What are Stimulants and their effects

What are Stimulants?

This guide describes the different types of stimulant drugs and the effects, symptoms, and dangers they can cause.

What are Stimulants?

Stimulants are drugs that increase the brain’s activity, nervous system, and body.1 Specifically, stimulants speed up alertness and energy in individuals. They make you feel more powerful, energized, and excited. Many people abuse stimulants due to their invigorating and performance-enhancing effects.

What do Stimulants do?

Stimulants enhance the physical and mental processes in the body, temporarily producing a pleasurable and euphoric effect. Stimulants increase the dopamine levels (a neurotransmitter that communicates with nerve cells) in the brain, making the user feel great pleasure and reward.

When individuals feel good because of stimulant use, it may prompt them to take a high dosage, leading to abuse and further devastating consequences.

Why do People Use Stimulants?

People use stimulants for different reasons. Health professionals may prescribe stimulants for patients with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obesity. The effect of stimulants on managing ADHD symptoms such as impulsive behavior and hyperactivity has been positive, with significant improvement for 70% of adults and 70% – 80% of children.2

On the other hand, some people use stimulants for their intoxicating and heightened pleasurable feeling. Since stimulates cause people to be wide awake and energized, some individuals use them to enhance their reactions.

Types of Stimulants

Prescription Amphetamine

Prescription amphetamines are medications commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, which is a condition that makes people fall asleep uncontrollably. Stimulants’ effects include heightened alertness, energy retention, and concentration.3 The typical prescription amphetamines are Adderall and Ritalin.


Adderall is a prescription drug comprised of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. People with ADHD use Adderall because it enhances their concentration and alertness level. The drug has therapeutic effects on patients and the potential to be highly abused, leading to addiction.


Ritalin is different from Adderall because it is methylphenidate. Ritalin works by inhibiting the reuptake of dopamine and noradrenaline, making the user feel more alert.4 In 1955, Ritalin was approved for the treatment of hyperactive children.5 Ritalin has the exact mechanism as Adderall but with milder effects.

Illegal Amphetamine

Amphetamines are illegal when you use them without a doctor’s prescription to improve performance or stay energized. Street amphetamines can be in different forms,including liquid, powder, pills, and capsules.


Meth is short for methamphetamine, and it is a potent stimulant that affects the central nervous system. The street names for meth are blue, ice, and crystal. Usually, it comes in white and odorless crystal powder. Patients also take it in liquid form since it dissolves quickly in water.6

Meth differs from other stimulants because it has a high potency and a long-term effect on the nervous system, making it more prone to abuse.7


Cocaine is similar to caffeine because it produces an energized effect. Cocaine is highly addictive, but unlike other stimulants, it is expensive, hence its nickname “the rich man’s drug.”

Even though a majority of people are aware of cocaine’s potential addiction, they still use it. The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found about 1.9 million people are current cocaine users. Other effects of cocaine include anxiety, restlessness, excitement, and overconfidence.8

Legal Stimulant


Caffeine is a common legal stimulant. About 90% of the world consumes beverages or meals with caffeine. Caffeine is in coffee, soda, chocolate, and tea. While many people drink coffee in the morning to stay active and awake, others use sodas and carbonated drinks to keep them going in the midday.9

Excess coffee can lead to addiction, and it can sometimes be dangerous to one’s health. For instance, it may lead to mood swings and sleeplessness.10

Is Nicotine a Stimulant?

Nicotine is a stimulant drug that increases the brain’s activity. It is one of the main ingredients in tobacco, cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. The street names for nicotine include darts, ciggies, and fags.

Nicotine causes the body to release adrenaline, leading to feelings of pleasure and contentment. Nicotine can also act as a sedative when taken in excess.

Is Alcohol a Stimulant?

Alcohol is not a stimulant. Many people consume alcohol for its intoxicating effect and temporal feeling of pleasure and energy. Alcohol is a depressant because it disrupts an individual’s mental and physical functioning. The consequences include drowsiness, staggering movement, and slurred speech.

Are Stimulants Addictive?

Long-term use of stimulants may lead to substance use disorder (SUD) which often results in addiction. When individuals use stimulants for a long time, it can make them less susceptible to their effect, leading to higher doses to achieve the desired results.

Abusing Prescription Stimulants

Even when doctors prescribe stimulants, patients may abuse them. Drug abuse happens when individuals use prescription drugs outside of a medical need. One reason for abusing prescription stimulants is to enhance performance in activities such as sports.

Effects of Stimulants

  • Short Term: Short-term effects of stimulants include difficulty sleeping, anxiety, increased heart rate, talkativeness, nervousness, mood swings, and low appetite.
  • Long-term: The long-term effects are usually a progression of short-term effects. For instance, a low appetite may lead to malnutrition, and high blood pressure can damage the heart.

Stimulant Overdose

A stimulant overdose happens when a patient takes more doses of stimulants than necessary. Stimulant overdose may lead to heart attack, difficulty in breathing, suffocation, and brain damage.

Addiction Treatment for Stimulants

Stimulant addiction treatment can sometimes be challenging because it involves the brain changing from its initial chronic state. Individuals feel depressed and may relapse back to substance abuse. Nonetheless, there are proven methods of treatments which include:


Therapies help people understand the underlying cause of their addiction. With therapy, clients can develop feasible ways to cope with their conditions and adjust to their lifestyles. Some therapy types are:


Severe cases of stimulant use disorder can be treated at psychiatry and medical centers. An outreach intervention and community-based dialogue can also help individuals with stimulant addiction who are not ready to recover.11


According to the Harvard Medical School, the following are some of the medications used to mitigate stimulant use disorder:12

Stimulants are drugs that work to boost the brain and body’s function. Their effects include alertness, energy, and pleasurable feelings. Some patients use stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall to treat ADHD, obesity, and narcolepsy, while others use alcohol and meth for their intoxicating and heightened energy effects.

Stimulants’ effects may be mild or severe depending on their use. Thankfully, treatment options such as therapies, community outreach, and medications can alleviate the effect of stimulant addictions.


  1. https://adf.org.au/drug-facts/stimulants/
  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/11766-attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-stimulant-therapy
  3. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants#:~:text=inject%20the%20drug.-,Prescription%20stimulants%20increase%20the%20activity%20of%20the%20brain%20chemicals%20dopamine,%2C%20nerve%2C%20and%20stomach%20problems
  4. https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(11)64618-1/fulltext
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1119521/
  6. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000792.htm
  7. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-methamphetamine#:~:text=Methamphetamine%20is%20a%20powerful%2C%20highly,dissolves%20in%20water%20or%20alcohol
  8. https://drugpolicy.org/drug-facts/cocaine/how-many-people-use-cocaine
  9. https://brandongaille.com/50-dramatic-caffeine-consumption-statistics/#:~:text=90%25%20of%20people%20in%20the,mg%20of%20caffeine%20every%20day
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK209050/
  11. https://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/drug-prevention-and-treatment/publications.html
  12. https://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/Overcoming_cocaine_or_stimulant_addiction

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