Stimulants Addiction

Stimulants are drugs that increase the activity of the central nervous system by altering different neurotransmitters in the brain. Stimulants are often used to induce feelings of alertness and high energy. They also produce pleasurable feelings in the user. The neurotransmitters, often dopamine and serotonin, activate the brain’s reward system and encourages users to continue consuming the drug even though the consequences can be disastrous. Examples of prescription stimulants include steroids, Ritalin, Diet Pills, Dexedrine, Concerta, Antidepressants, Adderall and Sonata. Street stimulants include cocaine and amphetamines.

Steroids

Steroids are synthetic versions of a hormone known as testosterone. Steroids are usually prescribed in small amounts and used under the close supervision of a doctor. It is often used to treat health issues related to abnormally low testosterone levels in men. Such issues include emotional imbalance, lack of energy, low sexual performance and low body weight. Steroids are most often abused by both male and female athletes and mostly male models who seek to increase their muscle mass in order to fit the requirements of their fields. However, steroids can also be abused by regular individuals who simply wish to take advantage of its effects.

When steroids are used in a manner not prescribed by a doctor, the risk of heart disease may rise due to the following complications:

  • High blood pressure
  • Enlargement of the heart
  • Higher occurrence of thrombosis (blood clots)
  • Atherosclerosis

Other effects of steroid addiction are:

  • Degradation of the joints, ligaments, and tendons
  • Emotional distress and increased feelings of anger and aggression
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Steroid abusers are more likely to commit violent crimes, including battery, rape and murder. A major psychological condition associated with steroid abuse is muscle dysmorphia. People who suffer from muscle dysmorphia often have distorted views of themselves. Men tend to view themselves as small and weak even when they are actually quite huge and muscular, while women tend to see themselves as fat even when they are lean and muscular. This causes those who suffer from the condition to continue to abuse the steroids even more as they seek to achieve their desired look.

Withdrawal from steroid use is a gradual process, and a sudden and complete stop should not be attempted, as withdrawal symptoms can be severe. Symptoms include:

  • Cravings
  • Depression
  • Loss of muscle mass or size
  • tiredness and decreased strength
  • Headaches
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Decreased libido
  • Anorexia

Ritalin

Ritalin is the immediate-release version of the drug methylphenidate. It is a central nervous system stimulant that works by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. It is used in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy. Addiction to Ritalin often occurs when it is used in a non-medical capacity or in excess of its prescribed dosage. Like Concerta, the extended-release version of the drug, Ritalin is abused students who wish to improve their studying, athletes hoping to boost their performance, and those who simply want to stay awake or get high. It is also used to lose weight. Prolonged use of the drugs leads to increased tolerance and eventually, dependency and addiction.

The euphoric effects of Ritalin typically last for 1-4 hours, which is relatively short. As the result, those who abuse the drug take larger doses to increase that length of time. This can lead to side effects such as:

  • reduced appetite
  • chest pain
  • nausea
  • hallucinations
  • anxiety
  • headaches
  • high blood pressure
  • seizures

There is also an increased risk of overdose accompanying these large doses.

Due to the stimulating effect of dopamine on the brain, it is hard to avoid dependency on the drug. Once the user is dependent on the drug, any attempt to quit the drug without supervision may lead to withdrawal symptoms such as cravings, fatigue, increased appetite, depression, insomnia or hypersomnia, and an inability to feel pleasure.

Diet Pills

Diet pills are supplements used by individuals for weight management. These include anti-obesity drug, anorectic drugs and appetite suppressants. Diet pills work by decreasing appetites, preventing or reducing the absorption of fats, or increasing metabolism. Some diet pills are controlled prescription drugs, while others can be obtained over the counter. Few of the most commonly abused diet supplements include mazindol, benzphetamine, diethylpropion, and phentermine.

Diet pills have a high potential for dependence and addiction. When abused, they may lead to increased energy and euphoric feelings. However, side effects include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pains
  • Swelling
  • Dizziness
  • Skin irritation
  • Abnormally-coloured urine or stool

As diet pills are usually prescribed for short-term use, prolonged abuse can lead to health problems that can be fatal. These include liver and kidney damage, pulmonary hypertension and heart attack.

Treatment of addiction diet pills often involves understanding underlying issues, such mental health problems and eating disorders. Eating disorders, obesity issues and low self-esteem are the most common reasons while individuals seek diet pills, and quite often use them without medical supervision. The effects of the pills, coupled with a false sense of control often felt by the user, leads to a higher risk of abusing the drugs.

Withdrawal symptoms that occur when a user tries to quit include nausea, muscle pain, headaches, weight gain, depression, increased aggression and fatigue.

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Dexedrine

Dexedrine, generically known as dextroamphetamine, is a central nervous system stimulant often used to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Dexedrine induces calm and focus in ADHD patients, and wakefulness in narcolepsy patients. As an amphetamine, Dexedrine is tightly controlled due to its high potential for abuse and addiction. It comes in a pill forms, and the only legal means of obtaining the drug is through a doctor’s prescription. Dexedrine has a history of being abused by students for improve studying, athletes for improved performance, and weight-watchers to induce weight loss. Dexedrine’s effect on the brain operates like a reward system, affecting neurotransmitters in the brain and releasing feel-good chemicals such as dopamine. This encourages the user to become dependent on the drug. Continued abuse of the drug can however lead to unpleasant side effects such as:

  • Headaches
  • loss of appetite
  • high blood pressure
  • dizziness and blurred vision
  • increased aggression
  • anxiety
  • hallucinations and delusional thoughts
  • seizures

As a result of the reward system format wired into the brain, stopping a Dexedrine addiction can be incredibly difficult. In many cases, the user recognises that they have a problem, but will be unwilling to address the issue regardless of the consequences.

It is not advisable to attempt to quit Dexedrine suddenly or at once, as doing so could lead to serious withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms include: anxiety, depression, insomnia, fatigue, paranoia, cravings, hallucinations, muscle pain, lacks of energy, and agitation.

Concerta

Concerta, known generically as methylphenidate, is a stimulant often used to treat symptoms of ADHD. It is an extended-release version of Ritalin, another methylphenidate drug. Due to its high potential for abuse and addiction, Concerta is a controlled substance that can only be obtained through a doctor’s prescription. Concerta acts similar to cocaine and amphetamines when abused, producing similar mental and physical effects including psychotic trips and highs. Users often snort the drug or inject it to feel the effects immediately. As a stimulant, Concerta increases energy, focus and alertness. It is often abused by those who are simply chasing highs, and also by students who abuse it to increase their focus while studying.

One of the side effects of Concerta use is loss of appetite, which can lead to weight loss. Those trying to achieve a certain weight will see this side effect as a positive thing and use more of the drug to continue the weight loss. Other signs of Concerta abuse include:

  • Insomnia
  • Grinding of teeth
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling of heightened awareness
  • Repetitive motions
  • Sweating 

Prolonged abuse of Concerta can lead to more serious effects, including gastrointestinal issues, irregular heartbeat, infectious diseases for intravenous users, seizures and even death.

Concerta abusers risk becoming dependent on the drug to the point that they cannot function without it. As a result, they will attempt to obtain in any way possible. This leads to doctor-shopping, which is often a dead giveaway for addiction. Doctor shopping is when abusers visit different doctors to fill out multiple prescriptions of the same drug. Abusers may also turn to theft or obtaining the drug through illegal means. Some users combine the drug with alcohol to heighten its effects. This practice is dangerous and can be fatal.

When a Concerta abuser attempts to quit, the following withdrawal symptoms may occur:

  • Difficulty sleeping or excessive sleepiness
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Antidepressants

Antidepressants, as the name implies, are prescribed to treat those with depression. Antidepressants are thought to be non-addictive, though the debate is still ongoing. Those taking antidepressants can develop dependence of the drug and present withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to stop. This is especially disturbing in case of those given an incorrect depression diagnosis, who eventually go on to take antidepressants and become dependent on them.

