Prescription Stimulants: The Hidden Addiction

We tend to think of medicines as safe, and something that has been prescribed to us by the doctor as even more so. But it is all too easy to become addicted to some prescribed medicines, and prescription stimulants most definitely fall into this category. While prescription stimulant addiction is not as prevalent as addiction to prescription painkillers, it is still a problem for a significant number of people in Great Britain.

What Are Prescription Stimulants?

A stimulant is any drug that makes someone feel that they have an increase in attention, alertness, and energy.

In the past, stimulant drugs have been prescribed to treat respiratory issues, including asthma, obesity, sleep disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and some neurological disorders. When the medical community became aware of their potential for addiction and abuse, however, these became less widely used. They are still prescribed to treat ADHD, some heart problems, and sometimes to treat depression in patients who have not responded to more traditional treatments.

Prescription stimulants include drugs such as Ritalin (methylphenidate), used to treat ADHD; lisdexamfetamine, used to treat ADHD where Ritalin is not successful; and dexamphetamine, used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. There are other stimulants that do not require a prescription, such as ephedrine (adrenaline) and pseudoephedrine (or pseudo adrenaline), which are found in some cold treatments for their decongestant properties. Although medications containing pseudoephedrine do not need a prescription, they still have to be obtained from the pharmacist, and the amount one can purchase is limited.

The most common stimulant people use, and sometimes abuse, is caffeine. Although not a controlled substance, caffeine is also addictive, as many who consume significant amounts of coffee have discovered.

What Effects Do Prescription Stimulants Have?

As their name suggests, stimulants have an invigorating effect, leading to them often being referred to as ‘uppers’. They make people feel more awake and more alert. They improve a person’s ability to concentrate and focus, which is why they are used in the treatment of ADHD. Some of these drugs have performance-enhancing effects and are therefore banned for athletes in competition. Ephedrine and pseudoephedrine are included in this group, and there have been several cases of athletes receiving bans from competition after testing positive for these drugs because they took a cold remedy.

Side effects of stimulant drugs include large, dilated pupils, an increase in blood pressure, an increase in heart rate, increase in breathing rate, and increase in body temperature. If the use of the drugs continues for a prolonged period, these side effects can potentially lead to a person suffering from a stroke, heart attack, seizures, or breakdown of skeletal muscle.

How Big a Problem Is Prescription Stimulant Abuse in the UK?

A survey carried out in 2016 suggests that prescription stimulant abuse may be a bigger problem than was previously thought. It showed that almost ten per cent of the UK population over the age of eighteen had admitted to abusing prescription stimulants. Great Britain has the highest incidence of prescription drug abuse in Europe, so perhaps we should not be so surprised at these statistics. Of those who admitted to abusing prescription stimulants, more than half (fifty-two per cent) admitted to also using illegal drugs.

The primary method of acquiring prescription stimulants for those who were not prescribed the drugs themselves was from friends and family, followed by purchasing from online pharmacies.

Why Are So Many People Using Prescription Stimulants?

One of the biggest user groups for these drugs is students, but the reasons behind their increasing use of prescription stimulants are not what you might expect. As a group, students have always been known as users of drugs, but instead of using drugs recreationally to ‘switch off’, today’s student population is turning to prescription stimulants to try and enhance their ability to study and perform well at university, despite the high possibility of addiction.

Perhaps, given the changes in the recent university fee structures, we should not be surprised by this. With most students now leaving university with tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of debt, the pressure to achieve good results to enhance the ability to get a well-paid job at the end of their studies is much higher than in previous years. The system is almost setting students up to need to try and find a way of enhancing their performance.

Where Can People Get Help with Prescription Stimulant Addiction?

At Addiction Helper, we can advise you on what to do next. Our phone lines are open twenty-four hours a day, and our experienced advisors can help you to decide on the treatment option that would be best for you as well as help you to find a treatment centre that will suit your needs. Please, contact us today.


  1. (Mims) Infographic: Prescription stimulant abuse in UK ‘highest in Europe’
  2. (Drugabuse) Misuse of Prescription Drugs
  3. (The Guardian) Students used to take drugs to get high. Now they take them to get higher grades
  4. (NHS) Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – Treatment
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