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Stimulant Addiction: History, Types, Uses And Effects

Stimulants are a class or broad category of drug that defines multiple different drugs that have the shared characteristic of speeding up messages traveling between the brain and body and releasing norepinephrine.

Certain plants like coca contain natural stimulants and other types of stimulants are developed as pharmaceuticals to help cure disorders such as attention deficit disorder. Stimulants affect attention, learning, memory, and arousal. Stimulants excite your central nervous system and speed it up.

Common stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine. Ingesting large quantities of stimulants can cause over-stimulation, resulting in anxiety, panic, seizures, headaches, stomach cramps, aggression, paranoia, and other symptoms but some people still take stimulants recreationally because of the euphoric effects that they can cause. Long-term use of strong stimulants can have adverse side effects.

Picture of stimulant category of drugs


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Treatment options for stimulant addiction

There are many treatment options available for people struggling with stimulant addiction. Treatment typically begins with detoxification followed by counseling and therapy. Medications may also be prescribed to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Stimulant Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal from stimulants can cause a number of different symptoms. These include fatigue, depression, and anxiety. Stimulant withdrawal can also cause cravings for the drug. If you or someone you know is going through stimulant withdrawal, it’s important to seek professional help immediately.

History Of Stimulant Drugs

Stimulants have been used for centuries to treat a variety of conditions. Early forms of stimulants were often made from plants and herbs. In the 18th century, coca leaves were used to make a drink called coca wine. This drink was popular in South America and was said to have many medicinal properties. In the 19th century, amphetamines were synthesized and became popular as a treatment for asthma and hay fever.

Amphetamines were also used during World War II to keep soldiers awake and alert. After the war, amphetamines became popular as a diet pill and were often prescribed for weight loss. Cocaine was first isolated in 1859 and quickly became popular as a medical treatment.

Chemical Structure Of Stimulant Drugs

Stimulants are drugs that increase the activity of the nervous system. Stimulants can be divided into two main categories: amphetamines and cocaine. Amphetamines are synthetic drugs that mimic the effects of the hormone adrenaline.

Examples of amphetamines include Adderall and Dexedrine. Cocaine is a natural substance that comes from the coca plant. Cocaine acts on the brain by increasing levels of dopamine, which leads to feelings of pleasure and euphoria.

Side Effects Of Stimulants

The side effects of stimulants depend on the type of drug being used. Amphetamines can cause side effects like insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and decreased appetite. Cocaine, meth and abuse of prescription stimulants can cause serious side effects.

Difference Between Stimulant Drugs And Opiates (Depressants)

While both stimulants and opiates are drugs that can be abused, there are some key differences between the two. Stimulants increase the activity of the nervous system, while opiates work by depressing the central nervous system.

Stimulants can cause side effects like anxiety and irritability, while opiates can cause drowsiness and constipation. Opiates are also more likely to lead to addiction than stimulants.

What Do Stimulants Look Like?

Stimulants can be in the form of tablets, capsules with small beads in them like Adderall XR, white powders, white or yellow rocks, small clear crystals as well as white or brownish crystal-like powder with a strong smell and bitter taste.

pictures of stimulant prescription drugs

coffee and crystal meth

Other Names For Stimulants

  • uppers
  • beans,
  • pep pills
  • speed
  • dexies
  • smart pills
  • crystal
  • zoomers

and many more..

How Are Stimulants Used?

Illicit stimulants are usually taken orally (swallowed), snorted, smoked or injected intravenously with a needle. Prescribed stimulants are usually taken orally, and how long the effects last differs depending on the type and if it is extended release or not.

What Is The Feeling Stimulants Give When Abused?

Stimulants may increase your blood pressure and heart rate, giving you more energy and giving you a feeling of power. In high doses, stimulants can cause insomnia and make you jittery and impulsive. While stimulant drugs can be helpful for treating some disorders, the euphoric effect stimulants have on the brain can become addicting, which is why users keep coming back for more.

Stimulant Drug List

There are many different types of stimulants including amphetamines, cocaine, and methamphetamines. Amphetamines are often prescribed for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Common brand names of amphetamines include Adderall and Dexedrine. Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that is illegal in the United States.

Methamphetamines are also illegal and are often used as recreational drugs. Common brand names of methamphetamines include Crystal Meth and Speed.

