Nearly 21 million Americans have at least one addiction. Yet, a shockingly low percentage of people receive treatment for it.

Studies show that stimulant overdoses are rising, especially because stimulants are being mixed with other drugs. 

Being familiar with abused stimulants and their adverse health effects helps to spot signs of addiction.

Keep reading this article to learn about commonly abused stimulants, their dangerous side effects, and ways to find assistance with substance abuse.

What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants act on the central nervous system to increase alertness and cognitive function. As a result, they are often referred to as “uppers” because they heighten energy levels and focus. 

Stimulants also provide calming and euphoric sensations. By increasing levels of dopamine in the brain, stimulants speed up physical and mental processes.

Concentration improves, and fatigue decreases. Because of this, the short-term effects are highly sought-after. 

Most stimulants are Schedule II drugs under the Control Substances Act. This is because they have a high potential for abuse and addiction.

Stimulants come in the form of both prescription medications and illicit substances. They are taken orally, injected, snorted, and smoked.

The Most Abused Stimulants 

Even though stimulants have dangerous long-term effects on the body, they are so widely available. This includes both legal and illegal stimulants.


Doctors prescribe amphetamines for several medical conditions such as sleep disorders like narcolepsy and depression. Sometimes they are used to augment antidepressants or help with obesity.

But, prescribed stimulants can still lead to addiction

ADD/ADHD Medication

These medications are prevalent and abused, especially amongst students looking for a study boost. This is because they increase concentration and focus. 

In general, amphetamines also reduce appetite and help with weight loss.

While there is a long list of medications prescribed for ADD and ADHD, the most commonly abused are:

  • Adderall
  • Concerta
  • Dexedrine
  • Ritalin
  • Vyvanse

Amphetamine abuse results in physical and mental symptoms such as:

  • Insomnia
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Increased heart rate
  • Aggression
  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety 

Prolonged use of amphetamines can exacerbate these symptoms.

Anabolic Steroids

Anabolic steroids are synthetic drugs made to act like testosterone. They are common with athletes and people looking to build muscle mass fast. 

Side effects of anabolic steroid use are:

  • Baldness
  • Breast development
  • Severe acne
  • Reduced sperm count
  • Erectile dysfunction

Doctors can prescribe steroids. However, not all steroids are legal, and a prescription is always needed to use them. 


Caffeine is the most consumed, accessible, and identifiable stimulant there is. The FDA estimates more than 80% of American adults take some form of caffeine every day.

Found in coffee, tea, and cacao plants, caffeine is a natural stimulant. However, too much caffeine can cause withdrawal symptoms. These include:

  • Irritability
  • Drowsiness 
  • Anxiety

Even though caffeine is so common, overdoses are still possible by consuming large amounts.

Adults who consume caffeine regularly should be aware of the adverse effects that come from their morning alertness. 


Cocaine is made from the coca plant of South America. It comes in the form of a fine white powder. 

Like other stimulants, continued use of cocaine leads to increased tolerance. 

Common side effects are loss of appetite and sleep deprivation. Common signs of cocaine use are:

  • Runny nose
  • Nosebleeds
  • Diualted pupils
  • Excitability
  • Anxiety
  • Weight loss

Long-term cocaine use can result in severe heart complications.

Crack Cocaine

Users create crack cocaine by mixing cocaine, water, and baking soda. Small crystallized rocks develop. It causes an extreme high.

One dose can cause a heart attack. 

However, the high is very short, usually only 15 minutes. But, the chemicals reach the brain much faster than when using cocaine. 

Therefore, crack cocaine is more psychologically addicting than cocaine. 

Ecstasy (MDMA/Molly)

Known as the “rave drug,” ecstasy enhances the user’s pleasure center. It increases extroversion, empathy and creates an emotional warmth.

It is popular with teens and young adults, especially at music festivals and parties. 

Acute health effects include:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Panic attacks
  • Faintness
  • Passing out
  • Seizures

Ecstasy is often mixed with other drugs or chemicals before being sold, which increases the chances of adverse health effects and even death.


Known as meth, this potent drug is the second most used illicit stimulant. It is chemically similar to amphetamine. Like crack cocaine, a meth high is strong but short-lived.

Long-term use of methamphetamine causes:

  • Skin sores
  • Dental problems
  • Severe weight loss

Methamphetamine is known to be more addictive than its amphetamine counterparts. This heightens negative health effects.


Like caffeine, nicotine is another widely available stimulant. 

Nicotine is a chemical produced from the nightshade plant family. Common nightshades are tomatoes, potatoes, red peppers, and eggplants. 

However, the tobacco plant is most famous for producing nicotine.

The majority of nicotine users smoke cigarettes. Chewing or snorting tobacco releases more nicotine into the body.

Smokers who try to stop using nicotine experience:

  • Cravings
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Moodiness
  • Depression

Nicotine is so addictive that it is used to help addicts quit smoking through nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges. 

The Dangers of Stimulants

Stimulants account for many of the most commonly abused substances. They all create a euphoric, usually short-lived high. This is why addiction is so prevalent.

Several medical effects are correlated with abused stimulants, such as high blood pressure, irregular or rapid heartbeat, heart damage, or heart failure. 

Psychiatric reactions are also possible. This includes visual hallucinations, persecutory delusions, and acute psychosis. 

The long-term health effects are similar amongst all stimulants. They are:

  • Damage to blood vessels
  • Kidney, liver, and lung damage
  • Strong psychological dependence
  • Brain damage

In addition, withdrawal symptoms from stimulants are often severe. Symptoms may include:

  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Vivid dreams
  • Restlessness
  • Tiredness
  • Slowed thinking and movement

Stimulants become even more dangerous with polydrug use. This is because the effects of one substance can mask the effects of the other substance. Thus, it is difficult to detect an overdose. 

Substance Abuse Assistance

Being familiar with abused stimulants and their effects helps with detecting addiction. Unfortunately, substance abuse is a serious problem for many people. This is nothing to be ashamed of, and help is always available. At Health Life Recovery, help is accessible 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. So don’t wait to get help today.

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