Stimulant Addiction Effects, Signs, & Symptoms

Stimulant addiction can be hard to spot. Learn about the warning signs & symptoms to watch for.

Understanding Stimulant Addiction

Learn about stimulant addiction

Stimulants are a class of psychoactive drugs that when used stimulate the body, which results in increased activity and alertness. Most commonly stimulants are prescribed by a licensed physician for the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. Some of the most common stimulants prescribed include amphetamines such as Adderall and Ritalin, however there are other illegal substances like cocaine and methamphetamines that are also considered to be stimulants. When used properly, stimulant medications can be very helpful, but when abused, can be very problematic and dangerous.

Both legal and illegal stimulants are abused on a regular basis because it is believed that they have the ability to improve mental and physical performance, increase productivity, or reduce appetite, which can aid in weight loss. However, the abuse of any substance, including stimulants, can produce a number of serious side effects that can destroy a person’s life.

Causes and Risk Factors

Causes and risk factors for stimulant addiction

Many mental health and addiction specialists believe that instead of one specific cause, stimulant addiction results from the combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors working together. Some of the most common theories behind the onset of stimulant abuse and addiction include:

Genetic: Multiple years of research has shown that once a person begins using a drug, the development of an addiction may be, in part, due to inherited genetic factors. Individuals who have family members who have had substance abuse problems or addiction in the past are at an increased risk for developing an addiction themselves.

Environmental: In addition to genetic influences, environmental factors can play a large role in the development of substance abuse and addiction. For example, family beliefs and attitudes toward drug use or having peers who use drugs can both cause an individual to begin using stimulants.

Risk factors:

  • Family history of substance abuse and addiction
  • Being male
  • The presence of a mental health disorder
  • Lack of family involvement
  • Loneliness
  • Peer pressure

Signs and Symptoms

Signs, symptoms, and effects of stimulant addiction

If someone is abusing stimulants there are a number of signs and symptoms that are likely to develop. More specifically those who are addicted stimulants will often show behavioral, psychological, and physical changes. The following is a list of some of the more common signs and symptoms of stimulant addiction:

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Increased energy
  • Erratic behavior
  • Violent or aggressive behaviors
  • Abandonment of activities that were once enjoyed
  • Engaging in reckless and risky behaviors
  • Hyperactive and manic behavior
  • Talking very rapidly
  • Restlessness
  • Stealing or borrowing money

Physical symptoms:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Loss of coordination
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Chest pains
  • Palpitations
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive sweating
  • Collapsing

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Hallucinations
  • Poor concentration
  • Lack of good judgment
  • Experiencing breaks from reality
  • Paranoia
  • Psychosis

Psychological symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Aggression and hostility
  • Feelings of restlessness
  • Delusions
  • Panic
  • Suicidal and homicidal tendencies

Stimulant Addiction Effects

Effects of stimulant addiction

If stimulant addiction is not properly treated the potential for the development of many adverse effects in all areas of an individual’s life are high. In some instances these adverse effects of stimulant addiction have the ability to be life threatening. The specific long-term effects of stimulant addiction will vary depending upon the type of stimulant being addiction and the individual characteristics of the user, but the most common effects known to occur include:

  • Dental problems
  • Increased risk for contracting a number of diseases
  • Loss of sexual function
  • Long-term heart problems
  • Brain damage
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Anorexia
  • Panic attacks
  • Psychosis
  • Delusions
  • Legal problems
  • Unemployment
  • Academic difficulties
  • Marriage problems including divorce
  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • Coma
  • Death

Co-Occurring Disorders

Stimulant addiction and co-occurring disorders

It is common for individuals who abuse or are addicted to substances like stimulants to have a co-occurring mental health condition. In some instances the co-occurring disorder may be why an individual started abusing stimulants in the first place. Some of these co-occurring disorders may include:

  • Additional substance use disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Withdrawal & Overdose

Effects of stimulant addiction withdrawal and overdose

Effects of stimulant withdrawal: Anytime an individual who has been abusing stimulants for a prolonged period of time discontinues their use, withdrawal symptoms have the potential to occur. Some of the most common symptoms of stimulant withdrawal may include:

  • Intense cravings for stimulants
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Loss of cognitive function
  • Extreme mood swings
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Tremors and shakiness
  • Fatigue
  • Exhaustion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Effects of stimulant overdose: Should an individual take more stimulants than his or her body is able to metabolize, he or she will experience an overdose. If an overdose should occur it is imperative that medical care be sought immediately in order to prevent loss of life. Some of the common signs that indicate that someone may have overdosed on stimulants include:

  • Fast breathing and heartbeat
  • Very large pupils
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle cramping
  • Seizures or shaking
  • High fever
  • Dizziness
  • Unconsciousness
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Cardiovascular collapse

I am so grateful to have gone for inpatient rehab and recovered at Harbor Oaks Hospital. I would not be where I am now without the incredibly supportive staff.

– Former Patient