How Do Stimulants Work
Stimulants work on the nervous system to improve cognitive function and alertness, increasing the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These natural chemicals help to increase concentration and reduce fatigue. Prescription stimulants treat the symptoms of ADHD, ADD, and narcolepsy, as well as sometimes treat depression.
Unfortunately, although these medications can be very helpful in fighting ADD, ADHD, narcolepsy, and depression, they are widely abused, can quickly cause addiction, and are treated as “performance enhancers” in many settings. When prescribed and taken as intended, stimulant medications can help ADD and ADHD patients immensely, but the trouble starts when people without these disorders take the medications.
In addition to attention disorder and narcolepsy medications, there are numerous street stimulants, including methamphetamine, cocaine, crack, PCP, bath salts, and others. These street drugs are increasingly available, as are prescription drugs, with Adderall currently topping the most abused “upper.”
Effects of stimulants are similar across the board, whether prescription or street, with varying strengths and duration of the reaction. Symptoms of stimulant abuse may include:
• Decreased appetite
• Increased energy
• Talkativeness, interrupting
• Increased concentration, perceived passion toward projects
• Nervousness and/or anxiety
• Difficulty relaxing or falling asleep
• Weight loss
• Increased heart rate/tachycardia
Abuse of Stimulants Dates back to the 1800s
Abuse of stimulants is alarmingly common, used among software engineers, lawyers, nurses, students, and soccer moms. Stimulants keep employees and tired students awake, giving them a perceived leg-up on their competition. Although the use of medications prescribed for ADHD seems to be talked about most commonly these days, the use of it is nothing new. Stimulants have been present at work for hundreds of years.
There is documentation of stimulant use by workers dating back to the 1880s, keeping them moving for up to 70 hours at a time. Eventually, this “superhuman” drug use spread across strenuous, taxing professions including railway workers, cotton plantation workers, and construction employees.
Fast forward to the 1960s, and manmade stimulants crept across the nation, with Benzedrine turning into a catch-all for American ailments. The use of stimulants was not just for backbreaking work anymore, it became romanticized for its aid in the creative process.
Stimulants Now: Viewpoints on ADD and ADHD
Today, the diagnosis of ADHD is considered the new superpower for successful businesspeople and entrepreneurs, with expanded diagnostics criteria, making it that much easier to get ADD/ADHD medication.
When high-profile entrepreneurs, celebrities, and businesspersons embrace their diagnosis, it encourages others to seek help, but this also opens avenues for misuse of the medications prescribed for ADD and ADHD, and other disorders. There is no lack of need for help with cognitive, mental, and emotional disorders, but there is an unfortunate desire in many to self-medicate, even turning to stimulants.
When Medication Use Becomes Abuse
Stimulant abuse is fueled in rapid fire by the availability of prescription and street stimulants. Performance-enhancing drugs give professionals the upper hand, from Adderall and Ritalin to Modafinil (used to treat narcolepsy) but eventually, they become a problem that is hard to handle on one’s own. The misconception that these medications are harmless, or that the reward is worth the risk, is the danger.
Abuse can begin without even realizing it, and addiction moves in quite the same way. One attempt to stay up and work late may turn into days on end with no sleep. This is when it may be time to consider help. No matter how much a stimulant can help to stay awake for long hours, lose weight and not be hungry, and improve focus, there comes a point when the drugs cause hair loss, increased heart rate, and the inevitable crash.
When you or someone you know is abusing stimulants, prescribed or otherwise, there will eventually be health consequences. No performance is worth the risk. The substance abuse specialists at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry are here to help.
Dr. Glazer is a recognized Castle Connolly Top Doctor since 2015 and is featured in New York Magazine’s Best Doctors issue. Dr. Glazer and the team at Fifth Avenue Psychiatry specialize in treating in a discrete, professional manner.