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Stimulants are substances that make users feel more alert and energetic. They come in both illicit drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine and prescription drugs such as Adderall, which may be taken for non-medical reasons. The short-term effects of stimulants can seem beneficial at first, especially for professionals trying to maintain excessively busy schedules. However, users may quickly discover the drugs are both damaging and highly addictive, creating a much bigger problem than the solution.

Both street and prescription stimulant use is a prevalent problem in the U.S. today. Around 1.7 million people ages 12 and over reportedly abused these substances in 2016, according to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health provided by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The same report found that approximately 1.9 million people in the same age group currently used cocaine.


Stimulants have been used for generations due to their ability to treat a variety of conditions, including nasal congestion, depression, hyperactivity and obesity. The history of cocaine dates back much further, to the ancient Incas living in the Andes. These tribes would chew coca leaves, the plant that cocaine is derived from, to increase their heart rate and breathing as a counter effect to the thin mountain area in their environment. The substance was endorsed and even prescribed by renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud during the 19th century, about the same time in which the drug was added to Coca-Cola.

By 2008, cocaine was the second-most frequently trafficked illicit drug in the world. Also during this century, prescription stimulants like Adderall have become more widely prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as some types of sleep disorders. The substances have become known as study drugs, due to the number of students that have begun taking them for nonmedical purposes to help them stay alert during long study sessions. Professionals in the health, legal and aviation industries may also turn to these drugs to improve their endurance during long working days.

Types of Stimulants

There are a variety of stimulants that are commonly abused today:

  • Cocaine
  • Crack Cocaine
  • Methamphetamine
  • Bath Salts
  • Adderall
  • Ritalin

Medical professionals are at unusually high risk for prescription drug addiction due to their easy access and the need for enhanced and prolonged alertness. Drugs like Ritalin and Adderall also tend to be cheaper to purchase than cocaine, even when they are purchased on the street, increasing their demand.

Short-Term Effects

The short-term impact of both illicit and prescription stimulants might include the following symptoms:

  • Increased energy levels and focus
  • Feelings of euphoria (extreme happiness)
  • Increase in heart rate, respiration and blood pressure
  • Hypersensitivity of the senses
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety, irritability and paranoia

The “high” achieved with stimulants tends to be relatively fast and intense, followed by a period of extreme “low” when the substance loses its effect. This fluctuation can increase a person’s craving for the drug just to maintain the positive feelings and avoid the negative ones. This characteristic of stimulants is one of the primary reasons why these substances are addictive.

Long-Term Damage

These substances can be particularly dangerous when taken over an extended period, resulting in some of the following long-term effects:

  • Damage to vital organs, including the lungs, kidneys and liver
  • High blood pressure, leading to a heightened risk of heart attack and stroke
  • Irritability, mood changes and mood disturbances
  • Mental confusion and disorientation
  • Damage to the nasal cavity if snorted, reduction in smell
  • Increased risk of HIV if the drug is injected

For some heavy stimulant users, the damage done to the mind and body cannot be reversed, even if the substance is stopped.

Signs of Addiction

Stimulants are highly addictive, and the dependency can develop much quicker than many people think. Signs of addiction might include:

  • Requiring more significant amounts of the substance to see similar effects (tolerance)
  • Being unable to stop using, even if the drug is causing problems in your personal or professional life
  • Spending more time thinking about, getting, using and recovering from the effects of the drug
  • Extended times of isolation from family, friends and activities
  • If the substance is stopped, withdrawal symptoms begin

Seeking Treatment

Stimulant addiction can cause severe damage to the body and mind, as well as to a person’s quality of life. Professionals that find themselves abusing these substances may hesitate to get help because they are afraid of others finding out about their dependency. The Center for Professional Recovery understands these concerns and works with patients to preserve their privacy even while they are working through the recovery process. You will be surrounded by your peers as you discover the reasons behind your addiction and work toward successful, long-lasting recovery. To get the help you need today, contact the Center for Professional Recovery at 866.298.0056.

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