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Stimulant Addiction

The U.S. has been fighting for lives during a severe opioid epidemic for some time now, and recent statistics indicate this likely isn’t going to change soon. As the crisis continues, however, the country faces a different battle with another class of drug. 

Federal authorities are now reporting an upsurge in stimulant use across the U.S. that could be headed for epidemic status. There’s been a noticeable spike in the number of seizures of methamphetamine as well as the number of overdose deaths involving meth and other stimulant drugs.

National Public Radio (NPR) reports that, according to federal data, there’s been an increase in the number of seizures of methamphetamine across the U.S. Between 2017 and 2018, seizures of the drug increased 142 percent, according to NPR’s report. 

“Seizures of meth are up, sometimes dramatically, in pockets of nearly every state in the U.S., based on data collected in 32 High-Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas.”

Officials note that this increase also means trafficking of these substances has increased as well. Seizures of cocaine are also on the rise, but meth seizures even outpace those. However, not all stimulant use can be attributed to illegal operations. 

John Eadie, a public health coordinator for the National Emerging Threats Initiative who tracks prescription drug monitoring programs in the U.S., told NPR that, based on the data he reviewed, more prescriptions are being written for prescribed stimulants to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

“We’re seeing almost as many people starting up methamphetamines and cocaine, and prescription stimulants as are abusing the opioids,” Eadie told NPR. “So the problem is getting worse at the moment, and it’s getting more complicated to deal with.”

Stimulant drugs can be highly dangerous to one’s health, especially when people can’t stop abusing them. Read on to learn more about stimulant addiction and how to properly treat it.

What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants are drugs that boost activity in the brain while acting on its pleasure receptors. This classification of substances, which can be legal or illegal, over-excite the brain. As a result, the body is affected by this “speeding up” of the brain.

Immediate physical effects of stimulants include:

  • Intense happiness (euphoria)
  • Fast heart rate
  • Increased energy
  • Boost in attention or concentration
  • Heightened state of alertness
  • Appetite loss
  • Sleep disturbances (e.g., insomnia)
  • Erratic behavior
  • Sensitivity to touch, sound, light

How stimulant use affects a person varies according to the stimulant used and the individual.

In addition to the physical effects, stimulant users also can experience psychological ones, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritation
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions
  • Paranoia
  • Thoughts of suicide

Stimulant use is habit-forming, and it can quickly become chronic as the body grows tolerant to its effects. This tolerance usually leads to cravings to get more of the drug, which users will find very hard to ignore. They often become intensely focused on getting more of the drug to satisfy their appetite for the drug, but each chase only leads to another one despite any consequences that result from doing so. This is what’s known as addiction.

Long-term use of stimulants means the brain is flooded with more dopamine than it needs. This abundance means the brain will stop producing feel-good chemicals on its own. Instead, it will look for substances outside the body to produce them.

Common stimulants are:

This potent brand-name psychostimulant is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It’s also known as a “smart drug” among users who want to maintain focus for long periods. This is one reason Adderall is largely abused among students on college and university campuses. Some take Adderall to pull late-nighters so they can study or party. Misuse and abuse of Adderall can lead to addiction.

 

These cheap, illegal designer drugs are made from harmful chemicals. They imitate the effects of methamphetamine or cocaine. Bath salts, also known as synthetic cathinones, are dangerous for several reasons. One reason is their makeup is a hodgepodge. Anything can be in it, so it’s hard to gauge how potent a substance is. These drugs live in a legal gray area, and that puts users at greater risk. As soon as one version is identified as illegal, another version will pop up that will be different. This makes it hard for authorities to track the drugs. Bath salts are also sold as other items, such as incense, fertilizer, jewelry cleaner, and other items, another reason it is difficult to track them.

 

This highly addictive drug is made from the coca leaves native to South America. Cocaine makes users more alert, anxious, excited, and irritable, among other things. The substance can be snorted, injected, or mixed with other drugs. The highs of cocaine are often short-lived, so chronic use is common. Crack-cocaine, a crystallized version of the drug, is rock-like in form and may appear yellow, pale pink, or white.

 

Crystal meth, the abbreviated name for crystal methamphetamine, is a form of methamphetamine that is inhaled, snorted, injected or orally ingested for a high. Once the substance hits the bloodstream, users feel an intense rush of euphoria. Meth users are known to exhibit a “binge and crash” routine that keeps users on the search for the next hit before the current one wears off. People who use crystal meth may give up food and sleep as they binge nonstop on the drug for several days or nights.

 

Like Adderall, this central nervous stimulant is prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It was initially created to treat adults with depression under the generic name methylphenidate. Recreational use of Ritalin is also common among college students who think it helps improve their academic performance. Habitual, non-prescription use of Ritalin can lead to addiction.

