While the country’s attention is riveted by the opioid epidemic, experts have warned of a stimulant drug crisis that features drugs that are cheap, powerful, and abundantly available.

This stimulant epidemic is marked by the abuse of illicit substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine and prescription medicines like Adderall and Ritalin.

“No one is paying attention to this,” one drug intelligence expert told WebMD.

According to WebMD report, there is evidence that stimulant use is increasing and even outpacing opioid use:

In 2016, for example, an estimated 2.3 million people started using opioids to get high for the first time, while 2.6 million people started using stimulant drugs for the same purpose. In 2016, an estimated 3.8 million people said they used opioids to get high within the last month, while 4.3 million said the same about stimulants, according to WebMD.

One common feature of stimulant addiction is that it is primarily psychological and requires intensive therapy to identify and treat its underlying causes.

What’s more, stimulants have the unique ability to inflict undue physiological distress on the body.

Stimulant addiction can also lead to the life-threatening consequences of overdose. Should you survive, the way your body functions could be permanently altered.

Most Commonly-Abused Stimulants

Stimulant drugs possess one primary feature when it comes to how they affect the body: They stimulate the brain and speed up mental and physical processes. They also boost energy, improve attention and alertness, increased heart and respiratory rates, and elevate blood pressure. They also enhance confidence, lower inhibition, and decrease the need for sleep.


Methamphetamine comes in the form of glass fragments or rocks that look bluish-white. It can be smoked, snorted, swallowed in pill form, or injected. Meth, as it is commonly called, rapidly produces a high, but then causes users to “crash” quickly.

The negative consequences that come from methamphetamine use can include effects such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • Violent behavior
  • Sleeping problems like insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Confusion
  • Ruinous dental problems (“meth mouth”)
  • Intense itching
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Extreme Paranoia


Glamorized as the “rich man’s aspirin,” cocaine is a supremely addictive stimulant that comes as a fine, white powder that is often snorted. As a street drug, it is adulterated with inert products like corn starch and/or deadly synthetic drugs like fentanyl to boost profits.

Cocaine can produce the following short-term effects:

  • hypersensitivity to sight, sound, and touch
  • irritability
  • paranoia—extreme and unreasonable distrust of others
  • extreme happiness and energy
  • mental alertness

The health effects of cocaine use include:

  • fast or irregular heartbeat
  • raised body temperature and blood pressure
  • dilated pupils
  • nausea
  • constricted blood vessels
  • restlessness
  • tremors and muscle twitches


Prescription stimulant medications are typically used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They consist of medications such as dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination product (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Ritalin).

Yet, they are often abused by people who do not have these conditions. “Teens and college students sometimes misuse them to try to get better grades, and older adults misuse them to try to improve their memory,” states the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

These medications do not carry the stigma of meth or cocaine because they are abused by students and professionals who strive for achievement.

That does not mean that use is without significant health effects,

In fact, the short-term symptoms that come from these medications include:

  • Euphoria
  • Decreased blood flow
  • Increased blood sugar
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Increased breathing
  • Opened-up breathing passages

At high doses, the effects can be ruinous, which results in any of the following:

  • Heart failure
  • Dangerously high body temperature
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures

When Addiction Is Present

One important tool health care professionals use to determine whether someone has an active addiction to any drug is the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), considered the principal authority for psychiatric diagnoses.

The DSM-5 outlines evidenced criteria that can help you understand whether you or someone you love has a substance addiction. According to the manual, if a person exhibits two of the following symptoms over 12 months, addiction may be present:

  • Taking more of the drug than intended and for a longer time than intended
  • A persistent desire to stop taking drugs or repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit taking drugs
  • A lot of time spent trying to get drugs, abuse them, and/or recover from their effects
  • Intense cravings or urges for specific drugs
  • Failing to go to work or school, or to meet obligations to friends and family because of drug abuse
  • Ongoing drug abuse despite the physical, mental, emotional, or social problems associated with the abuse
  • Giving up hobbies or activities to abuse drugs
  • Ongoing abuse of drugs in inappropriate situations, such as using them in the morning before work, driving while intoxicated, or abusing drugs around children
  • Experiencing physical or psychological problems due to substance abuse but continuing to abuse drugs anyway
  • Physical tolerance, meaning the body needs more of the drug to experience the initial level of intoxication
  • Experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when trying to quit the drug

When Stimulant Addiction Lead to Overdose

When someone overdoses on stimulants, they can experience deleterious health effects such as strokes, heart attacks, and acute impacts to the brain such as paranoia, hallucinations, and in the case of cocaine, psychosis.

“Because of its propensity to generate addiction and life-threatening overdose effects, professional addiction treatment is critical.  ”

How Professional Treatment Can Help You

A professional treatment program starts with medical detoxification, where the stimulant is removed from your body. However, the most essential aspect of stimulant addiction treatment comes in the phase after detox: outpatient treatment.

It is here that one can receive the therapy and counseling necessary to address the psychological aspect of stimulant addiction.

Outpatient treatment modalities include:

  • CBT
  • DBT
  • Motivational Interviewing
  • Group and Individual Therapy
  • Holistic therapies (yoga and meditation)
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