Drug and Alcohol

Stimulants: A Comprehensive Overview of Stimulant Drugs & Their Effects

What are stimulants? This blog takes a close look at this huge family of drugs, from legal stimulants to illicit stimulants like meth and cocaine.

Stimulants: Your Guide to Stimulant Drugs Like Meth, Cocaine, & More

Table of contents

Written by

Brian MooreBrian Moore

Content Writer

Reviewed by

Jeremy ArztJeremy Arzt

Chief Clinical Officer

July 26, 2023

The Forge Recovery Center

Stimulants are a class of drugs that increase alertness, attention, and energy. They can also improve concentration and performance on certain tasks. Stimulants have been used medicinally for centuries to treat conditions like narcolepsy and ADHD, but they have become increasingly popular for recreational use in recent years as well.

In addition to prescription stimulants, there are also several other substances that can have stimulating effects, such as caffeine and nicotine. Caffeine is found in many beverages like coffee and tea, as well as in energy drinks. It works by blocking the action of adenosine, a neurotransmitter that makes us feel sleepy. Nicotine is found in tobacco products and has similar effects to caffeine but with more dangerous side effects like addiction and increased risk of cancer.

Finally, there are illegal stimulants. These drugs, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, are highly addictive and can have serious side effects. They should never be used recreationally as they are extremely dangerous.

Stats About Stimulants:

According to the NSDUH, in 2020, 1.8 percent (or 5.1 million) of people aged 12 and up abused prescription stimulants in the previous year.

What are Stimulants?

Stimulants are psychoactive stimulants that cause the central nervous system to become more alert, attentive, and physically active. They work by increasing the activity of specific neurotransmitters in the brain—most notably dopamine, norepinephrine, and, to some degree, serotonin.

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that regulates movement, motivation, cognition, and reward & pleasure pathways in the brain. In addition, norepinephrine is involved in the stress reaction and alertness of the individual. Stimulants enhance the availability of these neurotransmitters in the synaptic cleft by increasing their release and blocking their absorption, resulting in increased brain activity.

What Kinds of Stimulants Are There?

Stimulants can take many different forms, including prescription pharmaceuticals, caffeine supplements, and illicit drugs like cocaine and meth. Prescription stimulants are often used to treat medical problems such as ADHD, narcolepsy, and, in rare cases, depression.

Among the most commonly prescribed stimulants are Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse. When used as directed, these drugs can help people improve their attention, concentration, and impulse control.

Illicit stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine are frequently abused because of their euphoric effects. They can provide sensations of extreme pleasure, enhanced energy, confidence, and sociability. However, recreational stimulant use may be highly addictive and associated with various health hazards. 

Prolonged abuse can result in cardiovascular difficulties, anxiety, paranoia, psychosis, sleep abnormalities, and various psychological and mental health issues.

What are the Most Common Stimulants?

The most commonly prescribed stimulants are amphetamines, methylphenidate, and modafinil. Amphetamines, such as Adderall and Vyvanse, are used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. These drugs work by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) is also used to treat ADHD and works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine. Modafinil is used to treat narcolepsy and works by increasing activity in certain areas of the brain.

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What are the Effects of Stimulants?

Short-term side effects of stimulants include increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, insomnia, headaches, anxiety, restlessness, and irritability. Long-term use can lead to dependence and addiction, as well as a decrease in appetite and weight loss. Stimulants should always be taken under the guidance of a doctor to minimize the risk of negative side effects.

Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse

A range of physical, psychological, & behavioral disorders can result from stimulant usage. Specific symptoms may differ based on the stimulant taken and the individual's reaction to the substance.

Here are some of the most prevalent stimulant-related symptoms:

  • High levels of energy and focus

  • Euphoria

  • Confidence

  • High heart rate and blood pressure

  • Irregular heartbeats

  • Sleep problems

  • Appetite and weight changes

  • Dilated pupils

  • Teeth grinding

  • Anxiety

  • Behavioral issues, including violence and aggression

  • Nosebleeds from snorting

What are the Signs of Stimulant Addiction?

Stimulant addiction is when a person gets reliant on stimulant substances and struggles to control their use. Amphetamines, methamphetamine, and cocaine are examples of stimulants.

