What are stimulants?
Stimulants are drugs that affect the central nervous system, often making you feel more alert, awake, and able to focus. Prescription stimulants (also known as prescription amphetamines) are often prescribed by doctors to treat ADD or ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), as well as narcolepsy and sometimes obesity.
Drugs like these include:
- Amphetamines (Adderall, Dexedrine)
- Methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta)
- Diet pills (Didrex, Tepanil, Adipex)
These kinds of drugs are also known as "uppers", a colloquial term for amphetamines.
How do you know if you're addicted to a stimulant?
Stimulants are extremely habit-forming - it's very easy to get addicted to them. In fact, the Controlled Substances Act mandates that prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin be classified as Schedule II drugs precisely because there's such a high possibility of abuse and addiction.
Nearly 1 million Americans abuse stimulants on a monthly basis, to experience effects like euphoria (feeling high), suppressed appetite, the ability to stay awake, and increased energy. It's important to note that a great number of people abuse stimulants solely to enhance their athletic or scholastic performance. Athletes and students using stimulants like Concerta or Dexedrine may not mean to get addicted, but it's easy to have what started as a habit to spin out of control.
Some signs of stimulant abuse:
- Dilated pupils
- Restlessness or hyperactivity (someone "bouncing off the walls")
- Suppressed appetite or no appetite
- Weight loss
Again, it's common for someone using stimulants to not realize a drug addiction is forming. This is particularly true since many of those using them originally take them to focus on schoolwork, stay awake to study, or improve their performance in sports. They may not understand how they could have formed a drug problem when their original goal was to be productive, not to get high.
Signs of addiction to stimulants:
- Needing more and more of the substance to get the same effect as first-time use (building up a tolerance)
- Experiencing discomfort or withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop using the stimulant
- Trying and failing to quit using the stimulant
It's also important to point out that once someone has formed a tolerance to prescription amphetamines like Adderall or Dexedrine or drugs like them, they can't actually function without them. They may feel they "need" the drug and in fact, physiologically, they do. Withdrawal symptoms can set in after just a few hours or a few days. Common withdrawal symptoms from stimulants include irritability, depression, and insomnia.
What are the risks of stimulant addiction?
There are a number of risks involved in addiction to stimulants, particularly to athletes. Because stimulants elevate blood pressure, combining intense exercise with them can lead to stroke or heart attack. A number of athletes have actually died as the result of abusing stimulants. If you're at all concerned about yourself or a friend who plays sports and takes stimulants, get help.
When stimulants are taken in high doses, they can lead to drug overdose and require hospitalization. Some effects of taking large doses of stimulants are:
- Sweating, nausea, and dangerously high fever
- Breathing quickly
- Irregular heartbeat
- Inability to sleep
- Irritability ranging to extreme anger
- Seizure, stroke, cardiac arrest
Another risk involves combining stimulants with other substances - in particular, alcohol. Combining amphetamines and alcohol puts tremendous strain on the heart, as amphetamines can cause a significant jump in one's heartbeat, and alcohol causes a depressed (or lowered) heartbeat. Essentially, the heart doesn't know whether to slow down or speed up, which can have a catastrophic impact. In addition, when someone takes amphetamines along with alcohol, they're often able to drink more than they would have without the stimulant. This leaves them vulnerable to alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. In 2011, 38% of ER visits that involved stimulants also involved alcohol.
It's important to remember that addiction is not the "fault" of the person using the substance. Often, even if drug use started out as within the person's control (whether prescribed by a physician or not), when it's no longer within their control, it's addiction. No one is "bad" or "wrong" for having formed a drug addiction. They don't need to be shamed; they need help.
What is rehab?
Rehab, short for rehabilitation, is the process of overcoming addiction. One of the best ways to stop substance abuse is to go to a drug rehab and treatment center. Rehab facilities offer both inpatient and outpatient services, and they keep all information confidential.
Depending on how severely someone was addicted, an inpatient drug rehab center may be the best option. Here, medical detox is often the first step, which lasts anywhere from a few days to two weeks. This structured support is essential, because the body needs to be tapered off drugs like prescription amphetamines in order to be safe, especially if the person was taking large doses over a long period of time.
Going through detox and withdrawal can be painful and sometimes even fatal if not monitored properly. Inpatient drug rehab treatment centers are experienced and prepared in dealing with withdrawal symptoms and keeping people as comfortable as possible as they rid their bodies of the toxins associated with drug addiction.
After detox, therapy begins. Depending on the rehab center, you are often required to go to a combination of group as well as individual therapy. In one-on-one therapy, you meet with a licensed mental health professional who provides a space within which to explore the addiction as well as any underlying reasons for it, to set you up for lasting recovery. Research suggests that this, along with group therapy, is one of the best courses of substance abuse treatment.
Group therapy allows people to share their experiences with drug addiction with one another in a safe environment, and connect with those who may have similar backgrounds. A lot of recovering addicts say group therapy is both illuminating and motivating. It allows for human connection, healing and growth opportunities in a truly accepting environment.
A better future
Addiction can be exhausting, dangerous, and confusing. It can trigger depression, anxiety and sometimes even suicidal thoughts, especially if you feel caught in it and can't see a way out. Drug addiction almost always harms not only one's physical health, but also one's finances, school or professional career, and close relationships with family and friends.
Fortunately, help is always available. Drug rehab is a chance to turn your life around. If you or someone you love needs help, you're not alone. Millions have struggled with the same thing and survived, sometimes even becoming stronger, wiser, and more resourceful. With the right support and care, you can lead a happy, healthy, and fulfilling life.
You don't have to do this alone. The sooner you or someone you love gets help, the better.