Stimulants or “uppers” are chemicals that induce feelings of euphoria, a racing heartbeat and alertness in the body. These substances can be found over the counter, through prescriptions or on the black market, sold illegally. Caffeine, cocaine, amphetamines, nicotine, MDMA, Adderall, ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are all stimulants that may be used for medical purposes but are often used and abused for recreational purposes as well. Statistics show that approximately 1.3 million individuals are addicted to prescription stimulants in the United States and nearly 360,000 receive professional treatment for stimulant abuse.
Alternative medicines, including herbal supplements, have gained widespread popularity and are currently a multibillion-dollar business. Hundreds of these supplements contain stimulants as active ingredients. In 1994, the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act essentially exempted dietary supplements from FDA regulation. This allows stimulants to be sold as food supplements, thereby avoiding governmental regulation. Although these drugs have no proven efficacy in the treatment of any medical conditions, they are marketed as solutions to common problems such as low energy and obesity and even contributed to the rise in eating disorders and dieting.
Signs and symptoms of stimulant intoxication
- Feeling of exhilaration and excess confidence
- Increased alertness
- Increased energy and restlessness
- Behavior changes or aggression
- Rapid or rambling speech
- Dilated pupils
- Delusions and hallucinations
- Irritability or changes in mood
- Changes in heart rate and blood pressure
- Nausea or vomiting with weight loss
- Impaired judgment
- Nasal congestion and damage to the mucous membrane of the nose (if snorting drugs)
- Depression as the drug wears off
Stimulants as weight loss substitutes
Stimulants such as diet pills, cocaine and nicotine are not only detrimental to an individual’s health but also can lead to disordered eating, poor dieting habits and even full-fledged eating disorders. Diet pills are a billion dollar industry for a “quick fix” to lose weight however their consequences can be life threatening. From Hydroxycut, green tea extract, garnicia cambogia, raspberry ketones, caffeine, Orlistat, glucomannan to forskolin and conjugated linoleic acid, these “lose weight quick” remedies can lead an individual down a slippery slope to an eating disorder. Most diet pills are sold over the counter and work to either suppress appetite or to prevent the body from fully absorbing nutrients, promising weight loss, a boost in metabolism and increased energy when in reality, you are really starving your body through depriving it from nutrients and calories. Despite how accessible they are to the public, it is important to know that over-the-counter weight loss pills are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Stimulants as performance enhancing drugs
Many competitive athletes use stimulants to boost their athletic capabilities by helping them increase their stamina, strength and speed. Most athletic associations have made performance enhancement drugs illegal however they are still readily used among athletes. Stimulants are also commonly used to help high functioning students and executive employees work and concentrate for longer hours, even pulling all-nighters. The stress of having to outperform other individuals can be daunting enough and may even lead to depression and anxiety, not to mention substance abuse.
Treating stimulant addiction
Stimulants produce an overabundance of dopamine, the pleasure-inducing chemical in the brain. After continued use of stimulants, the brain can no longer produce normal amounts of dopamine on its own. This need for dopamine reinforces stimulant abuse, which can develop into an addiction over time. Stimulants, in general, do have physical withdrawal effects however the severity can range depending on the specific stimulant. For example, many agree that nicotine has much stronger withdrawal side effects than cocaine. In general withdrawal side effects from stimulant abuse include agitation, anxiety, depression, hunger, fatigue, intense dreams, and irritability. Treatment consists of treating not only the symptoms but also the underlying triggers associated with this addiction. Additionally, treatment experts work to diagnose and treat any co-occurring disorder that may be present in addiction to the stimulant abuse. These may include eating disorders, mood disorders or personality disorders.