The following are some indications and symptoms of amphetamine addiction:

Increased Tolerance

The requirement for greater doses of stimulant drugs to get the intended effect increases with regular usage. 

Withdrawal Symptoms

When trying to stop or reduce usage, individuals may experience withdrawal symptoms, such as exhaustion, sadness, irritability, anxiety, and severe cravings. It also includes disrupted sleep patterns, increased hunger, and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.

Loss of Control

Substance addiction can cause difficulty regulating or restricting the quantity of stimulant substance used, using excessive time and effort getting or using the drug and failing to quit or reduce the amount used.

Neglecting Responsibilities

Ignoring or forgoing significant obligations in one's personal, academic, or professional life because consuming stimulants or their effects takes up too much time.

Physical and Psychological Health Issues

Stimulant usage can cause various physical health problems. Including fast heart rate, high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, weight loss, and lack of appetite. Also, including sleeplessness and respiratory difficulties. Addiction can result in anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, mood swings, and even psychosis.

Social Isolation

Abstinence from social activities, hobbies, or formerly appreciated relationships due to increased concentration on obtaining and using stimulant medications.

Financial Difficulties

Financial difficulties result from spending a substantial amount of money on purchasing stimulant medications.

Risky Behavior

Engaging in dangerous behaviors such as driving under the influence, unsafe sexual practices, or illegal drug-acquiring activities.

Relationship Problems

Tense relationships with family, friends, or love partners due to stimulant addiction's consequences, such as lying, stealing, or being emotionally distant.

Loss of Interest

Addiction can lead to a loss of interest in formerly fun or rewarding activities, except when stimulants are used.

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Types of Stimulants

Stimulants are a drug that boosts alertness, attentiveness, and energy. They typically increase the speed of the brain and bodily functioning. Here are some stimulants examples:


This category includes drugs such as amphetamine (Adderall), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), and methamphetamine (meth). They promote alertness and attention by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy are common conditions for which amphetamines are recommended.


Cocaine is a potent stimulant produced by the coca plant. It causes a brief period of solid pleasure by boosting dopamine levels in the brain. Cocaine is commonly snorted but can also be injected or smoked.


Brand names for methylphenidate include Ritalin, Concerta, and Focalin. It is used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD. Methylphenidate improves attention and reduces hyperactivity by increasing dopamine and norepinephrine activity in the brain.


Modafinil is a wakefulness-inducing medication for narcolepsy, sleep apnea, and shift work sleep disorder. It improves alertness and cognitive performance without producing the strong euphoria that other stimulants provide.

MDMA (Ecstasy) 

MDMA is a stimulant and hallucinogen that causes energetic effects and also changes perception. Because of its euphoric and empathogenic properties, it is usually linked with recreational usage in social situations.


Nicotine is a naturally occurring stimulant present in cigarette products. It causes the release of dopamine and norepinephrine, resulting in a brief feeling of relaxation and enhanced attention. It is, however, quite addicting.


Caffeine is the world's most commonly ingested psychoactive drug. It can be present in coffee, tea, energy drinks, and several drugs. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, lowering weariness and improving attentiveness briefly.

Natural Stimulants vs. Natural Appetite Stimulants

Natural stimulants are drugs that improve energy levels, alertness, or cognitive performance. They can provide you with more energy and mental focus. Caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and some essential oils are some natural stimulant examples.

Natural appetite stimulants are mainly designed to increase appetite and promote a healthy urge to eat. These medications may be effective for those who have a decreased appetite due to various circumstances. Ginger, fennel, citrus fruits, gentian, cardamom, peppermint, rosemary, basil, bitter greens, and exercise are all-natural appetite enhancers.

While certain drugs may fall into both categories (for example, coffee may work as both a natural stimulant and a modest appetite stimulant), the main distinction is in their primary aim. Natural stimulants strive to increase appetite and encourage a healthy hunger response. In contrast, natural appetite stimulants aim to enhance appetite and promote a healthy hunger response.

Legal Stimulants

These include caffeine, nicotine, and prescription stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. Also, over-the-counter stimulants and drugs like are examples of legal stimulants. Although it has stimulant properties, nicotine also has addiction potential and health hazards related to cigarette use.

When recommended by a medical expert for disorders like ADHD and narcolepsy, prescription stimulants can be very effective.

