Stimulants: The Problem of Abuse and Addiction

PhysiciansContinueAnother class of frequently prescribed drugs are stimulants, which can also lead to misuse and addiction. Misuse is commonly defined as taking medication for a reason other than its intended use or in greater amounts or for longer than prescribed.

Doctors may prescribe stimulants to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The prescription typically includes amphetamines or methylphenidates. Adderall and Ritalin would be examples.

Stimulants trigger an increased dopamine and norepinephrine release. The rush of dopamine results in a feeling of euphoria in tandem with vast energy, attention, and alertness. For many people in college, competitive business, or who are simply overwhelmed by the rigorous demands of everyday life, these results can be perceived as highly desirable. Moreover, increased energy and suppression of appetite often attracts those who struggle with body image and want to lose weight. Using stimulants can also be a key component in eating disorder behaviors.

A recent study in the American Journal of Psychiatry revealed that there is approximately 16 million American adults who are prescribed stimulants. Of those adults, there are 5 million who misuse their medication and 400,000 who had a use disorder (Compton, Han, Blanco, Johnson, & Jones, C.M. 2018). Similar to other prescription drugs, stimulants are frequently obtained through a family member or friend who had been prescribed the medication or by purchasing from a dealer or stealing from someone they knew.

Abusing stimulants can easily lead to addiction, which can result in certain long-term medical complications. These include heart attack, stroke, seizures, or even death. Other consequences could include strained relationships with family or friends due to the challenging behaviors exhibited while under the influence of the substance, or the lack of trust that comes in the case of theft. The abuse of prescription stimulants can also lead to the use of illegal drugs such as cocaine or methamphetamine.  Less tangible negative consequences can be the length to which an individual will compromise their morals and values to obtain the drug.

Due to a great deal of press, the public has grown aware of the opiate epidemic, but it is important to remember that addiction does not discriminate. Stimulant drugs can be abused and addiction can result with very real consequences of its own.