Stimulant addiction

Caffeine, ecstasy, nicotine. While these three drugs may seem to have little in common, they are all part of the same group of highly addictive substances: stimulants. Stimulant addiction is a major issue in the UK with many people becoming addicted through both legal and illegal routes. While addiction to caffeine may not cause significant damage to your life, other forms of stimulant addiction can be incredibly destructive and require professional help to overcome.

Stimulant addiction - pills

What are stimulants?

There are a number of different substances that fall under the label of stimulants. Some are perfectly legal and are considered relatively harmless such as caffeine while illegal stimulants include drugs such as ecstasy, methamphetamines and cocaine.

There are also prescription stimulants that are used to treat conditions such as ADHD, narcolepsy and obesity. These include drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall and Dexedrine. While these can be effective treatments when used correctly, they are also commonly abused for their effects.

No matter their type or legal status, most stimulants increase brain and central nervous system activity, make you more awake and alert, increase confidence and help you to focus.

What is stimulant addiction?

Stimulant addiction is when you have a compulsive need to use a stimulant even though it is causing you problems. Even if you recognise the problems stimulant addiction is causing, it can be very difficult to stop taking them because of cravings, withdrawal symptoms or because you have come to depend on them to function.

Most people who become addicted to stimulants start taking them recreationally but there are also many who become addicted after being prescribed stimulants for a medical condition. In either case, addiction can develop very quickly and once it has a grip it can be very difficult to break free.

Why are stimulants addictive?

Stimulants affect both your physical and mental functions with the changes to the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain leading to a chemical imbalance. If you use stimulants excessively or for a long time (though some people can become addicted after only mild, short-term use) your brain will try to compensate for the changes by reducing the number of receptors for those neurotransmitters. This means you need more and more of the stimulant to get the same effects as before, a process known as tolerance.

At the same time, your brain starts to adapt to having high levels of certain neurotransmitters by reducing its own production. This means that if you stop taking the stimulant suddenly, you can experience withdrawal symptoms because your brain is not used to functioning without it. These include fatigue, anxiety, irritability, depression and difficulty concentrating.

The physical dependency that develops along with the psychological addiction can make it very difficult for people to break free from stimulants without professional help.

Who is most at risk of stimulant addiction?

Anyone who takes stimulants is at risk of developing an addiction but certain groups are more at risk than others. These include:

  • Students and young sportspeople who use stimulants for performance enhancement: This could be to help them focus, study for longer or perform better.
  • Recreational stimulants abusers: Others take stimulants recreationally, often at parties or clubs, because of the euphoric effects they produce.
  • People with mental health conditions: Those with conditions like anxiety or ADHD are also at increased risk of stimulant addiction as they are prescribed certain stimulants to cope with symptoms.
  • People with a family history of substance abuse and addiction: These people may also be at an increased risk of developing an addiction to stimulants due to a genetic predisposition or early exposure.

Am I addicted to stimulants?

It is important to identify the signs of stimulant addiction as soon as possible to get the necessary help. Here are some questions you can ask yourself which may point to common stimulant addiction signs:

  • Have I tried to stop taking stimulants but failed?
  • Do I need to take stimulants just to function in everyday life?
  • Have I increased my dose of stimulants to get the same results as previously?
  • Have I ever obtained stimulants in an illegal way?
  • Do I keep using stimulants despite the negative consequences?
  • Do I lie to my loved ones about my stimulant use?

If you recognise these stimulant addiction symptoms then you may be addicted to stimulants and require professional help.

What are the dangers of stimulant abuse and addiction?

Whether legal, illegal or taken on prescription, all stimulants can cause a range of short-term health effects including:

  • Paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Mood swings
  • Aggression
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • High heart rate and blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Risks behaviour decision making
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Loss of appetite
  • Organ damage
  • Hyperthermia
  • Seizure
  • Coma

Many people also take stimulants at the same time as other drugs or alcohol which can increase the risk of these health effects. Overdose is also a real danger with stimulant abuse and addiction, particularly if you mix drugs, with an all too large number of overdoses ultimately leading to death.

