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Stimulant Drug Abuse: Side Effects and Addiction Treatment

Stimulants—both illicit and prescription—are known to increase energy and alertness. Prescription stimulants can offer therapeutic benefits when used as prescribed. However, both prescription and illicit stimulants have a high propensity for misuse, which can lead to serious potential health effects and/or a substance use disorder (SUD).
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What Is a Stimulant?

Stimulants are a class of drugs that increase certain types of central nervous system activity and can include prescription medications or illicit substances.1,2 Taken as prescribed, prescription stimulants can offer therapeutic benefits to people with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.2

Common prescription stimulants include:1,2

Common illicit stimulants include methamphetamine and cocaine.1

Unfortunately, many illicit and prescription stimulants are prone to misuse and are highly addictive, due in part to the rush of euphoria and exhilaration they often provide.7,8

In addition to other pharmacological effects, this rewarding stimulant rush is caused by an increase in levels of certain brain chemicals, including dopamine and norepinephrine.9 Dopamine plays a role in reinforcing pleasurable behaviors within the reward circuitry of the brain.2 Norepinephrine is involved with many of the physical effects of stimulants, such as changes in blood pressure, heart rate, body temperature, and respiratory rate.2,11

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