One class of drugs, called Stimulants, enhance brain activity - they cause an increase in alertness, attention, and energy that is accompanied by increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration.
In the past, stimulants were used to treat asthma and other respiratory problems, obesity, neurological disorders, and a variety of other ailments. As their potential for abuse and addiction became apparent, the use of stimulants began to decrease. Now, stimulants are prescribed for treating only a few health conditions, including narcolepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and depression that has not responded to other treatments. Stimulants may also be used for short-term treatment of obesity, and for patients with asthma.
Stimulants like dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (Ritalin) have chemical structures that are similar to key brain neurotransmitters called monoamines, which include norepinephrine and dopamine. Stimulants increase the levels of these chemicals in the brain and body. This, in turn, increases blood pressure and heart rate, constricts blood vessels, increases blood glucose (sugar), and opens up the pathways of the respiratory system. In addition, the increase in dopamine is associated with a sense of euphoria that can accompany the use of these drugs.
Research has shown that people with ADHD don’t become addicted to stimulant medications, such as Ritalin, when they take it in the form prescribed and at treatment dosages. However, when people misuse them, stimulants can be addictive requiring drug treatment.
The consequences of stimulant abuse can be extremely dangerous. Taking high doses of a stimulant can result in an irregular heartbeat, dangerously high body temperatures, and/or the potential for heart attack or lethal seizures. Taking high doses of some stimulants repeatedly over a short period of time can lead to hostility or feelings of paranoia in some people.
Stimulants should not be mixed with over-the-counter cold medicines containing decongestants or with antidepressants. Stimulants taken with decongestants may cause blood pressure to become dangerously high or lead to irregular heart rhythms. Since anti-depressants may enhance the effects of a stimulant, they should not be combined.
Since each patient’s situation is different, drug treatment options can vary. The first step in treating prescription stimulant addiction may be to slowly decrease the drug's dose and attempting to treat withdrawal symptoms. This is best performed at a drug detox. This process of detoxification could then be followed with one of many behavioral therapies to aid in the psychological aspect of the addiction.