When it comes to the most commonly abused drugs in the United States, stimulants take the cake. This is perhaps because stimulants are both prescriptions and illicit substances. What are stimulants, though? Don’t they just make people hyperactive and pay attention? A stimulant is a substance that makes its way to the central nervous system to impact cognitive function. Either way, these could be manifested in the forms of prescriptions or illicit substances.
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What Do Stimulants Do to the Body?
A stimulant’s job is to maximize a person’s cognitive brain function, but how does it happen? When someone takes a stimulant, dopamine and norepinephrine travel to the brain. This is what allows a person’s concentration to increase. Not only that, but this also works to decrease fatigue.
Those who suffer from attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or other attention disorders often become bogged down by excessive fatigue and lack of concentration. Stimulants, in a medical sense, are mostly used for these individuals. While in these cases stimulants can be beneficial, they can cause negative effects in regards to developing a substance use disorder.
Commonly Abused Prescription Stimulants
As it relates to substance use disorder, stimulants are among the most abused drugs. Some commonly abused stimulants include, but are not limited to, the following:
All of the stimulants listed above are some sort of amphetamine, methylphenidate, or dextroamphetamine. These kinds of stimulants are among the most commonly used in regards to prescriptions. They are most often used to treat attention disorders such as attention deficit disorder (ADD), and other disorders such as narcolepsy and obesity.
The Purpose of Prescription Stimulants
Doctors prescribe stimulants because if someone has a poor attention span, the stimulants will give them more focus and energy. Attention disorders have a way of really killing someone’s motivation and plaguing them with fatigue. This makes it difficult for them to do anything that requires even the slightest amount of energy. Not only that, but these disorders also make it easy for people to forget things or misplace common everyday items.
Prescription stimulants are dangerous to use in the case of many. This is because the side-effects of stimulants are quite a bit to handle, whether they be amphetamine, methylphenidate, or dextroamphetamine.
The most widely used of all the prescription amphetamines in cases of ADHD, Adderall fulfills the purpose of sending dopamine to the brain. This happens so that someone who feels sluggish and inattentive can pay better attention and have the energy to maintain focus. When it comes to prescription amphetamines, Adderall is the most widely prescribed in the U.S.
The amount of dopamine delivered to the brain is increased when a new stimulant is introduced. This could mean increased tolerance over time, which is not ideal as it can lead to dependence. This is why doctors are always careful not to prescribe too high a dosage for their patients. This is done in efforts to prevent someone from developing a dependency on a high dosage of stimulants. It’s always easier to add on to a prescription rather than try cutting back; this is when dependency happens.
Ritalin is considered to be the counterpart to Adderall. This substance in particular is methylphenidate. The similarities between methylphenidates and amphetamines are thin, in that both of them are used to treat attention disorders. Methylphenidates like Ritalin are milder than amphetamines.
Approved by the government in 2000, and used primarily to treat attention disorders, Concerta is a stimulant that amplifies focus and helps tranquilize impulsivity and hyperactive behavior. Concerta could be considered an alternative form of Ritalin.
Dexedrine is a central nervous system stimulant, used primarily to treat ADHD since the late 1970s. This drug is an amphetamine, introduced in the United States military as a drug that would help soldiers with combating fatigue on exhausting missions. This stimulant is also referred to as dextroamphetamine.
Desoxyn’s origins trace back to 1947, primarily used to treat obesity. Fast forward to today and methamphetamine is used to treat ADHD and other attention disorders.
Ephedrine is unlike most other prescription stimulants. While it has similar effects, its purpose is different from the others. Ephedrine is used to reduce a person’s appetite, primarily treating low blood pressure and obesity. Those with asthma also benefit from its use because it acts as a bronchodilator. Those who suffer from bronchial asthma typically experience shortness of breath, wheezing, and tightness in the chest, all symptoms that ephedrine can alleviate. Ephedrine is usually sold over-the-counter; it is also an ingredient used in meth labs.
Illicit stimulants are what is referred to when speaking of illegal drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth, and crack. When people hear the word “stimulant,” this is usually what comes to mind, because there are so many individuals that abuse them. While they’re similar to the overall effect of prescription stimulants, the intensity and how they are produced are vastly different. For example, prescription stimulants are designed to distribute their effects over an extended amount of time, whereas illicit substances come right out the gate with intense effects, lasting only a few minutes.
Some effects of stimulants include the following:
- Decreased appetite
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased blood pressure
- Increased energy
- Increased focus
Because of the likelihood of addiction or substance abuse, prescription stimulants are considered a schedule II drug. What’s most ironic about prescription stimulants is that they are not used to get high but rather to enhance one’s performance. Students are perhaps among those who abuse prescription stimulants the most due to the pressure of performing well academically. In the U.S., 900,000 people abuse prescription stimulants every month.
Stimulants are responsible for sending dopamine to the brain, and if someone is abusing the substance, they run the risk of compromising their pleasure center. Once this happens, it will become more difficult to find pleasure in things that normally bring someone the most satisfaction. This is due to the immense amounts of dopamine the brain is receiving.
Quitting stimulants (or any drug for that matter) cold turkey causes an individual to experience intense withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal is what is most commonly referred to when someone is so used to the chemical effects that a drug has on them that their body reacts harshly to being without it. Those who experience withdrawal need more of a substance over time because of the tolerance that has been built. When this happens, addiction is more than likely around the corner.
Stimulant Addiction Treatment Options
Substance use disorder is a difficult obstacle to face. Not only is it physically exhausting to recover from addiction, but the psychological toll it has on a person is unmatched. It’s imperative to the physical and emotional well-being of a person to seek the help they need; the problem is, it’s difficult to know where to start. For those who have no clue where to begin, some services are provided below:
- Inpatient residential treatment
- Outpatient treatment
- Medication-assisted treatment (MAT)
Inpatient residential treatment is primarily for individuals who experience more severe forms of addiction. This treatment method could last anywhere from 28 days to six months depending on the severity of addiction and the way an individual responds to treatment. Those who participate in residential treatment receive 24/7 care from medical professionals at treatment centers where the patients stay overnight for an extended period.
Lasting anywhere between three months to over a year, outpatient treatment is for those who suffer from milder forms of addiction. More convenient than residential treatment, it allows individuals to attend recovery while still going home to their residence afterward. Those who participate in outpatient treatment are allowed 10 to 12 hours of weekly access to professional therapists and psychiatrists. This form of care is often a great way to transition from the treatment facility to the outside world.
Withdrawal is perhaps the worst part of the whole recovery process, and it can be a very discouraging experience. Some symptoms of withdrawal include the following:
Just because you’re experiencing withdrawal and there seems to be nothing that helps doesn’t mean it’s impossible to treat. At the moment, it is awful, and if it’s not treated it will stay that way. This is why medication-assisted treatment (MAT) is an imperative part of the recovery process. MAT is a form of treatment that helps those experiencing withdrawal curb their symptoms with the help of medication. In situations where withdrawal is a reality and relapse is imminent, MAT could be the one thing that makes one’s recovery.
Harmony Ridge is Here for You
At Harmony Ridge, our approach to stimulant addiction treatment is offering individuals professional care that is catered to their needs. We value individualized treatment as a means to help those who are suffering from substance abuse heal on their recovery journey. If you or a loved one are suffering from a stimulant addiction and would like to find out more, contact us now.