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How to Treat Stimulant Addiction

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The stimulants are a broad class of substances that affect the nervous system in a way that leads to increased activity across a number of mental and physical processes—serving, in varying degrees, to boost energy and attention but also capable of impacting our cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The stimulant category encompasses drugs that are encountered both predominantly illicitly (e.g., cocaine, crystal meth) as well as legally, in the case of those prescribed by a medical provider (e.g., Adderall) 1,2,3.

During a 2014 survey, 3.1 million people in the U.S. admitted to using stimulants within the last month 1. With so many people abusing stimulants of all kinds, you may indeed know or love someone who’s abusing one of these drugs. Understanding the best ways to help a stimulant addict can ensure you approach the situation as effectively as possible.

How to Approach a Stimulant Addict

If you suspect that a loved one is abusing a stimulant substance, you should proceed with caution. Approaching the situation without adequately preparing yourself may harm, rather than help, the situation (and your relationship). Rather than reacting too hastily, consider a thought-out plan and make sure you understand how someone suffering from a stimulant addiction may react to your attempts to reach out.

Someone that is abusing a substance or addicted to it will likely resist your attempts to point out the problem or change their behaviors. Drug abuse can, in some cases, change the brain of the user in ways that may diminish self-control and judgment, which makes your task more complex 4. Approach your loved one with care.

All too often, conversations about getting help become arguments, as loved ones of addicted people have often long been frustrated by the inability of their loved one to stop and feel that they are choosing the drug over them. However, even if you are upset and frustrated, approaching your loved one while overwhelmed with these emotions can derail your attempts to help. Rather, try to approach your loved one as calmly as possible, reserving judgment. Also, try approaching them during periods of sobriety.

During your conversation 4,5:

Woman contemplates starting an intervention with her friend about stimulant addiction
  • Provide your love, support, understanding, and patience. If you speak when emotions are high, your message will be lost and your loved one will only absorb your anger or sadness.
  • Ask many questions. People become defensive when told what to do. Instead, use questions to gain information about your loved one’s stance and views on their stimulant use.
  • Focus on the positives. Speaking too much about drug use turns any situation negative. By finding ways to emphasize positive traits and abilities of your loved one, you can encourage them to see more than drug use in their future.
  • Stay consistent. Decide on a stance early and behave accordingly. For example, if you are outlining consequences for drug use, be prepared to follow through with them.


People that feel overwhelmed during this process may consider seeking help for themselves through programs like CRAFT. Community reinforcement and family training helps concerned significant others (CSOs) of substance-abusing individuals and gives them tools and coping strategies to maintain a strong relationship with their loved one while encouraging the person towards formalized treatment 6.

CRAFT teaches 6:

  • The benefits of exploring past patterns.
  • The ways to recognize drug-using behaviors.
  • Which behaviors to reward and which to extinguish.
  • Effective communication skills.
  • When to allow natural consequences without intervening.

During these sessions, CRAFT stresses the importance of self-care for the CSO. If you become overburdened, you cannot help your loved one 6.

CRAFT is focused on getting your loved one to seek treatment. This stands in contrast to another approach: the intervention. During an intervention, a group of people that care about the stimulant user compel him or her towards treatment through peer pressure and the threat of negative consequences. Interventions are commonly thought of as the only way to get an addicted individual into treatment; however, there are other options (such as CRAFT) and, in fact, there is little-studied evidence of the efficacy of confrontational interventions like those commonly seen on TV 4.

Stimulant Addiction Treatment

Doctor explains to patient stimulant addiction treatment options

Treatment for an addiction to stimulants will be guided by:

If the person is currently intoxicated, medical treatment can be helpful to 3:

  • Observe the individual and monitor their vital signs.
  • Maintain a safe setting that limits potentially negative interactions with the outside environment.
  • Prescribe medications to manage the acute withdrawal syndrome.

If use has already ended, withdrawal symptoms should be monitored. Although these are not typically dangerous, your loved one may experience high levels of depression with suicidal ideation or thoughts of violence against others. These symptoms may last for a few hours or longer depending on the exact stimulant(s) being chronically abused 3.

