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 you or someone you love is abusing stimulants, now is the time to find help.

What Are Stimulants?

Stimulants 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 withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, dizziness and insomnia.

Street Names for Stimulants

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

Who Uses Stimulants?

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.

Common Prescription Stimulants

Stimulants are prescribed to treat conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy, to improve alertness, attention and energy. There are many kinds of prescription stimulants that can become addictive when abused. The following area some of the most common prescription stimulant medications.


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:


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 neurotransmitters affect a person’s alertness and attention.

Popular prescribed methylphenidates include:


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:


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.

Symptoms of Stimulant Abuse

Although individuals 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 someone 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 also may notice these additional signs that someone may be abusing stimulants:

  • Insomnia
  • Excessive weight loss
  • Twitching
  • Disinterest in their hobbies
  • Memory problems
  • Neglect for work, school or family responsibilities

Risks of Stimulant Abuse

While certain effects of stimulant abuse are obvious, the drugs also have effects on their brain and body that may not be noticed immediately. Additionally, using stimulants can be particularly dangerous for anyone with heart disease, high blood pressure, psychiatric problems like bipolar disorder, a history of self-harm and other mental health 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

Getting Help with Stimulant Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with stimulant addiction, take action right away. Contact The Recovery Village to speak with one of our treatment professionals 24/7, and everything that you discuss will be kept confidential. We can provide answers to your questions and discuss treatment options. We can also provide information 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 it is worth it. Call today. There’s no judgment, no costs, and no obligations — just help.


Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.