Stimulant Use Disorder is a disease.
Stimulants work by acting on the central nervous system to increase alertness and cognitive function. However, stimulants can also cause severe negative effects and addiction. The effects of stimulants include:
- Decreased appetite
- Increased concentration
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased pulse and blood pressure
Stimulants produce an overabundance of dopamine, the pleasure-inducing chemical in the brain. After continued abuse of stimulants, the brain no longer produces normal amounts of dopamine, as it has been conditioned to receive it from taking the drug. When an individual stops taking the stimulant, they experience withdrawal symptoms. These prolonged withdrawal symptoms create a dependency on the drug which can develop into an addiction. The signs of addiction include:
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Excessive sweating
- Mood swings
- Using prescriptions more than prescribed
- Aggressive behavior
- Rapid heartbeat
- Elevated blood pressure
- Anxiety or nervousness
The Dangers of Stimulant Misuse
Abuse of all types of stimulants can lead to negative consequences. The most obvious danger of abusing stimulants is their addictive quality. However, there are also consequences that can affect a person’s health in both the short- and long-term.
In the short-term stimulants put individuals who abuse them at risk of cardiac arrest, stroke, cardiac arrhythmia, and other consequences. Abusing stimulants to enhance athletic performance is particularly dangerous because stimulants increase blood pressure. Long-term use of stimulants, even as prescribed by a doctor, can cause a person to develop a tolerance, which means that the individual needs higher or more frequent doses of stimulants to get the desired effects. An addiction will develop when continued use of the stimulant occurs, which can cause life-threatening health problems and negatively influence an individual’s ability to meet responsibilities at work, school, or home.
What is Stimulant Use Disorder?
Stimulant Use Disorder is recognized as a pattern of stimulant use leading to clinically significant impairment or distress.
For someone to be considered addicted to stimulants, he or she must meet at least two of 11 criteria within a 12-month period.
- Taking more stimulants than intended
- Failing to cut down or control use of stimulants, despite wanting to do so
- Spending excessive amounts of time in activities surrounding stimulant use
- Experiencing urges and cravings for stimulants
- Failing to meet the obligations of home, school, or work
- Continuing to take stimulants, even if it has led to relationship or social problems
- Giving up or reducing important recreational, social, or work-related activities because of stimulant use
- Using stimulants in situations in which it is physically hazardous
- Continuing to use stimulants even if there is an awareness that it is causing or worsening a physical or psychological problem
- Experiencing an increase in tolerance to stimulants
- Having withdrawal symptoms when not taken
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the number of people using stimulants for the first time has significantly increased since 2015. In 2018, 5.5 million people in the United States aged 12 or older used cocaine within the past year and 1.9 million people aged 12 or older used meth in the past year. In 2018, nearly 30,000 Americans died due to a stimulant overdose-related death.