Treatment for stimulant addiction can take place in a number of different settings based on the individual’s symptoms, risks, and support system. Treatment settings include 7:

  • Inpatient—A highly structured environment that often provides full access to medical services (inpatient treatment in a hospital setting, for example).
  • Residential—A long-term treatment where the person lives for several months while working intensely on recovery from stimulants.
  • Outpatient—A less restrictive and often cheaper option that allows the person to remain in their home and attend treatment during the week.

Whatever the setting, the various recovery programs will apply similar treatment methods and therapeutic styles including 7:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy—Will aid in identifying and avoiding problematic situations.
  • Motivational interviewing—Works to increase the person’s desire to commit to and engage in treatment.
  • Contingency management—Focuses on rewarding positive, adaptive behaviors to reduce the desire to use stimulants.
  • Family therapy—Involves and helps to modify the reactions of loved ones to maintain recovery.

The Matrix Model is one treatment option that includes various aspects of the above treatments as well as group therapy, drug testing, and relapse prevention to treat stimulant abuse. This model of treatment was developed specifically for stimulant addiction 8.

Does someone you love need an intervention?

How Common is Stimulant Abuse?

Stimulants are commonly abused and prescription stimulant abuse is a growing problem, especially among young adults. But are they addictive? Yes, stimulants—even prescription ones—can be very addictive when abused. Cocaine and methamphetamine have reputations for quickly developing addictions, especially in their crack and crystal forms.

Therapeutic prescription stimulant use can be maintained for long periods, but abusing the medications by taking them in ways other than prescribed will significantly boost the risk of addiction.

The prevalence of stimulant misuse is alarming. Per the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, in 2014 1:

  • About 570,000 people admitted current methamphetamine use.
  • Over 1 million people used prescription stimulants nonmedically.
  • About 1.5 million people currently used cocaine.
  • Of the 1.5 million, about 350,000 people were using crack.

Potential Signs of Developing Addiction

Am I Addicted to Stimulants?

You may be unable or unwilling to see the negative impact that stimulants play in your life in the early stages of abuse or addiction, due to the perceived benefits like higher energy, improved concentration, or weight loss. With time, however, the “benefits” will start to be overtaken by the downsides caused by sustained drug use, such as health issues, professional problems, relationship turmoil, etc.

You may have a problem if you 4:

  • Continue to use more of the substance without being able to stop.
  • Attempt to acquire the substance through prescriptions from multiple doctors.
  • Spend more time getting and using the substance.
  • Are increasingly unhappy.
  • Have encountered relationship, work/school, legal, or financial problems associated with your use.
  • Find your physical health is deteriorating.

Someone that is intoxicated by stimulants and/or compulsively using these drugs may show signs and symptoms like 3:

  • An elated mood or increased sense of well-being.
  • Dilated pupils.­­­­­
  • Sweating.
  • Decreased need for sleep.
  • Higher energy levels.
  • Confusion.
  • Irritability.
  • Increased aggression.
  • Rapid speech while moving quickly between topics.
  • Paranoia.

These symptoms are likely to be persistent and potentially worsen over time as the user needs more and more of the stimulant to combat an increasing tolerance 3.

Once the individual’s body becomes dependent on the substance, they will experience withdrawal symptoms if they are unable to use or are attempting to decrease their dose. These symptoms may include 3:

  • Stimulant cravings.
  • Lack of energy/fatigue.
  • Erratic sleep.
  • Extreme hunger.

American Addiction Centers maintains a strong partnership with a large group of insurance companies at our addiction treatment facilities. Start the journey to recovery and find out instantly if your insurance provider may be able to cover all or part of the cost of rehab and associated therapies.

Call Our Hotline Today

Stimulant addiction has the power to ruin your life, but you can recover with help. If you are unsure of your next step, consider calling . Our treatment support representatives can help you get into a program today.

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Dr. Thomas received his medical degree from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine. During his medical studies, Dr. Thomas saw firsthand the multitude of lives impacted by struggles with substance abuse and addiction, motivating him to seek a clinical psychiatry preceptorship at the San Diego VA Hospital’s Inpatient Alcohol and Drug Treatment Program. In his post-graduate clinical work, Dr. Thomas later applied the tenets he learned to help guide his therapeutic approach with many patients in need of substance treatment. In his current capacity as Senior Medical Editor for American Addiction Centers, Dr. Thomas, works to provide accurate, authoritative information to those seeking help for substance abuse and behavioral health issues.
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