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There are two common types of antidepressants: serotonin and nonepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRIs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SNRIs adjust the levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain, while SSRIs work by changing the levels of serotonin only. Common antidepressants include Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Zoloft and Lexapro. They usually come in tablets or capsules.

While antidepressants have a lower risk of abuse compared to other stimulant drugs, they are still regularly abused, often resulting in increased tolerance and dependency. When depressed and non-depressed individuals take the drugs and feel good, they are more likely to continue taking the drug for a long period of time. Antidepressants often become ineffective after a long time on a certain dose. As a result, the user is more likely to increase their dosage with or without the permission of their doctor. Continuously increasing the dosage made lead to increased tolerance and eventually, dependency. Those who are dependent on the drugs often display withdrawal symptoms including tremors, nausea and worsened depression. Although cravings are not usually associated with withdrawal from antidepressants, mild cravings have been known to occur.

Adderall

Adderall is a drug used primarily to treat symptoms of ADHD. It is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and is classified as a central nervous system stimulant. Adderall is an oral prescription drug, often initially prescribed in low doses to avoid negative side effects. The drug can be abused by taking a larger dosage or taking the same dosage more frequently than what is prescribed.

Recreational users of the drug often crush the medicine into powder and snort it to feel the effects more quickly. Non-ADHD uses of the drug include fighting depression and staying awake for long periods of time, a particularly attractive feature to university students.

The use of Adderall comes with some side effects, and abuse of the drug often increases the intensity and symptoms of the side effects. These side effects include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigues
  • Irregular heartbeat

The prolonged use of Adderall despite these symptoms may lead to even worse complications such as numbness of the limbs, increased aggression, speech problems, seizures, paranoia, and mania.

When the dosage of Adderall is continuously increased without caution, the user may develop a tolerance from the drug, leading to even higher doses to feel the same effect. The user may also develop a dependency on the drug, where chemical changes in the brain lead to cravings for the drug. Abnormally high doses of Adderall or the use of Adderall with alcohol or other substances can lead to overdose, which can be fatal. Signs that a person may be suffering from Adderall overdose include:

  • arrhythmia
  • hyperventilation
  • panic attacks
  • delirium
  • seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

As with other stimulants, attempting to stop the use of Adderall suddenly and at once will lead to withdrawal symptoms similar to the side effects listed above.

Cocaine

Cocaine is a popular illegal stimulant processed from the leaves of the coca plant. It is most commonly distributed as a white powder, though other forms are increasing in popularity. Cocaine stimulates the central nervous system by increasing the brain’s production of dopamine, one of the ‘feel-good’ hormones. Normally, when dopamine is produced, it is recycled back into cells to prevent a build-up. Cocaine prevents the recycling process from occurring, causing a build-up of dopamine that disrupts normal brain activity and leads to the high experienced by the user. Popular street names for cocaine include coke, crack, blow, snow and rock.

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Cocaine is most commonly snorted through the nose, though some rub it on their gums or inject it directly into the bloodstream. Cocaine is highly addictive. It is often used recreationally in social settings, and as the addiction progresses, the user will begin to seek the drug on their own. Cocaine highs only last a short period of time. Snorting leads to 15-30 minute highs, while those who inject or smoke the drug experience the effects for only about 5-10 minutes. As a result, users often take the drug repeatedly within a short period of time in order to maintain the euphoric effects. The dosage tends to increase each time the drug is taken.

Short-term effects of cocaine use include:

  • High energy bursts and extreme happiness
  • High alertness and laser focus
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Paranoia
  • irritability

These effects tend to vary among different people. While some people may report laser focus and quick thinking, others may report sluggishness and brain fog. In any case, the abuse of cocaine does lead to unpredictable and often violent behaviour. Signs of cocaine abuse include constricted blood vessels, increased body temperature, blood pressure and heartbeat, nausea, dilated pupils, restlessness and tremors and twitching.