Prescription Stimulants

Prescription stimulants are amphetamines that are prescribed by a doctor to treat ADHD or narcolepsy. These medications work by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Common side effects of prescription stimulants include insomnia, irritability, anxiety, and decreased appetite.

Central nervous system (CNS) stimulant medications are a class of drugs that work by boosting the amounts of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This impact improves attention and reduces ADHD-related tiredness.

Many brand-name stimulants are now only available as generic versions, which cost less and may be preferred by some insurance companies. However, other drugs are only available as brand-name products.


Amphetamines are ADD medication. They include the following name drugs:

  • dextroamphetamine
  • lisdexamfetamine, and levoamphetamine (also known as DMP-CHM). They’re available in both immediate-release (one that is injected straight into your body) and extended-release (one that is released into your body gradually) oral forms.
  • Adderall XR (generic name) Dexedrine ProCentra Vyvanse Evekeo – These drugs are marketed under the following brand names: Adderall XR (generic name) Dexedrine ProCentRA Vyvanse Evekeo Dyanavel XR Evekeo ProcentraVyvanse These medications are also available as generics.

Methamphetamine (Desoxyn)

Ephedrine and amphetamine are both related to methamphetamine. It works in the same way as other stimulants. This drug, like other stimulants, may raise levels of chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. It can cause your appetite to decrease and your blood pressure to rise. Methamphetamine is available as an oral tablet that you take once or twice a day.


Methylphenidate stops the reabsorption of norepinephrine and dopamine in your brain, thus increasing their levels. It’s also a stimulant. It is available in immediate-release, extended-release, and controlled-release oral forms as well as a transdermal patch from the brand name Daytrana. The following are some of the most common brand names:

  • Aptensio XR (generic available)
  • Metadate ER (generic available)
  • Concerta (generic available)
  • Daytrana
  • Ritalin (generic available)
  • Ritalin LA (generic available)
  • Methylin (generic available)
  • QuilliChew
  • Quillivant

Dexmethylphenidate is another stimulant for ADHD that’s similar to methylphenidate. It is marketed under the brand-name medication Focalin.

Illegal Stimulant Drugs

Illicit stimulants are drugs that are not legal in the United States. These drugs include cocaine and methamphetamine. Stimulants like cocaine increase levels of dopamine in the brain, which can lead to feelings of pleasure and euphoria. However, these drugs can also cause serious side effects like paranoia, anxiety, and hallucinations.


Methamphetamine is an illegal stimulant that is similar to amphetamines. Methamphetampines also increase levels of dopamine in the brain but do so more powerfully than cocaine. This can lead to euphoria as well as side effects


Cocaine is a powerful stimulant that is made from the leaves of the coca plant. It increases levels of dopamine in the brain, which leads to feelings of pleasure. Cocaine is illegal in the United States and can be very dangerous. Short-term effects of cocaine addiction include increased heart rate, dilated pupils, and increased blood pressure. Long-term effects of cocaine use include addiction, paranoid delusions, and stroke.

Is Nicotine A Stimulant?

Yes, nicotine acts both as a stimulant and a depressant to the central nervous system. Nicotine releases the hormone epinephrine, which further stimulates the nervous system and is gives a feeling of euphoria similar to that of other drugs which become addicting over time like other stimulant drugs, people want to continue feeling the initial rush provided by the stimulant.

Is Alcohol A Stimulant?

Some people think alcohol is a stimulant because it can produce a euphoric effect in certain individuals but alcohol is mostly a suppressant and slows down the central nervous system instead of speeding it up.

Stimulant Drugs Are Different From Vegas Nerve Stimulation

The vegas nerve system (VNS) is one of 12 pairs of cranial nerves that send electrical signals between your brain and different parts of your neck, head, and torso. The VNS control many parts of the brain and body functioning. There is a therapy called Vegas Nerve Stimulation which is an implant that stimulates the vegas nerve and helps people that suffer from epilepsy, stroke, treatment-resistant depression, and other mental health disorders.

Vegas Nerve Stimulation is a fairly new type of therapy that is approved for adults 18 years of age or older who have a long-term major depressive disorder and have failed several antidepressant medication episodes. VNS should not be confused with TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation) which is another way to stimulate the brain but is administered in a different capacity through electrodes that are placed on specific places on the brain for periods of time over a 6-week period.

Stimulants are a category of drugs that when taken cause the brain to release norepinephrine, which is different from TMS or VNS which are not a drug.

