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Facts About the Most Used and Abused Drugs from Alcohol to Ecstasy:
What are stimulants?
As the name suggests, stimulants are a class of drugs that enhance brain activity - they cause an increase in alertness, attention, and energy that is accompanied by elevated blood pressure and increased heart rate and respiration. Stimulants were used historically to treat asthma and other respiratory problems, obesity, neurological disorders, and a variety of other ailments. But as their potential for abuse and addiction became apparent, the medical use of stimulants began to wane. Now, stimulants are prescribed for the treatment of only a few health conditions, including narcolepsy, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and depression that has not responded to other treatments. Stimulants may be used as appetite suppressants for short-term treatment of obesity, and they also may be used for patients with asthma.
How do stimulants affect the brain and body?
Stimulants, such as dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine) and methylphenidate (Ritalin), have chemical structures that are similar to a family of key brain neurotransmitters called monoamines, which include norepinephrine and dopamine. Stimulants increase the amount of these chemicals in the brain. This, in turn, increases blood pressure and heart rate, constricts blood vessels, increases blood glucose, and opens up the pathways of the respiratory system. In addition, the increase in dopamine is associated with a sense of euphoria that can accompany the use of these drugs.
What are the possible consequences of stimulant use and abuse?
The consequences of stimulant abuse can be dangerous. Although their use may not lead to physical dependence and risk of withdrawal, stimulants can be addictive in that individuals begin to use them compulsively. Taking high doses of some stimulants repeatedly over a short time can lead to feelings of hostility or paranoia. Additionally, taking high doses of a stimulant may result in dangerously high body temperatures and an irregular heartbeat. There is also the potential for cardiovascular failure or lethal seizures.
Treatment of addiction to prescription stimulants, such as Ritalin, is often based on behavioral therapies proven effective for treating cocaine or methamphetamine addiction. At this time, there are no proven medications for the treatment of stimulant addiction. However, antidepressants may help manage the symptoms of depression that can accompany the early days of abstinence from stimulants.
Depending on the patient's situation, the first steps in treating prescription stimulant addiction may be tapering off the drug's dose and attempting to treat withdrawal symptoms. The detoxification process could then be followed by one of many behavioral therapies. Contingency management, for example, uses a system that enables patients to earn vouchers for drug-free urine tests. The vouchers can be exchanged for items that promote healthy living.
Another behavioral approach is cognitive-behavioral intervention, which focuses on modifying the patient's thinking, expectations, and behaviors while at the same time increasing skills for coping with various life stressors. Recovery support groups may also be effective in conjunction with behavioral therapy.
What is Amphetamine Addiction?
Viewed in some circles as the less-threatening "little brother" of the dangerous and highly addictive crystal meth, amphetamine remains a significant threat to the adolescents and adults who use the drug in misguided attempts to fight off fatigue, enhance concentration, or gain a competitive edge in an athletic event.
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