Long-term effects depend on the method of consumption. Those who snort the drug are at risk of nasal issues such as frequent nasal drip, nosebleeds, and loss of smell. Those who take it through the mouth are at risk of tooth and gum disease and bowel issues due to reduced blood flow. Those who use needles are at risk of contracting blood borne viruses such as HIV and hepatitis C. These risks are also present is non-needle users as cocaine often impairs judgment, leading to risky sexual behaviours.

Cocaine overdose can be fatal, especially if it is taken with other substances such as heroin and amphetamines. Withdrawal from cocaine addiction leads to symptoms including insomnia, fatigue, tremors, increased appetite and sluggishness.

Methamphetamine

Methamphetamine is a stimulant drug consumed as a white powder or pill. Street names for the drug include meth, chalk, speed and ice. Methamphetamine also works by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, stimulating the brain’s reward centre and encouraging the user to continue taking the drug. Methamphetamine can be swallowed, snorted, smoked or taken through intravenous injection. Like cocaine, the high from methamphetamine does not last long. Thus, users often take many repeated doses, often increasing in size, within a short time period. The end of the high is usually characterized by a crash, which pushes the user to try to maintain the high for as long as possible, often giving up food and drink in the process.

Short-term effects of methamphetamine include:

  • Reduced appetite
  • Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Increased physical activity
  • Increased body temperature and blood temperature
  • Insomnia

Negative health effects of methamphetamine abuse depend on the method by which the drug is absorbed. Taking the drug orally leads to issues such as the condition known as meth mouth, where severe tooth and gum damage occurs. Snorting the drug leads to damage to the nasal tissue, frequent nose bleeds, nasal drip, and in extreme cases, difficulty breathing. The use of needles is particularly worrisome as it is a way of contracting and possibly spreading blood borne viruses such as hepatitis C and HIV. These diseases are not restricted to needle users alone because methamphetamine is known to alter behaviour, causing individuals to make reckless decisions such as unsafe sexual practices with infective individuals.

Other long term effects of methamphetamine abuse include:

  • Sleeping problem
  • Intense itching, often leading to stores
  • Increased aggression
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Extreme weight loss
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Violent behaviour

An important effect of amphetamine addiction is long-term brain damage. Areas of the brain associated by cognitive and emotional problems are usually affected, alongside memory, coordination and verbal learning. Addiction treatment usually enables the individual recover some lost functions, but total recovery may not occur.

Addiction Treatment

Dependency and addiction are less likely to occur for prescription stimulants if the patients stick to their prescribed regimen and work with their doctors on any issues that arise. Treatment for stimulant addiction involves medical detoxification and psychotherapy. During medical detox, withdrawal is closely supervised by medical staff, and underlying physical health issues are treated as well. Round the clock nursing care is provided to enable the patients cope more effectively with withdrawal symptoms, and some medication can be used to alleviate symptoms if necessary. Once detox is complete, the patient begins the rehabilitation process, which can be done under outpatient services or as a residential programme. With outpatient rehab, the patients are expected to journey from their homes to attend regular therapy and key working sessions at the treatment centres.

Residential rehab, or inpatient services, requires the patient to move into the rehab unit for the duration of the programme. During rehab, the patient undergoes regular psychotherapy with qualified counsellors and therapists. Efforts are focused on understanding addiction, relapse prevention, maintaining sobriety, repairing relationships and reintegration back into society. As each individual has different facets to their addiction issues, therapy is often personalized to the needs of each client. Different types of therapy are used to achieve the goal of recovery, with other therapeutic activities such as relaxation activities and physical exercise used to complement the programme.

Rehabilitation can last anywhere from one week to 2 months. However, a 28-day program is often more effective. Some people may require longer programmes, and most rehab centres are equipped to handle such situations. Once the rehab programme is complete, the clients are referred to aftercare services, which continue to monitor the client for any signs of relapse.

Aftercare also involves self-help and peer support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous or Drug Abuse Anonymous.

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