Stimulant use disorder is a misuse of stimulant substances. Stimulants are classified as cocaine, methamphetamine, and amphetamines. They are used to increase attention, energy, and alertness, as well as having a wide range of effects on the body. Some individuals begin stimulant use to control weight or to improve performance in work, school, or athletics. Stimulant dependence causes withdrawal symptoms, which makes it difficult to stop taking them, consequently developing an addiction.
Stimulant Use Disorder Defined
Stimulant use disorder includes signs and symptoms that reflect compulsive, prolonged self-administration of stimulant substances that are used for no legitimate medical purpose. Although stimulants usually are prescribed to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, depression, narcolepsy, and obesity, a patient may continue to take these drugs despite the development of serious related problems. Patterns of stimulant administration include episodic or daily (or almost daily) use. With continuing use, there is a decrease in pleasure effects due to tolerance and an increase in dysphoric effects. Stimulant use disorder, with severity specified as mild, moderate, or severe, depending on the number of diagnostic criteria that have been met. While it can range from mild to severe, even a mild disorder can escalate and lead to serious problems, so early treatment is important.
Stimulant Use Disorder Causes
There can be several causes of stimulant use disorder. Various factors like genetic, psychological, social, and environmental factors can all impact how taking stimulants affects your body and behavior. For certain people taking stimulants has a different and stronger impact that can lead to stimulant use disorder that it may not have on others. People who are exposed to cocaine or amphetamine-type stimulants can develop stimulant use disorder in as little as one week, although the onset is not always this fast.
Stimulant Use Disorder Symptoms
Symptoms of stimulant use disorder can include:
- Abnormally fast or slow heartbeat
- Dilation of the pupils
- Elevated or lowered blood pressure
- Sweating or chills
- Nausea or vomiting
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Interpersonal sensitivity
- Auditory hallucinations
- Paranoid thoughts
- Repetitive movement
A. Recent use of an amphetamine-type substance, cocaine, or other stimulants.
B. Clinically significant problematic behavioral or psychological changes (e.g., euphoria or affective blunting; changes in sociability; hypervigilance; interpersonal sensitivity; anxiety, tension, or anger; stereotyped behaviors; impaired judgment) that developed during, or shortly after, stimulant use.
C. The following signs or symptoms can develop during, or shortly after, stimulant use:
- Tachycardia or bradycardia.
- Pupillary dilation.
- Elevated or lowered blood pressure.
- Perspiration or chills.
- Nausea or vomiting.
- Evidence of weight loss.
- Psychomotor agitation or retardation.
- Muscular weakness, respiratory depression, chest pain, or cardiac arrhythmias.
- Confusion, seizures, dyskinesia, dystopias, or coma.
A. Cessation of (or reduction in) prolonged amphetamine-type substance, cocaine, or other stimulant use.
B. Dysphoric mood and the following physiological changes, developing within a few hours to several days after
- Vivid, unpleasant dreams.
- Insomnia or hypersomnia.
- Increased appetite.
- Psychomotor retardation or agitation.
How to Approach a Loved One
There is no perfect way to approach a loved one that you assume or know is struggling with a stimulant use disorder. Many people with stimulant use disorder hesitate to get treatment because they don’t recognize they have a problem, so approaching them to tell them that they do have a problem can be difficult. An intervention from loved ones can help some people recognize and accept that they need professional help. If you’re concerned about someone who may have a stimulant use disorder, ask a professional experienced in drug addiction treatment for advice on how to approach that person. You can not force someone to seek professional care, but you can always offer your support and encouragement. Even though you may not be able to prevent your loved one from developing a stimulant use disorder, you can still talk with them about treatment options.
Types of Opioid Use Disorder Treatment:
There are effective treatments for stimulant use disorder. The first step in treatment is being able to recognize that you have a stimulant use problem, which can be difficult for most individuals. Many individuals reach this realization at a very low point brought upon by stimulant use disorder. Even with treatment, there is a probability that you may return to stimulant use. This is more like occurring if you spend time with people who drink stimulants or you’re in environments where stimulant use is common. A key part of recovery for stimulant use disorder is continued support.
Aftercare programs and/or support groups help people recovering from stimulant use disorder to stop using stimulants, manage relapses and cope with necessary lifestyle changes. If you feel that you’ll start to use stimulants again, contact your mental health professional or sponsor right away to prevent a relapse. Lifestyle changes are also crucial in recovering from stimulant use disorder. Ensuring that your family and friends are aware that you are recovering from stimulant use disorder and develop a support system of friends and family who can support your recovery, not impair your recovery. If you have people in your life that continue to take stimulants that do not support your recovery, they may impact your course of treatment and recovery. Finally, continuing to engage in other healthy habits is necessary for treatment. This can include healthily managing stress, good sleep habits, maintaining a schedule, or regular physical activity can make it easier for you to recover from stimulant use disorder.
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy or psychological counseling is used to identify the patterns of behaviors, thoughts, triggers, etc. that may impact individuals with stimulant use disorder. In therapy, individuals learn skills and establish treatment plans that usually involve drug treatment specialists. It may include goal setting, behavior change techniques, the use of self-help manuals, counseling, and follow-up care at a treatment center. In therapy or counseling, it may help individuals better understand their problem with stimulants and support recovery from the psychological aspects of stimulant use. Stimulant use disorder commonly occurs along with other mental health disorders, like depression and anxiety, which can be discussed in therapy.
Family therapy: This form of therapy can support the individual, as well as the family in regard to how the stimulant use behaviors affect the family unit. It can provide the family with skills on how to resolve issues that arise and healthily communicate with each other. Family therapy also provides the individual with the support needed for their recovery.
Various self-help groups are options for individuals to attend, such as Narcotics Anonymous. Some people find that talking with others who have a stimulant use problem may be a helpful part of treatment. Through self-help groups, individuals find a forum of peer support and gain strength as they share their feelings, and experiences with others facing the same obstacles as themselves. Self-help groups can also be helpful because you can have a sponsor that will assist in your continued recovery.
There are no pharmaceutical drugs formulated for treating stimulant use disorder. Certain drugs may potentially reduce cravings and lead to successful recovery; Prozac and naltrexone. Although Prozac is prescribed for mood disorders like depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder, it has shown some limited potential in reducing cravings. Naltrexone is commonly used for the treatment of opioid and alcohol dependencies but has also shown potential in treating prescription stimulant dependence.
American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.
(5th ed.) Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association.
Stimulant-Related Disorders. (n.d.).
Stimulant Treatment and Rehab. (n.d.).