What is a Stimulant Drug?

What is a Stimulant Drug?

What is a stimulant drug? Stimulants are a type of drug that stimulate or increase the activity of the central nervous system, essentially speeding up the messages that travel between the brain and body.

This can make the user feel more awake, alert, energetic and confident. Some can also produce a euphoric effect, which recreational users seek out. Stimulant substances are sometimes referred to as ‘uppers’.

There are a number of legitimate uses for stimulant drugs. Many people use caffeine as a ‘pick me up’. Nicotine replacement therapy is recognised as an effective way of helping people to quit smoking (although it is the nicotine element that is addictive in the first place. Stimulant drugs also have a number of medical applications, including treating:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Narcolepsy
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Nasal and sinus congestion

Powerful stimulants are also commonly misused, and this can carry risks including addiction, overdose and more.

Types of Stimulant Drugs

There are a number of different types of stimulant drugs. Some, like caffeine and nicotine, are available in legal formats and are commonly used throughout the world. Other naturally occurring stimulants that can be misused and are banned in some places but more socially acceptable in others include the plant khat and the betel nut.

Amphetamines were originally derived from a plant called ephedra but are now generally synthetically produced. They can have a number of medical uses – most commonly in treating ADHD – but they are also frequently misused.

Other stimulants like cocaine and the powerful amphetamine offshoot methamphetamine have previously been used for medical and other purposes but are now considered illicit substances that are used recreationally.

How Stimulant Drugs Work

Stimulants work by disrupting or changing the normal communication that occurs among neurons and circuits in the brain.5 Neurons are the nerve cells that send messages between your brain and the rest of the body. They allow you to do everything from conscious actions like walking and talking to unconscious processes like breathing. In technical terms, the general mechanism of stimulants involves increased catecholamine levels and increased agonistic activity at adrenergic receptors.

The exact mechanism can vary within this general area depending on the substance involved. Many stimulants, including cocaine and amphetamine, affect dopamine levels. Others also affect norepinephrine. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in a number of important areas, including pleasure and motivation. Norepinephrine is another neurotransmitter that mobilises the brain and body for action and is important in the ‘fight or flight’ response.5

Interestingly, caffeine works differently than other stimulants. It works as an inhibitor at the adenosine receptors. Activity at these receptors can produce a sensation of drowsiness, meaning inhibition can help counter that drowsiness and lead to increased energy levels.

Alcohol is generally classed as a depressant as it depresses the central nervous system. It can also have some stimulating effects, however, including increasing heart rate and feelings of aggression at certain stages of intoxication. This is also associated with increased levels of dopamine, but as more alcohol is consumed, the depressive effects – such as drowsiness and sedation – will become more pronounced.

Common Effects of Stimulant Drugs

The effects of stimulants can vary depending on the substance involved, the person using it and other factors. Some common short-term effects of stimulant drugs, however, can include:

  • Increased energy and wakefulness
  • Improved attention, focus or ability to concentrate
  • A sense of excitement and euphoria
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Increased libido or sexual desire
  • Increased talkativeness or confidence

Some drugs, such as ecstasy or MDMA, may combine stimulant effects with psychoactive effects, such as a feeling of happiness and ‘loved up’ affection.

Risks and Potential for Abuse

While some people may seek out many of the effects mentioned above, there are also many potential side effects – particularly if stimulants are taken in large doses.

For many people, these could include:

  • Anxiety
  • Headache
  • Nausea and sickness
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Inability to sleep
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Excessive sweating

It is also possible to overdose on stimulants, and this can be extremely serious, requiring immediate medical attention. Symptoms can include high fever, convulsions, heart attack and cardiovascular collapse. A stimulant overdose can easily prove fatal. Because accidental death is partially due to effects on the body’s cardiovascular and temperature regulating systems, physical exertion such as exercise or dancing can increase the hazards of stimulant use.

Long-term use of stimulants can also be very harmful, with potential psychological effects including paranoia, mood swings and extreme anxiety. Stimulants can also be very addictive.

Chronic or heavy use can lead to the user building up a tolerance, meaning they need to use more and more for the same effect. At the same time, the system adjusts to the presence of the stimulant, and when they are taken away, you might experience unpleasant and potentially dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Users can also become psychologically addicted to the euphoria and other effects of the drug.

Treatment Options for Stimulant Drug Addictions

Because stimulants can be so addictive, they can also be very difficult to quit without expert help. Addiction is a very complex condition with physical and psychological elements, and both of these must be dealt with in order for the user to make a full and long-lasting recovery.

The first major step for many addicts is detoxification, which is the process during which your system resumes normal function. Withdrawal symptoms associated with stimulants tend to be more psychologically based (as opposed to depressants like alcohol and opioids, which can have more physical impacts) but they can still be very unpleasant and potentially dangerous. A supervised detox can help you to overcome any withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

A comprehensive programme of therapies can also help to deal with the root causes of substance abuse and the psychological aspects of addiction, while an aftercare programme provides vital support in the weeks and months following treatment.

If you or someone you know has a problem with stimulant abuse or addiction, get in touch today and find out how Cassiobury Court can help.