What Are the Signs of Stimulant Addiction?

People who are addicted to stimulant drugs may exhibit these symptoms:

  • Intense cravings for stimulants
  • Constantly thinking about stimulant drugs
  • Going to great or dangerous lengths to obtain stimulants
  • Increased isolation from people; tense or strained relationships
  • Engaging in non-prescription stimulant use
  • Taking stimulants in ways that do not match what is prescribed
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms as soon as stimulant use stops
  • Taking stimulants to avoid uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms
  • Hiding stimulant use from family, friends, colleagues
  • Failing to quit despite repeated attempts to quit
  • Feeling unable to function normally without using the drug
  • Mixing stimulants with alcohol or other drugs (polysubstance use)
  • Continuing to use despite the consequences, such as job loss, financial ruin

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How Is Stimulant Addiction Treated?

Active stimulant users usually struggle to quit these drugs when they try to go it alone. If that’s you or someone you know, don’t quit the drug abruptly. Going cold turkey can make matters worse. The body goes into withdrawal once the substance is stopped or reduced. Discomfort usually follows not too long after the last dose is taken, and the experience of that alone can drive someone to use more just to satisfy cravings and make withdrawal stop. Or, it can make them go the professional substance abuse treatment they need.

An accredited drug rehabilitation center can offer quality treatment that helps stimulant users stop using and get their lives back on track. Treatment starts with medical detoxification. This process ensures any stimulants used and associated toxins are safely removed from the body. 

A huge benefit of medical detoxification is that health care professionals and addiction treatment professionals oversee the entire process to ensure the patient’s comfort, safety, and well-being. The person recovering from substance use is monitored 24/7 and receive the medications and services they need.

A tapering process may be used to gradually remove the substance to allow the body the time it needs to regain stability.

Once medical detox is finished, it is now time to determine which treatment program is appropriate for recovery. Treatment programs can be customized to meet an individual’s needs and preferences. As the National Institute on Drug Abuse highlights, there are 14,500-plus specialized treatment centers across the U.S. that offer a variety of services, including counseling, behavioral therapy, case management, and a great deal more.

Inpatient or residential treatment involves living on-site at a facility while focusing on recovery. This arrangement is often chosen for people who need more time to recover from their substance abuse. This placement can last anywhere from 30 days to 90 days (three months). 

During this period, patients can participate in therapies that help them understand the reasons behind their addiction and replace negative behaviors with positive ones that support long-term sobriety. During this time, 12-step programs and counseling for the family or individual are offered. Patients also receive tips and strategies to prevent relapse.

People who have a mild stimulant addiction or need support for continued sobriety can enroll in an outpatient treatment program. 

Outpatient therapy can be done on-site. At the end of the therapy sessions, participants return home. This option allows for more flexibility in drug treatment. Outpatient requires that participants meet a set number of hours in structured therapy sessions weekly.

Aftercare services can help people in recovery from stimulant use to continue therapy, join an alumni program, or manage any lingering post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) they may experience after their treatment program ends. 

Meth Lab

How Dangerous Are Stimulants?/ Stimulant Drug Overdose

Regular or chronic stimulant use can cause health problems and lead to overdose. High amounts of these drugs in one’s system, whether the substances are illegal or prescribed, can permanently injure the brain and cause other conditions. Those include:

  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Depression
  • Psychosis (when one has lost touch with reality)
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Chronic tiredness, fatigue
  • Sexual health problems
  • Psychosis
  • Hallucinations
  • Uncontrolled mood swings
  • Deteriorated nose cartilage (if the drug is insufflated)

This list is not comprehensive, as stimulant addiction can cause a multitude of problems. One that’s also essential to note is “overamping,” which occurs when users overdose on methamphetamine or cocaine. AidsMap.org says this risky practice doesn’t receive as much recognition as it should in the harm reduction community, which has much of its attention on the opioid crisis. 
Also, it is critical to note that while naloxone helps to reverse opioid overdose, there is currently no method like it that can reverse stimulant overdose. Stimulant users are strongly encouraged to stay up-to-date on their health status and check on vitals, such as their cholesterol, blood pressure, and circulation.

Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Methamphetamine. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine

(August, 2017). Understanding the Epidemic. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/drugoverdose/epidemic/index.html

Bebinger, Martha. “Seizures Of Methamphetamine Are Surging In The U.S.” NPR, NPR, 29 July 2019. Retrieved from www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/07/29/745061185/seizures-of-methamphetamine-are-surging-in-the-u-s

NIDA. “How Long Does Drug Addiction Treatment Usually Last?” National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/frequently-asked-questions/how-long-does-drug-addiction-treatment

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Types of Treatment Programs. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/drug-addiction-treatment-in-united-states/types-treatment-programs

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