Common signs of Stimulant Abuse

Common signs of Stimulant Abuse


Stimulants are a class of drugs that stimulate the central nervous system (CNS). They are sometimes referred to as ‘uppers’ as they increase alertness and energize the body. Stimulants include both prescription medicines and illicit controlled substances.

Stimulants are used primarily for recreation and enhancing performance primarily among students and athletes. Read on to learn more about different stimulation substances and some of the tell-tale signs of abuse.

Table Of Contents:


Stimulation substances & signs of stimulation abuse

Stimulants may be taken orally, injected, or snorted. Some of the common stimulants include caffeine, nicotine, amphetamine, methamphetamine (ice), and cocaine.

Long-term use and a heavy dose of stimulants can have adverse effects and lead to substance use disorders in the form of anxiety, nausea, depression, aggressiveness, hypertension, cardiovascular complications, insomnia, including stunted growth in children and teens.


Cocaine is a highly addictive drug that comes in the form of a white powder. Crack cocaine or ‘crack’ is a crystallized form of cocaine used as a stimulant. Cocaine works in the body by blocking the dopamine transporter protein, which results in increased dopamine levels.  This increase in dopamine, in turn, boosts mood, attention, and memory.

Cocaine is highly addictive and quickly translates into long-term use.  The abuse of cocaine can increase the risk of adverse effects such as strokes and myocardial infractions. Signs of cocaine use include:

  • Excitability
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Runny Nose
  • Weight loss
  • Nosebleeds


Amphetamine stimulates the central nervous system by inducing the production of catecholamines such as norepinephrine and dopamine. Catecholamines are associated with increased energy levels, euphoria, increased libido, and higher cognitive function.

Prescription amphetamines like Adderall and Dexedrine, along with illicit amphetamines like methamphetamine and ecstasy, are highly addictive and pose severe risks such as strokes and cardiovascular complications, insomnia, depression, mood swings, and fatigue. Some of the signs of amphetamine abuse include:

  • Visible, auditory, and tactile hallucinations
  • Paranoia and anxiety
  • Decrease appetite and weight loss
  • Skin sores
  • Aggression


In 2018, an estimated 47 million people aged 12 or older were past-month smokers, including 27.3 million daily smokers and 10.8 million daily smokers who smoked approximately a pack or more of cigarettes per day.

Nicotine is a highly addictive substance found in tobacco. Nicotine acts on the nicotine cholinergic receptors in the brain, triggering the release of psychoactive effects that are pleasing and rewarding. The effects are temporary and produce withdrawal symptoms that cause anxiety and stress, which build up the urge to smoke again. Nicotine abuse signs include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Irritability and frustration
  • Craving for more tobacco despite the health risks
  • Trouble sleeping


Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system by inducing adenosine receptors, which leads to increased energy levels, metabolism, and concentration. Like other drugs or substances, people can quickly develop a dependence on caffeine, requiring them to drink more and more to increase alertness.

While caffeine is a relatively safe stimulant, prolonged use of caffeine can lead to withdrawal fits, especially after abruptly quitting caffeine. Some of the common signs of caffeine abuse are:

  • Headache and irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty concentrating and low energy
  • Tremors

Why Overweight or Obese individuals may choose to abuse a stimulant?

Obesity is a major health concern in the United States, resulting in type 2 diabetes, stroke, coronary artery disease, and various forms of cancer. According to the National Health and Nutrition

Examination Survey, more than 2 in 3 adults were considered to be overweight or have obesity. This has led to a dramatic increase in weight loss prescription drugs, also known as diet pills, to treat obesity.

Many of these diet pills are amphetamine substances that act as appetite suppressants and designated Schedule III or IV under the Controlled Substance Act with the potential for abuse.

The use of diet pills in ways other than prescribed by your healthcare provider can put you at high risk of addiction, tissue damage, and cardiovascular complications. Some of the signs of diet pill abuse include:

  • Insomnia
  • Dizziness and hallucinations
  • Chest pain
  • Rash and itching
  • Swelling of legs and ankles

Beyond Stimulants

In 2018, approximately 20.3 million people aged between 12 or older in the United States had a substance use disorder related to their alcohol or illicit drugs in the past year.

Prescription drugs were the second most common form of illicit drug use, with 3.6% of the total population abusing or misusing prescribed medicines.

A combined approach involving primary care physicians, healthcare workers, and pharmaceutical service providers in educating users about the effects and repercussions of stimulant use can go a long way.

It has been found that layers of childhood trauma, construction, and suppressed emotion are at the root of substance abuse and addiction. Healing and cure from addiction can begin with something as basic as connecting to one’s body, your loved ones and community, and appreciating nature.

Today, if you are struggling through substance abuse and addiction and seeking recovery, there are different therapy programs that provide practical tools and frameworks to help you get past the problem.

In addition, online resources and testimonials of successful people about their own recovery journey battling abuse can be important baby steps towards healing and well being.

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