Prescription drug abuse is especially prevalent among teenagers, women and elderly people. Factors such as easy availability, absence of legal barriers and ease with which they can be prescribed by different doctors have played a major role in increasing prescription drug abuse. While pain relievers are believed to be the most widely abused prescription drugs, reports have suggested rampant abuse of stimulants as well.
According to a 2014 study, “Under Pressure: College Students and the Abuse of Rx Stimulants,” by Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, “1 in 5 college students (20 percent) report abusing prescription stimulants at least once in their lifetime, compared to 1 in 7 non-students (15 percent).” The report further suggested that young adults primarily abuse stimulants to meet the demands of academics, work and social pressure.
Stimulants are primarily prescribed to children, adolescents or adults suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People living with ADHD often face difficulty in paying attention and are hyperactive or impulsive as compared to other people of their age. The average age of onset of ADHD symptoms is seven years. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 11 percent of people in the ages 4–17 years were diagnosed with ADHD in 2011. While the disorder can be cured with age and proper medication, it can persist into adulthood if left untreated.
Stimulants are a type of medication that acts upon the nervous system to improve alertness and cognitive function. Besides, stimulants also work to increase the dopamine level in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, movement and attention. Therefore, intake of stimulants also gives a feeling of pleasure and calmness. The commonly prescribed medicines to ADHD patients are amphetamines (e.g., Adderall) and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin and Concerta).
Apart from prescribed medicines, illicit drugs such as cocaine, crack and crystal meth are popular. The effects of these drugs are similar to that of stimulants, only they create a shorter and more intense high. While cocaine apart from inducing a generalized state of euphoria makes a person energetic, confident and alert, use of meth apart from increased alertness and energy, decreases food intake and sleep.
Harmful effects of stimulant abuse
As stated, stimulants increase the level of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is naturally produced in the brain. However, due to stimulant abuse, the brain starts associating dopamine production with the intake of stimulants. The excessive use of stimulants makes the brain dependent on the substance for producing dopamine.
Stimulants are often abused by teenagers to stay alertness and enhance their learning capabilities. Many also abuse stimulants to reduce weight or improve their performance, as stimulants are known to suppress appetite, cause wakefulness, and increase focus and attention. However, many misuse stimulants for recreational purposes such as to get high as they produce a euphoric effect when crushed, snorted or injected after mixing with water.
However, an overdose of stimulants is known to cause adverse effects such as an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. A very high dose can also lead to serious cardiovascular complications resulting in a stroke. The associated loss of appetite and sleep can lead to malnutrition and insomnia. In many, the insoluble fillers in the tablets cause blockage in blood vessels.
Road to recovery
Excessive or repetitive intake of stimulants causes addiction, due to the dependence of the brain on the substance for release of dopamine. In such cases, sudden withdrawal can cause symptoms like fatigue, depression and disturbed sleep patterns.
Stimulants are the second most commonly abused prescription drug, after opioids. In order to spread awareness about the rise and cause of prescription drug abuse, National Council on Patient Information and Education (NCPIE) observes the month of October as the “Talk About Your Medicines Month” to promote safe and appropriate medication.
If you or your loved one is addicted to stimulants or any prescription drug and is looking for treatment, you may contact the Prescription Drug Abuse Helpline of California for information about various prescription drug rehabs in California. You may call us at our 24/7 helpline number 855-738-2770 or chat online for further information on prescription drug addiction treatment in California. Our representatives will guide you through the best rehab centers in California.
Read the other articles of the series “Talk About Your Medicines Month”: