Prescription Stimulant Addiction

Stimulants are a Schedule II class of drugs that include Adderall®, Ritalin®, and other prescription medications sometimes used to treat ADHD, Parkinson’s disease, or depression. When problems arise due to prolonged use, many people are left wondering how they can overcome their drug addiction while facing withdrawal symptoms or other maladies.

What Are Prescription Stimulants?

A prescription stimulant is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy—a sleep disorder that causes episodes of sudden deep sleep. These medicines can help patients focus, remain vigilant, and control their behavior. Stimulants may also be used for weight loss or as a preoperative medication.

The most common prescription stimulants are:

  • Dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine®)
  • Methylphenidate (Ritalin®)
  • Dextroamphetamine/amphetamine combination product (Adderall®)

Prescription Stimulant Side Effects

Amphetamines and methylphenidates enhance the brain’s utilization of dopamine and norepinephrine (noradrenaline), usually as a result of the lack thereof. This impacts the brain, body, and behavior.

Their side effects, when misused, are quite similar and can be separated into short-term and long-term effects. Let’s take a look.

Short-Term Effects

The short-term side effects of prescription stimulant use may include:

  • Sleep disruptions
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Height and weight growth restriction
  • Anxiety
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate
  • Erratic, violent behavior
  • Panic and psychosis
  • Seizures, convulsion, or death if taken in high doses

Long-Term Effects

Long-term prescription stimulant use, when not taken as directed, can have several adverse health effects.

Adverse health effects include:

  • Permanent cardiovascular damage (heart, blood vessels in the brain)
  • High blood pressure, which can cause stroke, heart attack, or death
  • Respiratory problems (if smoking the drug)
  • Damaged nose tissue (if snorting the drug)
  • Weight loss
  • Brain damage
  • Psychosis
  • Exhaustion
  • Strong addiction

Prescription Stimulant Addiction and Abuse

Abuse of prescription stimulants is widespread and on the rise, not only in the United States but also in Canada, Australia, and Europe. The International Narcotics Control Board has declared that prescription drugs are the second most abused and trafficked type of drug in the world.

In 2015, there were 4.8 million nonmedical users of prescription stimulants in the United States. Unfortunately, addiction to these drugs is common due to the highly amplified effects stimulants have on the brain. These stimulants are highly addictive because they target the same pleasure centers in the brain as other “uppers” like cocaine and methamphetamine (crystal meth).

“Prescription drugs can be lifesaving, but when abused, [prescription drugs] can be as life-threatening as illicit drugs.”

—Nora Volkow, MD, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Signs You’re Addicted to Prescription Stimulants

Even though stimulants are prescribed for legitimate medical purposes, they can still be misused or abused. Stimulant abuse has become increasingly common among people who take them for nonmedical purposes to boost attention or energy and therefore can lead to addiction.

If you are using Adderall (or another prescription stimulant) on a fairly regular basis, several signs might indicate that you are addicted.

These signs of addiction might include:

  • Seeking prescriptions from different doctors
  • Major increase or decrease in sleep
  • Taking higher doses than prescribed
  • Using the drugs without a prescription
  • “Losing” prescriptions to get refills
  • Poor decision making
  • Appearing energetic
  • Stealing or forging prescriptions

Speak to a medical professional if you feel you’re addicted to stimulant prescriptions.

Prescription Stimulant Overdose

Prescription stimulant overdose is a dangerous condition that can occur when a person uses too much of this medicine or accidentally takes another drug that interacts with the medicine. More common in teenagers and young adults, an overdose can result in a negative reaction or even death.

When people overdose on stimulants they experience symptoms such as:

  • Irregular heartbeat which might lead to a heart attack
  • Stomach issues like abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and nausea
  • Nerve problems which might result in a seizure
  • Very high or very low blood pressure
  • Dilated pupils which react slowly to light
  • Increased body temperature

Can Prescription Stimulant Overdose Be Treated?

If you think someone is suffering from a prescription stimulant overdose, the first step should be to call 911. While waiting for the medics, you can do basic stimulant overdose treatment to help maintain the condition.

  • If the person has hyperthermia try cooling them down. A cold bath or ice cubes might help
  • Keep the person hydrated
  • Try to de-escalate any aggressive behavior
  • Speak in a calm, reassuring voice to prevent panic
  • Give the person as much space as they need but keep an eye on them until the ambulance arrives

Prescription Stimulant Addiction Treatment

Prescription Stimulant Addiction can be a difficult addiction to quit, but there are many treatment options available to help you or a loved one overcome the addiction and learn how to live a healthy, sober life.

“Far too often, shame and stigma fuel addiction and prevent treatment, but replacing judgment with compassion can save lives.”

—Nora Volkow, MD, Director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Prescription Stimulant Withdrawal

The mind and body go through many different changes during prescription stimulant withdrawal. This is why it’s essential to understand the specific withdrawal symptoms, as well as how long it may take for your body and mind to calm down again.

Some people have reported not experiencing some or many of the symptoms, while others have reported experiencing nearly all of them. These symptoms include:

  • Exhaustion and depression
  • Psychomotor agitation or retardation
  • Scary or weird dreams
  • Insomnia or sleeping excessively
  • Increased appetite
  • Impaired memory
  • Craving for the drug
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Dulled senses
  • Body aches

If you have a history of depression, you can experience severe depression during stimulant withdrawal. People with mental health concerns are also more likely to develop severe withdrawal symptoms which is why medical detox is strongly recommended when trying to cease the use of prescription stimulants.

