Substance Types and Effects: Stimulants

Cocaine is a stimulant made from the leaves of the coca plant. It’s most commonly seen in powder form and in rock form (crack cocaine).

Amphetamines are stimulants, too. This class of drug includes prescription medications, like Adderall, which are used to treat conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

Methamphetamine and crystal meth, "a form of the drug that looks like glass fragments or shiny, bluish-white rocks," are stimulants that are chemically related to amphetamines.

How do stimulants affect the body?

Amphetamines can be safely prescribed for the management of some health conditions. For someone with ADHD, amphetamines can have a calming, focusing effect. For someone with narcolepsy, amphetamines can increase energy levels and alertness.

Amphetamines have medical uses, but can be risky when misused.

When not used for medical purposes, stimulant drugs make users feel more alert and attentive, with lots of extra energy. They can increase a desire for sex, as well as causing an increased desire for more of the drug itself.

Like opioids, cocaine causes a flood of dopamine in the brain, which can lead a person to crave more and more of the drug to get the same high.

Stimulants also increase heart rate and blood pressure, and long-term misuse of these drugs can cause heart and respiratory problems.

What are some signs that someone is misusing?

Someone misusing cocaine or other amphetamines can seem extremely alert and talkative. The user might eat less and sleep less. Drug paraphernalia like aluminum foil, vials, baggies, rolled-up dollar bills, and pipes may be found in the person’s bedroom or living space.

Can you overdose on stimulants?

Yes. According to the National Harm Reduction Coalition, this situation is referred to as overamping. It’s not the type of experience we typically think of when imagining an overdose. Still, it can be just as life-threatening, especially when cocaine is involved, since that substance can cause seizures, heart attacks, or strokes.

Circumstances that can lead to overamping include using while sleep-deprived or dehydrated, taking too large of a dose, or mixing with other substances.

Someone who’s overamping may seem paranoid or panicked, and may start to hallucinate. Physical signs include nausea, chest pain, a racing heart, or convulsions. Learn how to identify and respond to overamping.

How can people who use stimulants reduce risks?

  • If prescribed, always take stimulants as directed by your doctor
  • Get regular check-ups to evaluate your heart health
  • Don’t mix with other drugs, including alcohol or opioids
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Go slow: Give the body time to feel the first dose before taking more of a drug

How can a stimulant use disorder be treated?

Addiction to meth, cocaine, or other stimulants can be treated.

While there are currently no known medications to treat stimulant use disorders, there are effective treatments. These include cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches practical strategies for self-control, and contingency management, which provides positive rewards for behavior change. Learn more about effective substance use disorder treatment.

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September 2021

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