Stimulant addiction can also cause issues in your relationships, education, career and finances, all of which are further reasons to seek help as soon as possible.

Stimulant addiction - woman with headache

Signs that a loved one is addicted to stimulants

There are various stimulant addiction signs to look out for in a loved one, including:

  • Drug paraphernalia or excess prescription stimulant boxes
  • Mood swings, irritability or secrecy
  • Changes in appearance such as weight loss, poor hygiene or dilated pupils
  • Skipping work or school, missing appointments or socialising less
  • Regularly visiting the doctor to try and secure stimulant prescriptions
  • Financial problems or stealing as a result of the cost of stimulants

If you notice any of these stimulant addiction signs, speak to your loved one about your concerns and encourage them to seek help.

Lies your stimulant addiction will tell you

For stimulant addiction to keep you trapped in the cycle of stimulant abuse, it has to convince you and those around you that all is well. Here are some common lies your stimulant addiction will tell you to try and pull the wool over your eyes and prevent you from getting the help you need:

“I only take stimulants because I want or need to”…

This is perhaps the most common lie that stimulant addiction tells to convince you that you are taking stimulants for a good reason. To see through this lie, identify all of the negative consequences in your life which are a direct result of your stimulant addiction. Nobody would choose to keep taking stimulants when they cause so much damage which shows that despite what your addiction says, you have lost control of your stimulant use.

“Stimulants don’t really have any negative effects on me”…

It is important to remember that stimulant addiction doesn’t just affect you – it also has a huge impact on those around you. Stimulant addiction can cause huge levels of stress and worry in your loved ones who may also have to experience changes in behaviour, erratic mood swings and dishonesty. Look honestly at the people in your life and how stimulant addiction is affecting them to see the reality of this lie.

“It’s not a problem because I only use legal stimulants”…

This is both a lie your stimulant addiction will tell you and a common misconception. Just because a stimulant is legal, doesn’t make it any less. Prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin are commonly abused and can lead to the same problems as illegal stimulants. Overcoming an addiction to legal stimulants is no different from illegal stimulants and requires the same level of acceptance and commitment.

How is stimulant addiction treated?

Stimulant addiction can be treated through a comprehensive programme that includes detox and therapy. Stimulant detox involves gradually reducing the use of stimulants to break physical dependence and allow your body to heal. Simultaneously, you will receive stimulant rehab to explore the underlying reasons for your addiction and develop strategies to manage triggers and cravings in the future.

At Recovery Lighthouse, we offer inpatient services for both of these stages as well as one year of free aftercare to support your ongoing recovery journey and increase your chances of success.

How to get help for stimulant addiction

At Recovery Lighthouse, we regularly see both the harm that stimulant addiction can cause and the incredible strength of those in recovery. If you or a loved one needs help with stimulant addiction, contact Recovery Lighthouse today. Our team of expert addiction therapists will support you through every stage of the journey to give you the best possible chance of recovery and a future free from the grips of stimulant addiction.

Frequently asked questions

Are all stimulants addictive?
Yes, all stimulants have the potential to be addictive. In fact, many people are addicted to caffeine and sugar but don’t realise it. However, the damage that is inflicted by addiction to stimulants such as cocaine, methamphetamine or ecstasy far outweighs those to caffeine and sugar, and require professional support to overcome.
Does everyone who takes stimulants develop an addiction?
No, not everyone who takes stimulants will develop an addiction. However, those with a family history of addiction or mental health issues are more likely to become addicted to stimulants. Additionally, taking stimulants excessively or over a long period of time also increases the risk of developing an addiction to stimulants.
How can I avoid enabling a loved one with a stimulant addiction?
It is very important that you don’t enable a loved one’s addiction by making excuses for them, covering up for them or giving them money to buy stimulants. This will only give them the means and excuses they need to keep abusing stimulants. Instead, you should voice your concerns and encourage them to seek help so that they can overcome their stimulant addiction and turn their life around. It can be difficult to see a loved one struggle but if you want them to get better, setting boundaries and encouraging them to get help is crucial.