Prescription Stimulant Detoxification

Medical Detox is the first step in the recovery process, but it should never be attempted without help.

Depending on the extent of use, detox should be done in a facility where the individual is monitored and cared for until they are no longer feeling any effects of withdrawal, and then they can begin rehabilitation treatment.

Prescription Stimulant Treatment Programs

There are numerous prescription drug treatment centers available to help you overcome prescription drug addiction. Therapy within a rehab center will help alleviate the unpleasant symptoms of discontinuing your use. Additionally, you will get to know the circumstances that led to your addiction and take steps to prevent relapse.

Some of the prescription stimulant treatment programs you can expect include:

Inpatient Rehab Program

An inpatient treatment program is best for individuals who need intense support while stopping the abuse of prescription stimulants.

Patients who enter an inpatient rehab facility seeking help for an addiction to prescription stimulants receive the medical, psychiatric, and counseling services that they need to get sober.

Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP)

Partial hospitalization is a therapeutic program that provides a bridge between inpatient and outpatient treatment.

PHP allows clients to have a better understanding of their illness while developing the skills necessary to help their recovery process. It offers a flexible schedule allowing clients to continue with family and work obligations.

Intensive Outpatient Program

The Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP) provides a structured schedule of 3-4 hours per day, 5 days a week in a group format. IOP is for patients needing a combination of group counseling sessions and individual therapy, who have already shown significant progress in treatment.

The Matrix Model

The Matrix Model for treating addiction to prescription stimulants is a dialectical behavioral treatment that uses group cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) between patients and their peers to achieve abstinence.

The treatment uses a 12-step recovery model to help people reduce their use of stimulants over time through the process of recovery and self-help group participation.

Prescription Stimulant Addiction Statistics

The National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports the following data regarding prescription stimulant use:

  • Among the stimulants most abused for self-medication, Adderall has the highest rate of usage at 75.8%.
  • Approximately 6.6% (or 16 million) of U.S. adults used prescription stimulants in the preceding year
  • Of those who reported prescription stimulant use, 2.1% (or 5 million) misused prescription stimulants at least once and 0.2% (or nearly half a million) had developed prescription stimulant use disorders

It’s Not Too Late For You or Your Loved One

With prescription stimulant use on the rise, it can feel like a hopeless uphill battle—but recovery is not only within reach, it is highly possible.

Prescription Stimulant Addiction FAQ

Can I get addicted to prescription stimulant drugs?

Yes. You can get addicted to stimulant drugs like Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, Vyvanse, and others. Even if you feel like you will never misuse your prescription stimulants, they are still addictive drugs with the potential to cause dependence. They act on the same part of the brain as alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive drugs.

Can I avoid the side effects and risk factors of prescription stimulants?

No. Prescription stimulants pose a risk to patients who take them. Anyone abusing prescription stimulants is at risk of an overdose and can become addicted to or dependent on the drug.

I think I have ADHD; can I start taking prescription stimulants?

Prescription stimulants can be habit-forming and should only be used under a doctor’s supervision. They may cause serious side effects like heart problems, emotional changes, mental or mood problems, speech problems (e.g., slowed speech), sleep problems (e.g., insomnia), or addiction.

Written by:

Content Manager

Jessica Miller is a USF graduate with a Bachelor’s Degree in English. She has written professionally for over a decade, from HR scripts and employee training to business marketing and company branding. In addition to writing, Jessica spent time in the healthcare sector (HR) and as a high school teacher. She has personally experienced the pitfalls of addiction and is delighted to bring her knowledge and writing skills together to support our mission. Jessica lives in St. Petersburg, FL with her husband and two dogs.

7 references
  1. NIDA. 2018, June 6. Prescription Stimulants DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants on November 15, 2021 NIDA. 2019, January 17. Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction on 2021, November 15 NIDA. 2021, July 16. Prescription Stimulant Medications (Amphetamines). Retrieved from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-stimulant-medications-amphetamines on 2021, November 15 NIDA. 2018, April 16. Five million American adults misusing prescription stimulants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2018/04/five-million-american-adults-misusing-prescription-stimulants on 2021, November 15
  2. NIDA. 2019, January 17. Treatment Approaches for Drug Addiction DrugFacts. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/treatment-approaches-drug-addiction on November 15, 2021
  3. NIDA. 2021, July 16. Prescription Stimulant Medications (Amphetamines). Retrieved from https://teens.drugabuse.gov/drug-facts/prescription-stimulant-medications-amphetamines on 2021, November 15
  4. NIDA. 2018, April 16. Five million American adults misusing prescription stimulants. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/news-releases/2018/04/five-million-american-adults-misusing-prescription-stimulants on 2021, November 15
  5. Find help: Atod. SAMHSA. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2021, from http://www.samhsa.gov/atod/stimulants.
  6. Treatment, C. for S. A. (1999, January 1). Chapter 2-how stimulants affect the brain and behavior. Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64328/.
  7. Encyclopedia.com. (2021, November 8). Encyclopedia of Food and Culture. . encyclopedia.com. 25 Oct. 2021 . Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved November 8, 2021, from https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/drugs/pharmacology/stimulant.

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