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As the name suggests, stimulants are medications whose main purpose is to increase alertness, attention, and energy by stimulating the individual.

By doing this, they also work as blood pressure elevators and well as the stimulants of the heart rate and respiration frequency. Historically, stimulants have been used  to treat several different conditions such as asthma and other respiratory problems, obesity, neurological disorders, and a variety of others. Eventually, someone came up with the idea of abusing these medications for their stimulative effects. Because of their high addiction rating, the medical use of stimulants began to wane. Today, stimulants are prescribed for the treatment of only a few health conditions, including narcolepsy, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), and depression.
Like any other medications, prescription stimulants can also cause several possible side effects. Most commonly used stimulants are dextro-amphetamine (Dexedrine® and Adderall®) and Methylphenidate (Ritalin® and Concerta®).

What are the affects of stimulants on our brain and body?

Most commonly used stimulants, such as dextroamphetamine and Methylphenidate, have chemical structures similar to monoamines, which include norepinephrine and dopamine. They enhance the effects of these chemicals in the brain by acting almost identically as neurotransmitters would.

The main effects are:

  • increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • constriction of blood vessels in our body
  • increase in blood level of glucose
  • opening of the pathways of the respiratory system
  • a sense of euphoria

 The effects of stimulants could be divided into short-term and long-term ones.

Short-term effects – Stimulants increase the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, causing many short-term effects such as an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, constriction of blood vessels, an increase in breathing frequency, and others. All these effects appear and disappear quickly after use. However, there is a significant risk of cardiovascular failure or lethal seizures.

Long-term effects – All stimulants are addictive; after a while, users begin to take them compulsively. Like with all addictions,  abusers advance to higher and higher doses, which can lead to several complications, feelings of hostility or paranoia, possible cardiovascular failure (heart attack) or lethal seizures. 

Stimulant abuse and withdrawal symptoms

We already know that every addiction causes withdrawal symptoms. Most common symptoms of discontinuing stimulant use include:

  • fatigue
  • depression
  • disturbance of sleep patterns
  • feelings of hostility
  • paranoia

Stimulants should be combined with other medications only under a physician's supervision. There is one interesting and dangerous combination: stimulants and decongestants. It has been proven that combining these medications may cause extremely high blood pressure and lead to irregular heart rhythms.

Abuse of prescription stimulants

Drug abuse is the term for every use of legal or illegal drugs for a purpose other than that for which it was normally prescribed or recommended. In most cases, this happens when a patient starts taking a drug without prescription. The goal could be simple self-treatment, or taking advantage of the simulative effects of the medication.

Groups with high risk of addiction

The abuse of common prescription stimulants is highest among 18- to 25-year-olds. Certain studies have shown that between 4 and 25% of college students have used or still use a prescription stimulant. According to them, the purpose of their use is to help them with hard studying. Students who abused stimulant medications are also at risk of higher levels of cigarette smoking, heavy drinking, risky driving, and abuse of marijuana, ecstasy (MDMA), and cocaine.

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