Stimulants, such as cocaine, are often glamorized in television and movies, but these drugs are highly addictive and dangerous. People who use stimulants on a regular basis may start feeling happy and even invincible. But, soon, they find themselves battling an addiction. It is difficult to quit, and in many cases, professional treatment at a facility is the only effective way out.  

Stimulant Addiction: Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and More

Stimulants are a classification of drugs that affect the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. They also boost activity in the brain while activating its pleasure receptors. These drugs are commonly abused and many people use stimulants that are sold or the street as well as those that are prescribed in a doctor’s office. Effects can vary depending on the stimulant used, but they generally over-excite the brain.

Some of the immediate physical effects of stimulants are:

  • Euphoria
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Increased energy
  • Increase in attention or concentration
  • Heightened alertness
  • Appetite loss
  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
  • Erratic behavior
  • Sensitivity to touch, sound, light

Stimulant use is habit-forming, and addiction can set in quickly with chronic or long-term use. Chronic users will come to find that use floods the brain with dopamine. Because of that, the brain will stop producing feel-good chemicals and come to rely on the drugs to produce them. 

When this happens, users can experience intense withdrawal periods and continue to use their stimulant of choice just to chase the highs that once happened when the drug was new to their system. This is a slow process but the toll stimulants take on the brain and the body is dangerous for several reasons. One of them is that people who are in danger from stimulant abuse may not realize what is happening.

The effects on the brain and body also can cause psychological symptoms. Regular stimulant users may also exhibit:

  • Anxiety
  • Delusions
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Suicidal thoughts

If you or someone you know is using stimulants and decides to stop using them, do not do so abruptly. Suddenly quitting the drug without a doctor’s consultation can worsen conditions and trigger uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include seizures, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, numbness, fever, and mood changes, among others.

Common Stimulants


A highly addictive drug produced from coca leaves in South America. Cocaine’s euphoric and pleasurable effects can last anywhere from five minutes to an hour and a half after use; chronic use can cause uncontrollable mood swings, paranoia, and severe anxiety. Crack-cocaine, the crystallized version of cocaine, is sold in yellow, white, or pale pink rocks. Street names: Blow, Coke, White Girl, Powder, Sugar, Snow

Bath Salts

Synthetic drugs made from unsafe chemicals can mimic the effects of methamphetamines; use can cause serious health complications Street names: Flakka, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Cosmic Blast, Vanilla Sky, Scarface.

Crystal Meth

The abbreviated name for crystal methamphetamine, a form of methamphetamine; this highly addictive drug can be snorted, inhaled, injected, or orally ingested. Street names: Crank, crystal, ice, speed, Tina, glass.


A “smart drug” that is prescribed for Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) with high abuse potential among prescription users and recreational users. Ritalin produces the same effects as other stimulants and cause panic, psychosis, and heart failure. Street names: Skippy, kiddy coke or kiddy cocatine, study buddies; Vitamin R.


This highly addictive brand-name psychostimulant is prescribed to ADHD and narcolepsy. It is also a “smart drug” on the recreational drug scene and is sought out for its ability to help users maintain focus for long periods. Recreational or chronic use is habit-forming and can lead to addiction. The “Adderall crash,” when users come down or experience withdrawal from amphetamine use, can cause headaches and other discomfort. Street names: Addie, diet coke, adds, adderol, adderallinja

What are the Signs of Stimulant Addiction?

People who are addicted to stimulants may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Strong, seemingly unbearable cravings for stimulants
  • Constantly thinking about stimulant drugs
  • Going to great lengths to obtain stimulants
  • Isolation from others; strained interpersonal relationships
  • Taking the drug in a manner inconsistent with what is prescribed
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms 24-48 hours after the drug is last taken
  • Taking stimulants to avoid withdrawal symptoms
  • Hiding stimulant use from family, friends, colleagues
  • Feeling unable to stop using the drug despite repeated attempts to quit
  • Feeling like you can’t function without the drug
  • Mixing stimulants with alcohol or other drugs (polysubstance use)
  • Using the drug despite the negative consequences that result from doing so, such as job or relationships loss

If you or someone you know is using stimulants on a frequent basis, do not do so abruptly. Quitting a drug suddenly without a doctor’s consultation can worsen conditions and trigger uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Instead, it is strongly recommended that you seek help at a professional treatment center. This ensures that you or your loved one will be weaned off stimulants safely. The withdrawal period is different for everyone depending on their situation.

Stimulant Addiction Treatment for Cocaine, Methamphetamine, and More

People who have are addicted to stimulants can recover at a licensed drug rehabilitation facility. Once they have been admitted, they typically start with a medical detoxification. 

During this process, medical professionals monitor clients around-the-clock as they are weaned off the drug safely. This may include tapering off the opioid medication used, which is when doses are gradually reduced over a set period to allow the body time to adjust to not having the drug in its system. 

After a medical detox is completed, clients typically enter a treatment program where they will address the physical and psychological addiction. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences. Inpatient treatment, which can last from 28-90 days in a facility, depending on the program, involves therapies that can help the person overcome their addiction. Treatment also can incorporate 12-step programs, holistic therapy, family therapy, and individual and group counseling.

There is also outpatient treatment for people who may be in the early stages of stimulant addiction or have a mild case of it. Outpatient therapy does not require an on-site stay at a treatment center, an arrangement that gives clients more flexibility as they work drug treatment into their schedules. However, outpatient clients are still required to attend structured sessions three to five times a week or more, depending on the situation.

Recovering stimulant users may want to consider using aftercare services to help them focus on their recovery goals and reduce their chances of relapse. Some people pursue follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, that can happen long after dependence on the drug has passed. 

Addiction and Withdrawal: How Dangerous are Stimulants?

Long-term or chronic use of stimulants, both prescription and illegal, is dangerous. Using high amounts of the drug can cause permanent brain damage among other conditions. They are:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Chronic tiredness, fatigue
  • Sexual health problems
  • Depression
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Dependence
  • Confusion
  • Uncontrollable mood swings
  • Depletion of nose cartilage (if the drug is insufflated)

Stimulants Abuse Statistics

  • In 2015, among people aged 12 and older in the United States, 38,744,000 people had used cocaine at least once in their lifetime; 1,876,000 people had used cocaine in the past month.
  • Methamphetamine overdose led to 3,728 in 2014
  • Cocaine ranks second or third among drugs involved in drug overdose deaths, depending on the year

Substance abuse costs the United States more than $740 billion a year, according to data cited by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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