Stimulants are a category of substances that includes both illicit and prescription drugs. For teens, stimulants can be attractive because they typically increase energy, enhance feelings of confidence and sociability, and heighten the senses. Teens may also believe that stimulant substances help them study better because they feel more alert and better able to pay attention. However, studies have found that stimulants do not increase learning or thinking ability when taken by people who have not been diagnosed with a medical condition like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Furthermore, stimulants have dangerous physical and psychological effects.
Stimulant abuse is the improper use of prescription or illegal drugs that act as stimulants. Such substances include amphetamines, cocaine, crack, ecstasy (MDMA), and methamphetamines (meth). Additionally, many prescription medications for ADHD, including Ritalin and Adderall, contain stimulants. Close to 1.6 million people aged 12 or older reporting current nonmedical use of stimulant drugs. Teens are more likely to abuse stimulants by misusing prescription stimulant medications.
Abuse of stimulants has both psychological and physical effects. The physical effects of stimulants include raised blood pressure, heart rate, and breathing rate. Stimulant abuse may also lead to unsafely elevated body temperature, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, seizures, stroke, and death. Moreover, psychological effects can include hostility, paranoia, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and psychotic symptoms, such as delusions and hallucinations.
Stimulant abuse does not technically include caffeine addiction. While caffeine does produce a small rise in dopamine, it does not cause the large dopamine surge that unbalances the reward circuits in the brain and thus can lead to addiction. Rather, regular use of caffeine to avoid withdrawal symptoms is known as caffeine dependence.
Sources: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Institute on Drug Abuse