Frequently Asked Questions About Stimulants

How to identify stimulant abuse?

Drug abusers frequently take stimulants, such as cocaine and ADHD medications, for their alertness and euphoric effects. Regardless of their intentions, those who take stimulants typically run the danger of developing an addiction. You can tell whether someone has a problem with stimulants by knowing what to look for in someone who abuses these substances. Abuse of stimulants frequently manifests as:
  • Dilated pupils
  • Restlessness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Reduced appetite
  • Loss of weight
  • Perspiring
  • Dishonesty, including lying and stealing
  • Visiting various doctors to receive prescriptions is known as "doctor shopping."
  • Overusing prescription medications 
  • Utilizing stimulants that don't have a prescription
  • Using illegal stimulant substances
  • Displaying extreme motivation or energy
  • Aggressive actions or irrational rage outbursts
  • Mood fluxes
  • Reckless or rash actions
Contact a specialist of treatment services for rehab programs that can assist in ending a stimulant addiction if any of these symptoms sound similar to you.

How do stimulants work?

Stimulants function by influencing the central nervous system (CNS) to improve mental clarity and alertness. Drugs obtained illegally, such as cocaine, or prescription drugs can serve as stimulants. Stimulants can be injected, snorted, or taken orally. If you are addicted to stimulants, get assistance right now. Drugs in this category are referred to as CNS Stimulants. They function by raising the levels of the brain's neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. The rise of these substances in the brain enhances focus and lessens the weariness experienced by people with ADHD. Stimulants can, however, have serious side effects and lead to addiction.

If you take stimulants how likely are you to develop a drug abuse or recreational drug habit?

A significant risk factor for addiction is heredity. Up to 50% of your chance of developing an addiction to alcohol, nicotine, or other substances is based on genetics, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. You are more likely to develop an addiction if you have close relatives who have.

What does stimulant mean?

Drugs in the stimulant class hasten the transmission of signals between the brain and body. They may awaken, alert, boost confidence, or energize a person. Caffeine, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine are examples of stimulants.

What are stimulants used for?

Prescription stimulants are typically used to treat narcolepsy, which causes involuntary deep sleep episodes, and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They boost energy, alertness, and focus. The majority of prescription stimulants are used orally and are available as tablets, capsules, or liquids. When a prescription stimulant is misused, it means:
  • Using medication in a form or dose that is not recommended by a doctor 
  • Using a different person's medication
  • Using a medication only for its psychoactive effects—to get high
Stimulants are different than sedatives which slow down the body instead of speed it up. The effects and withdrawal symptoms of sedatives like heroin are also different.

Where can I get treatment for stimulant addiction?

There are different types of rehabs all over the country. Some rehabs are state-sponsored and others require private insurance. Some of our rehab programs for stimulant addiction are located in the following areas:

Treatment For Stimulant Addiction

Treatment typically begins with detoxification followed by counseling and therapy. We provide detox for the following stimulants:

Medications may also be prescribed to help manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings. If you think someone you know is abusing stimulants, it’s important to start the rehab admissions process right away. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and our admissions coordinators are standing by 24/7 to help.

NIH. (2022, March 22). Prescription stimulants DrugFacts. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved December 22, 2022, from

Fogger, S. A. (2019). Methamphetamine use. Journal of Addictions Nursing, 30(3), 219–223.

Cherney, K. (2017, November 28). ADHD medications list: Stimulants and nonstimulants. Healthline. Retrieved December 22, 2022, from

Jones, C. M., Houry, D., Han, B., Baldwin, G., Vivolo‐Kantor, A., & Compton, W. M. (2021). Methamphetamine use in the United States: Epidemiological update and implications for prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1508(1), 3–22.


Medical Advice Disclaimer

Magnified Health Systems aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.

This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

This content is verified and moderated by Dr. Brendan Bickley

Dr. Bickley graduated from U.C. Irvine with honors: Phi Beta Kappa, Golden Key International Honor Society, Cum Laude. He has been featured on national radio and print media. He is also a frequent lecturer at National Conferences. He holds an A.S. degree in Drug & Alcohol Studies, and two B.A. degrees in Criminology & Psychology, and masters and doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology. He is a licensed California Drug & Alcohol Counselor Level II, a licensed Clinical Supervisor and is certified in treating Eating Disorders.

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