Stimulants: Cocaine, Methamphetamine, ADHD drugs

When people think about drug addiction, they often picture heroin addicts, with their lethargic movements and slowed mental functioning. Heroin and other opium-based drugs slow down the central nervous system and other bodily functions, including breathing and heartbeat.

But other addictive drugs have decidedly different effects, though the end result of the addiction can be a similar infliction of physical, social and emotional devastation.

For example, stimulants have the opposite effect of opiates — they speed up the central nervous system and bodily functions.

Because they speed up processes, stimulants can actually do more harm to the human body, especially in the short term. Whereas narcotics cause people to act “dopey” or go into stupors, stimulants can cause people to act out in violent and angry ways. Stimulants are every bit as addictive as narcotics or opium-based drugs.

Although it may be easier to physically withdraw from stimulant drugs, it is often harder to withdraw from them psychologically. People feel a sense of empowerment when they take stimulants. Many users feel they cannot achieve as much without their drugs. Stimulants can also act as appetite suppressants, and many abusers are afraid they will gain unwanted weight if they stop using stimulants.

The following are among the most commonly abused stimulant drugs.


Cocaine is an illegal drug sold on the street as a fine white powder. People chew it, snort through their noses, inject into their veins, or smoke it in special pipes. “Crack cocaine” is a form of the drug in which the powder has processed into a solid substance that is abused by smoking and inhaling the fumes.

Cocaine is highly addictive and quite dangerous. Cocaine abuse can lead to a number of negative health outcomes, including heart attacks and strokes.

Cocaine causes side effects such as disturbances in the heart rhythm, chest pain, respiratory failure, strokes, seizures, headaches and nausea. Cocaine mixed with alcohol is particularly dangerous, and is one of the most common causes of drug-related deaths.

Cocaine is an extremely popular drug. In 2004, one survey estimated that 35 million Americans ages 12 and above had tried cocaine at least once.


Methamphetamine is the second-most widely abused drug in the world (behind marijuana). Police departments report that methamphetamine users are the drug abusers who are most likely to be dangerous, because methamphetamine can cause paranoia and lead to violent reactions.

Methamphetamine is often manufactured in kitchen laboratories. In recent years a new recipe for methamphetamine has made it possible to manufacture the drug in small doses. This new process circumvents regulations on over-the-counter drugs that are key ingredients in making methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine causes permanent brain damage and impairs memory and the ability to perform reasoning tasks. Side effects include heart damage, extreme dryness of the mouth, picking at imaginary sores, anorexia, insomnia and tremors.

Physical withdrawal from methamphetamine can take up to four days. Symptoms of withdrawal include sadness, irritability, moodiness and sleep problems.

Methylphenidate (Ritalin)

Methylphenidate is commonly prescribed to children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It is a very common drug. In the United States alone, more than five million children use methylphenidate multiple times every day.

Methylphenidate is commonly sold under the trade names Ritalin, Concerta, and Metadate. Side effects can include nervousness, insomnia, loss of appetite, increased blood pressure, headaches, irritability, moodiness and dizziness. Severe reactions can include heart attack, stroke and. sudden death.

Many teenagers who abuse methylphenidate start by using the drug as a performance enhancer. For example, they may use it during finals week to enable them to go without sleep, or before going on stage or performing in athletic events.

One of the problems with this plan is that methylphenidate is highly addictive. People become dependent on the feeling of pleasure, energy, and confidence that the drug can convey. Some people experience extreme depression and suicidal thoughts when they tried to withdraw from methylphenidate on their own.

Dextroamphetamine (Adderall)

Dextroamphetamine is often prescribed to children with ADHD who cannot tolerate methylphenidate, the more popular drug. It is also prescribed to people with narcolepsy.

People who do not have ADHD or narcolepsy feel more wakeful and alert when they are taking dextroamphetamine. The effect can last for hours, and then the person will experience extreme fatigue and depression, which in turn often leads them to take more dextroamphetamine.

Dextroamphetamine is addictive and can cause heart problems. People with underlying psychological disorders such as depression should never take dextroamphetamine because it can lead to psychosis and hallucinations.

Like methylphenidate, dextroamphetamine is often used to enhance academic performance