Where depressants cause a decline in various bodily functions, stimulants enhance or “up” the performance of various systems, particularly the central and peripheral nervous system. Uppers, as they are sometimes known, can dramatically increase alertness, endurance, productivity, focus, motivation, wakefulness and even self control. Some stimulants can also alleviate anxiety and enhance overall mood. The vast majority of stimulants work by changing the normal input-output cycle of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. In situations of abuse, these chemical reactions and their receptors can be temporarily or even permanently damaged, resulting in lasting mental and physical injuries.

Over the years, stimulants have evolved from relatively short-duration compounds such as caffeine to complex “designer” pharmaceuticals with 24-hour efficacy, as in the case of many medications for ADHD. In almost all cases, these substances range from habit forming to highly addictive, with chemical properties that make them both physically and mentally addictive. Other commonly known substances in this category include:

  • Nicotine
  • Amphetamines (Adderall, Dexadrine, Vyvanse)
  • Methamphetamines (Meth, Ice, Crystal Meth)
  • MDMA (Ecstasy, X, “rolls”)
  • Cocaine
  • NRIs and NDRIs (Strattera, Edronax, Wellbutrin, Zyban)
  • Methylphenidate (MPH, Ritalin, Concerta, Metadate)
  • Modafinil (Alertec, Provigil)

In recent years the abuse of prescription stimulants, particularly those used in the treatment of ADHD, has been on the rise. As of 2006, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) estimated that more than 20 million prescriptions are filled each year for ADHD medications, an astounding 72 percent increase since 1995. Since it is also estimated that only 3 to 5 percent of all school-age children have ADHD, there is substantial concern in medical circles that stimulant drugs are being overprescribed, which makes them highly popular with those seeking to abuse them. Another factor in prescription stimulant abuse is the prevalence of self-medicating by family members and friends of those with legitimate prescriptions for conditions such as ADHD. Patients on stimulant drugs such as Adderall and Ritalin often report skipping or reducing their dosages depending on their mood or feeling on a particular day. This leaves the patient with a supply of extra medication that they willingly share with friends, siblings and even in some cases, parents, who enjoy the additional focus and motivation these drugs temporarily provide. In some cases, these patients (or someone close to them) may even sell the extra supply of pills for a profit, which although may seem harmless is actually a Class A felony which carries with it a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Despite this, many abusers of stimulants share the assumption that negative side effects must be minor, since many stimulants are prescribed to children or, as in the case of caffeine, are present in everyday items such as cola. Or, they believe that a substance that helps them accomplish so many positive things (users often report being more productive, having feelings of elation, or performing better in task-oriented situations) can’t possibly be that bad for them. In reality, stimulant abuse can lead to hallucinations, psychotic behavior, anorexia, obsessive compulsive disorder, manic episodes, chronic insomnia and delusions.