cocaine. The name “crack” refers to the crackling sound of the rock as makers heat it up. The rock crystal, or freebase cocaine, is processed with other ingredients, such as baking soda or ammonia, and heated. After that, users inhale the vapors to get an immediate, intense, euphoric high that lasts for no more than five to 10 minutes. Black rock, candy, chemical, gravel, grit, nuggets, and snow coke are all slang names for crack-cocaine.
Meth is the shortened name for crystal methamphetamine, a form of methamphetamine. This highly addictive synthetic drug is often made illegally by “chemists” who add various ingredients to the mix that users are not always aware of. The drug can be snorted, inhaled, injected, or orally ingested. The short-lived highs of meth keep users coming back for more, pulling them further into addiction. Crank, crystal, ice, speed, Tina, and glass are all street names for crystal meth.
Ritalin is a “smart drug” that is prescribed for Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with high abuse potential among prescription users and recreational users. The medication produces the same effects as other stimulants and triggers panic, psychosis, and heart failure. In recreational circles, Adderall is known as skippy, kiddy coke or kiddy cocaine, study buddies, and Vitamin R.
This addictive brand-name psychostimulant is typically prescribed to treat people with attention–deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It is also known as a “smart drug” among recreational users and is sought out for its ability to help users maintain focus for long periods. Recreational or chronic use is habit-forming and can lead to addiction. The “Adderall crash,” when users come down or experience withdrawal from amphetamine use, can cause headaches and discomfort. Street names for Adderall include Addie, diet coke, and adds.
Intense withdrawal periods will prompt some users to continue using stimulants. Over time, long-term use will take their toll on the brain and the body. Users are not always aware that this happening and how their bodies are changing. This is just one of many ways addiction continues and users arrive at the point where they will need to decide to get treatment or risk losing their lives.
The effects on the brain and body also can cause psychological symptoms. Regular stimulant users may also exhibit:
Chronic stimulant users who want to quit the drugs may try to do so abruptly, but it is advised that they don’t. Quitting a drug suddenly without a doctor’s consultation can worsen conditions and trigger uncomfortable, and possibly life-threatening, withdrawal symptoms. Getting help at a professional treatment center is advised. This process, which includes a medically monitored detox, can ensure users have weaned off stimulants safely. The withdrawal period is different for everyone depending on their situation.
Addiction is a chronic brain disease that is treatable but not curable in many cases. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that research shows that at least 90 days, or three months of treatment, is ideal for people seeking recovery from substance abuse. However, each person’s recovery rate depends on several individual factors. As NIDA explains, “Individuals progress through drug addiction treatment at various rates, so there is no predetermined length of treatment. However, research has shown unequivocally that good outcomes are contingent on adequate treatment length.”
People in active stimulant addiction may want to consider getting help at a licensed drug rehabilitation center that can offer quality treatment. Once users enter into a facility, their treatment starts with a medical detoxification that ensures stimulants and any other toxic substances are safely removed from the body.
During this process, medical professionals monitor clients around-the-clock as they are weaned off the drug safely. This may include tapering off the stimulant used, which is when doses are gradually reduced over a set period to allow the body adequate time to adjust to the drug’s absence in its system.
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After detox is done and clients are stable, they are evaluated to see which treatment program they will need to effectively address their addiction. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences. Inpatient or residential treatment, which can last from 28-90 days in a facility, depending on the program, involves therapies that can help the person overcome their addiction in the time they need. Treatment also can incorporate 12-step programs, holistic therapy, family therapy, individual and group counseling, and relapse prevention education.
There is also an outpatient treatment program for people who may be in the early stages of stimulant addiction or have a mild case of it. Outpatient therapy does not require an on-site stay at a treatment center, an arrangement that gives clients more flexibility as they work drug treatment into their schedules. However, outpatient clients are still required to attend structured sessions three to five times a week or more, depending on the situation.
Recovering stimulant users may want to consider using aftercare services to help them focus on their recovery goals and reduce their chances of relapse. Some people pursue follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, that can happen long after dependence on the drug has passed.
Using stimulant drugs regularly, whether they are legal or illegal, can cause health complications and lead to accidental overdose. High amounts of the drug in the body can cause permanent brain damage among other conditions, including:
Overdosing on stimulants such as methamphetamine, speed, or cocaine, is known as “overamping.” According to AidsMap.org, the dangerous practice is an under-recognized issue in the harm reduction community, which more often focuses on the opioid crisis. According to an article on the website, more than a third (39 percent) of 494 participants in a survey of people who use drugs via injection in Fresno, Calif., reported that they had experienced overamping or stimulant overdose, and 10 percent said they had done so in the past 90 days. About 1 in 5 participants said they overdosed on stimulants and opioids. Polysubstance use is common in the recreational drugs community.
The article notes that there currently is no method that can be used to reverse a stimulant overdose that is the equivalent of naloxone, which can be used to reverse opioid overdoses.”
The best prevention for overdose is having a healthy body, says the Harm Reduction Coalition. It advises that users get their hearts checked out as well as things like their blood pressure, cholesterol, and circulation.
Harm Reduction Coalition (n.d.). “Overamping Prevention. from http://harmreduction.org/issues/overdose-prevention/overview/stimulant-overamping-basics/overamping-prevention/
Highleyman, Liz. “Overamping Is a Common Problem Among People Who Use Stimulants.” from http://www.aidsmap.com/Overamping-is-a-common-problem-among-people-who-use-stimulants/page/3139660/
NIDA. “How Long Does Drug Addiction Treatment Usually Last?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). Cocaine. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/cocaine
What is ADHD? (2020, April 8). from https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/facts.html
NIDA. “What Is Methamphetamine?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine