Stimulant Abuse

Stimulants are legal when prescribed by a doctor for conditions like ADHD, but can be abused by teens who are facing pressure to perform academically. When used improperly, these drugs can quickly cause intense addiction. If your teen is abusing stimulants, now is the time to find help.

Teenage girl buying stimulants on the streetStimulants are drugs that increase the body’s natural functions. They impact the nervous system and make the body release more natural chemicals like dopamine that sharpen a person’s alertness, attention and energy. Stimulants are often called “uppers,” because they increase a person’s blood pressure and heart rate.

Stimulants are usually prescribed by doctors to help patients facing sleep disorders, hyperactivity disorders and severe cases of depression. They are habit-forming drugs, so they must be taken carefully as prescribed. When taken responsibly, stimulants can be safe and effective to use. The problem is that these drugs are often not used responsibly.

Teenagers often get a hold of them by stealing or buying the pills from a friend or relative who has a prescription. Recreational users are much more likely to become addicted to the drug. Most stimulants are available in pill form, although some may also be available as an injectable liquid or a patch that’s put on the skin. Abusers typically take the drugs in pill form (by swallowing whole, chewing or crushing and snorting the powder), or by injection if the drug is liquid. The latter methods hasten the high. Discontinuing use can lead to drug withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and insomnia.

Young people often use slang terms when referring to drugs in conversations. Street names for stimulants may include:
  • Speed
  • Uppers
  • Skippy
  • Lightening
  • Vitamin R
  • Amped
  • The Smart Drug
  • Bennies
  • Black Beauties
  • Roses
  • Hearts
  • Black Mollies/Blue Mollies
A lonely teenage girl In the past, doctors prescribed stimulants to treat conditions such as asthma, obesity, narcolepsy and other health problems that affect the central nervous system. After better understanding how addictive the drug can be, most doctors now limit their adolescent stimulant prescriptions to children with ADHD (or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), narcolepsy and specific cases of clinical depression in which other medications proved ineffective.

In some cases, teenagers use stimulants as “study drugs” to help enhance academic performance. Teens facing the pressures of high school or college exams or college admissions often find taking an upper allows them to stay up all night to study.

It was previously believed that mostly college students abused stimulants, however a 2015 study showed the peak age for illegally using the drugs is 16–19, and is even younger in some cases. The same study revealed females use the drugs nearly twice as much as males, and white and Native American teens use more than all other racial groups.

In one 2014 study, Adderall (i.e. an amphetamine, which is a specific kind of stimulant) was the 2nd most popular recreational drug used by high school seniors — 6.8% of the 12th graders said they used Adderall and 1.8% said they used Ritalin (i.e. a methylphenidate, which is another specific kind of stimulant). In the same study, 1.3% of the 8th graders surveyed said they used Adderall and 0.9% said they used Ritalin.

Collectively, most data shows academic pressures are the main trigger for teens and young adults to use and abuse stimulants.

Most stimulant abusers take prescriptions shared or bought at school to get high, or to improve their academic performance. There are many different kinds of uppers, each with their own popularly abused brand name drugs.


Amphetamines keep dopamine and norepinephrine working in the brain, and helps the brain produce higher levels of these chemicals. Both of these neurotransmitters affect a person’s alertness, attention and energy.

Popular prescribed amphetamines include:

  • Adderall
  • Dexedrine
  • Dextrostat
  • ProCentra
  • Benzedrine


Methylphenidate functions similarly to amphetamine in that it keeps dopamine and norepinephrine working in the brain, although it does not increase the levels of the two neurotransmitters like amphetamine does. These 2 neurotransmitters affect a person’s alertness and attention.

Popular prescribed methylphenidates include:

  • Ritalin
  • Concerta
  • Daytrana
  • Methylin


Ephedrine is a naturally-occurring chemical found in the Asian shrub-like plant ephedra. It has been used for thousands of years to treat breathing conditions. In recent years, ephedrine has been used as an ingredient in weight loss pills, asthma medications and athletic performance enhancers.

Popular prescribed ephedrines include:

  • Bronkaid
  • Mudrane
  • Marax
  • Primatene
  • Quadrinal


Although most people around the world get their daily dose of caffeine in a cup of tea or coffee, caffeine is also a common ingredient in pain relievers and anti-inflammatory medications.

Popular prescribed caffeines include:

  • Migergot
  • Cafergot
  • Fiorinal
  • Fioricet
  • Norgesic


Methamphetamine, more commonly known as meth, is an incredibly potent stimulant — a psychostimulant. It is the mostly abused synthetic drug in America, and addiction is very common. For that reason, meth is very rarely prescribed in non-refillable, small doses. Because it’s only available in a very limited quantity pharmaceutically, most meth dealers “cook” their own in home laboratories using inexpensive ingredients such as some over-the-counter drugs. Desoxyn is often the only prescribed methamphetamine.

Amphetamines vs. Methamphetamines

Amphetamine is the parent drug of methamphetamine. Both are psychostimulants and have nearly the same chemical structure, but the drugs are not the same. While both can be used for recreational purposes, amphetamines do have some medicinal value and can be legally prescribed by a physician. Alternatively, medical professionals very rarely write small-dose prescriptions for meth, which cannot be refilled, because the drug has a high potential for abuse. The two drugs can have similar effects, but amphetamines are less severe than meth. Even at the same dosages, less amphetamine gets into the brain than meth does.

Although teens often use stimulants for the “positive” effects, which last around six hours, there are also many negative results of abusing the drug that can occur for up to one week after the drug wears off.

If your teen is using stimulants to get high, they may experience:

  • Euphoria
  • Increased concentration and energy
  • Enhanced confidence
  • An inability to sleep
  • Reduced appetite
  • Aggression
  • Panic

Once the effects of the drug wear off, they may experience:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Trembling
  • Disturbances to sleep patterns
  • Sensitivity to touch

You may notice some changes in your child — signs that they may be abusing these drugs:

  • Insomnia
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Twitching
  • Disinterest in their hobbies
  • Memory problems
  • Neglect for work, school or family responsibilities
While you and your teenager may notice certain effects of stimulant abuse, the drugs also have effects on their brain and body you may not notice immediately. Additionally, using stimulants can be particularly dangerous for teens with heart disease, high blood pressure, psychiatric problems like bipolar disorder, a history of self-harm and other conditions.

Effects on the Brain

Effects on the Body

  • Increase and/or irregular heartbeat
  • Elevated body temperature
  • High blood pressure
  • Restlessness and/or tremors
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Seizures
  • Cardiovascular failure
  • Growth retardation
If you’ve noticed signs of a drug or alcohol problem in your teen, take action right away. Usually the first step is to bring your child to your family doctor or a school guidance counselor to talk about what’s happening. If one of these professionals finds that your teen is in fact struggling with addiction, some form of rehab treatment will probably be necessary.

If you do not feel ready to make an appointment with the doctor or guidance counselor, you can always call us at It’s totally free to speak with one of our treatment professionals, and everything that you discuss will be kept confidential. We can help you sort through the pain of the situation, and figure out what needs to be done in order to bring your child back to health. We can answer your questions about insurance coverage for rehab, recommend fully vetted facilities that specialize in teen addiction, or simply listen to you.

Reaching out for help may be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. But your child is worth it. Call today. There’s no judgment, no costs, and no obligations — just help.

Give your child the treatment and care they deserve.

Speak with one of our devoted addiction specialists today to take that next step.

Stimulant Addiction
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Stimulant Addiction was last modified: August 20th, 2018 by The Recovery Village