Decongestants and weight reduction pills, available over the counter, may include stimulant components.

Modafinil and armodafinil are two drugs that are administered to promote alertness.

Using legal stimulants responsibly and according to suggested standards are essential. If necessary, get advice from a medical expert.

Stimulants for ADHD

Stimulant medications are widely used as a treatment for people with ADHD. They can increase focus, attention, and impulse control. Examples of ADHD stimulant medicines are provided below:

  • Methylphenidate: The formulations of this drug range from immediate-release (Ritalin) to extended-release (Concerta). It functions by raising dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the brain, which enhances focus and lessens hyperactivity.

  • Amphetamine-based medications: These include drugs like Dexedrine and Adderall. Additionally, they raise dopamine and norepinephrine levels to enhance focus and restraint.

  • Lisdexamfetamine: Marketed under the trade name Vyvanse, it is a prodrug that the body transforms into dextroamphetamine. It has a longer duration of action and enhances executive function and concentration.

  • Dexmethylphenidate: Dexmethylphenidate, sold under the brand name Focalin, is a stronger variety of methylphenidate. It comes in formulations for both immediate and delayed release.

Risks and Effects of Stimulants Usage

Stimulant drugs have risks and effects that include:

  • Dependence and addiction result in drug use disorders

  • Difficulties with the heart and blood vessels. For example, an elevated heart rate, high blood pressure, and abnormal cardiac rhythms

  • Effects on mental health, including psychosis, mood problems, and anxiety

  • Physical health concerns include being underweight, malnutrition, tooth problems, and breathing difficulties

  • Impaired memory, decision-making, and cognitive function

  • Disruptions in sleep and insomnia

  • Repercussions on the behavioral and emotional levels, such as impulsivity, strained relationships, legal problems, and financial challenges

  • Overdose risk, which poses a serious hazard to life

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Are Stimulants Addictive?

Yes, stimulants can be addictive. When stimulant drugs, both prescribed and illegal, are abused or taken in excessive dosages, they can develop into addiction and dependency. Long-term or recreational stimulant usage is connected with an increased risk of addiction.

Stimulants boost the release of specific neurotransmitters in the brain. While inhibiting their reuptake, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, resulting in increased energy, exhilaration, and a sense of well-being. However, chronic usage might lead to tolerance, in which greater dosages are necessary for the same results.

When someone becomes addicted to stimulants, they may develop tremendous desires for the substance and prioritize its usage above other elements of their life. These substances may also have withdrawal symptoms if tried to discontinue or reduce their use. Fatigue, sadness, irritability, increased hunger, and sleep difficulties are typical withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment for Stimulant Addiction: How is Stimulant Abuse Treated?

The first step in treating stimulant abuse is to seek professional help. Treatment can include counseling, lifestyle changes, medications, and support groups. Medications used to treat addiction to stimulants such as cocaine or methamphetamine are generally not recommended for those with ADHD or narcolepsy because of the risk of developing an addiction.

Inpatient programs may be necessary for those who are struggling with severe addiction. These programs provide intensive care and treatment from medical professionals in a safe, secure environment. Outpatient programs may also be beneficial for those who have milder forms of addiction.

It is important to remember that recovery takes time, and it is not something that will happen overnight. It is important to stay motivated and supportive throughout the process and to remember that recovery is possible. Stimulant addiction can be complex, but with the right treatment, it can be successfully managed.

With the help of a medical professional and support from family and friends, those struggling with stimulant abuse can make progress toward a healthier life.

Stimulant Abuse Can Be Deadly. The Forge Recovery Center Will Help

Don’t try to recover from stimulant abuse on your own. With The Forge Recovery Center, you’ll have access to an experienced, professional, and compassionate team ready to help you leave stimulants behind. Guided by a trauma-informed philosophy, our treatment center is the ideal place to recover from stimulant addiction.

Making use of proven, evidence-based techniques, we’ll help you free yourself from stimulant abuse and achieve the life you truly deserve. With us, you’ll learn healthy coping mechanisms, develop a successful, healthy support system, and learn that you don’t need stimulants to live a happy, healthy life.

If you’d like to learn more about our proven, successful stimulant addiction programs, reach out to The Forge Recovery Center today.

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