Stimulant Addiction Causes and Effects

Sunrise Recovery Ranch provides stimulant addiction treatment rooted in a science-based, research-supported clinical model to ensure a healthier, more satisfying life, without addiction.

Understanding Stimulants

Learn about stimulants and substance abuse

Stimulants are a group substances that include cocaine, methamphetamine (meth), and amphetamines, all of which are classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) as Schedule II drugs, meaning that they have a high potential for abuse. Stimulants are typically abused because they increase energy, alertness, and attention. Their ability to enhance mental performance and acuity also makes them appealing to individuals who work in high pressure environments, as they can assist in completing tasks more quickly. Stimulants have also been known to be abused for their appetite-suppressant properties. Furthermore, the abuse of stimulants can increase an individual’s sense of self-confidence, promoting a sense of grandiosity while also inducing feelings pleasure of euphoria. While all of these effects may seem positive, the reality is that abusing these types of substances can place individuals on the path to a downward spiral of addiction.

When people use these substances to the point that they suffer from clinically significant distress or impairment as a result, it is likely that they are suffering from stimulant use disorder. Once an addiction to any type of stimulant has developed, it can seem exceedingly difficult to overcome. Fortunately, there are treatment options available that can help individuals overcome their addiction and rediscover a life of sobriety.


Stimulant addiction statistics

Sadly, stimulant abuse is a widespread problem throughout the United States. The abuse of amphetamines, which include prescription medications like Adderall and Ritalin, has been on the rise recently. In fact, studies have shown that every year, nearly 13 million people use amphetamine medications for reasons other than what is medically prescribed. Methamphetamine is abused by an estimated 1.2 million people and is said to account for an astounding 90% of cases in which people are seeking substance abuse treatment. In regards to cocaine, the National Drug Control Policy reports that approximately 3.6 million people abuse this drug on a regular basis.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for stimulant addiction

There are various causes and risk factors that can play a role in determining one’s vulnerability to developing a problem with abusing stimulants. Such causes and risk factors are described briefly in the following:

Environmental: Certain environmental factors can impact an individual’s susceptibility to coming to abuse stimulants or to developing stimulant use disorder. For cocaine specifically, having been exposed to cocaine prenatally, having parents who used cocaine during one’s childhood, or being exposed to community violence during childhood are all cited as being adequate predictors of future cocaine abuse. Additionally, growing up in an unstable home environment or associating with individuals who abuse drugs and/or alcohol can increase an individual’s risk for abusing any type of stimulant.

Risk Factors:

  • Suffering from mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or antisocial personality disorder
  • Suffering from childhood conduct disorder
  • Abusing other types of substances
  • Impulsivity and other similar personality traits
  • Exposure to violence during childhood
  • Growing up in an unstable home environment

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of stimulant addiction

The signs and symptoms of stimulant abuse can vary from person to person depending upon a number of factors, including the type of stimulant that is being used, the frequency that it is being used, the length of time that it has been used, and the amount that is used at any given time. Examples of various symptoms that may be indicative of a stimulant abuse problem can include the following:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Changes in social interaction
  • Hypervigilance
  • Repetitive movements
  • No longer engaging in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Failing to fulfill obligations at work or at home
  • No longer spending time with friends and/or family
  • Taking part in dangerous activities in order to obtain the drug

Physical symptoms:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Elevated or lowered blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Seizures
  • Muscle weakness

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Impaired judgment
  • Intense cravings for the substance

Psychosocial symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Psychological distress
  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Lacking emotional reactivity


Effects of stimulant addiction

There are a number of detrimental effects that can result from the chronic abuse of stimulants. The specific types of effects that occur will be dependent upon the particular type of stimulant that is being abused, the route of administration, the frequency of use, and the duration of use.

Intranasal stimulant users are at risk for experiencing the following physical effects:

  • Sinusitis
  • Nasal bleeding
  • Punctured nasal septum
  • Nasal irritation

Users who abuse stimulants by smoking them are susceptible to experiencing the following effects on their health:

  • Respiratory distress
  • Coughing
  • Pneumonitis
  • Bronchitis

When individuals abuse stimulants via injection, they are vulnerable to the following physical effects:

  • Puncture marks
  • Increased risk of HIV infection
  • Increased risk of contracting hepatitis
  • Increased risk of tuberculosis
  • Lung infections

Individuals who abuse stimulants in any manner are at risk for experiencing the following negative effects:

  • Malnutrition
  • Significant weight loss
  • Chest pains
  • Irregular heart beat
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Oral health problems
  • Skin infections
  • Becoming involved in theft, prostitution, or dealing drugs in order to obtain drugs or money to buy drugs
  • Destroyed relationships
  • Job loss
  • Social isolation

Co-Occurring Disorders

Stimulant addiction and co-occurring disorders

Individuals who struggle with stimulant use disorder frequently struggle with the abuse of other types of substances as well. While these people may abuse a number of different types of substances, according to the American Psychiatric Association, they most commonly abuse substances that contain sedative properties as sedatives can help reduce certain unpleasant side effects that are known to occur as the result of abusing stimulants. In addition to other types of substance use disorders, the mental health conditions that have been cited as co-occurring with stimulant use disorder include:

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Gambling disorder
  • Antisocial personality disorder

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of stimulant withdrawal & overdose

Effects of stimulant withdrawal: Individuals who abuse stimulants may experience a period of withdrawal that begins sometime within a few hours to several days after they have either ceased using the substance or after having greatly reduced the amount that they are using. The period of withdrawal may be extremely uncomfortable and can include the following symptoms and effects:

  • Dysphoric mood
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams
  • Increased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Social impairment
  • Occupational impairment
  • Impairment in other aspects of functioning

Effects of stimulant overdose: If a person uses stimulants in such a frequency or at such a dosage that it is more than his or her body can metabolize, he or she is at risk for experiencing an overdose. An overdose on stimulants should be viewed as a medical emergency and treatment should be sought immediately so as to prevent a tragic outcome. Signs that may be associated with a stimulant overdose can include:

  • Extreme confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Flushing of the skin
  • Feelings of panic
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Hypertension
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cramping
  • Irregular breathing
  • Seizures
  • Stroke
  • Cardiac arrest

Thanks to Sunrise Recovery Ranch, my daughter was able to get the lasting recovery she deserved from her addiction and her co-occurring mental health disorder. I am super grateful!

– Michelle A.
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  • American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM)
  • California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals (CCAPP)
  • Department of Health Care Services

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