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Health Effects of Stimulants

Stimulants are a broad classification of drugs that include both prescription medications such as dextroamphetamine as well as drugs such as cocaine and crystal meth that are prevalently illicitly used.1 Many stimulant substances increase the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, resulting in characteristic changes to several physiological processes.1,2,3 Because of these effects, stimulants have several medical uses, but are often additionally misused for illicit, recreational purposes.2

When taken as prescribed, stimulants can increase alertness, focus, and energy levels, making them a common treatment for conditions like ADHD and narcolepsy.2, 3 However, stimulants also carry the potential risk of misuse, which can increase the risk of subsequent negative health effects. Large doses of stimulants can result in overdose and possibly death, whereas sustained usage could lead to physical dependence and addiction.2 Luckily, effective treatment for stimulant dependence and addiction exists, but before one can fully engage with treatment, they may want to understand the multifaceted health effects of stimulants.

Dangers of Stimulants

When taken as prescribed, stimulants can have many therapeutic effects. Because they increase alertness and attention, they are commonly prescribed in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy2 However, misuse of these drugs—such as occurs when they are used without regard to prescribed guidelines or when illicit stimulants are used for the sake of their euphoric high—can make negative health effects, possibly including overdose, dependence, or addiction more likely.

Short-Term Effects of Stimulants

Stimulants have an activating effect throughout several systems of the body.1 Different stimulants can have various effects in the short term, including:

  • Increased blood pressure2
  • Increased heart rate2
  • Constricted blood vessels and decreased blood flow2
  • Elevated blood sugar levels2
  • Dilated air passages
  • Increases breathing rate2
  • A feeling of euphoria, sometimes called a “rush”2
  • At high doses, stimulant use can cause a dangerous elevation in body temperature, irregular heartbeat, or seizures.2

Long-Term Effects of Stimulants

Over time, repeated misuse of stimulants could also lead to potentially debilitating, and  longer-term health effects.2 These may include:

  • Extended wakefulness or other chronic sleep disturbances.1
  • Reduced appetite, associated nutritional deficits, and unhealthy weight loss.1
  • Cardiovascular disease including arrythmia, heart attack, and stroke.2
  • Psychotic features such as delusions, paranoia, and hallucinations.2
  • Anger, hostility, and aggression.2
  • The development of marked tolerance to the drug, requiring dangerously increasing doses to produce the desired effect.
  • Pronounced physiological dependence and associated withdrawal should use suddenly slow or stop.1

Dangers of Stimulant Overdose

Stimulant misuse may lead to an overdose in some cases. Symptoms of a stimulant overdose can include high fever, convulsions, tremors, restlessness, overactive reflexes, rapid breathing, and behavioral changes like aggression, confusion, panic, or hallucinations.1, 2There is an elevated risk of accidental death during a stimulant overdose because of the activating effects of stimulants.1

Stimulants impede your body’s ability to regulate temperature and the function of the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk that you will overexert yourself during physical activity.1 An overdose of stimulants also increases your risk of heart attacks, seizures, blood pressure problems, or accidental poisoning.2

Finding Treatment for Stimulant Misuse and Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with stimulant misuse or addiction, know that there is help available. Comprehensive, evidence-based addiction treatment can help one overcome stimulant addiction and live a healthier life in recovery. If you’re ready to start treatment, you’ll need to find the right addiction care to suit your recovery needs. A good place to start would be to reach out to your doctor. They may be able to help determine your treatment needs and possibly refer you to an addiction treatment provider. You may also benefit from visiting SAMHSA’s treatment locator. This powerful tool can help you search for stimulant rehab centers by zip code, connecting you with quality care near you.

You may also benefit from calling an addiction helplines. These 24/7 phone lines can help answer questions about addiction and possibly connect you with suitable treatment centers. American Addiction Centers (AAC) operates an addiction helpline that can guide you through the treatment process and verify your insurance. If you’re ready to start your journey to recovery, call us today at .

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