What are stimulants?

Stimulants, also known as "uppers", refer to several groups of drugs that tend to increase alertness, elevate blood pressure and increase heart rate and respiration, as well as increase physical activity or energy.  Some people use stimulants to counteract the drowsiness or "down" feeling caused by sleeping pills or alcohol.  The up/down cycle is extremely hard on the body and dangerous.  Amphetamines, cocaine, and caffeine are all stimulants.  Historically stimulants were used to treat asthma, obesity, and now are more commonly prescribed for the treatment of narcolepsy, ADHD, and depression that has not responded to other forms of treatment.  Amphetamines include three closely related drugs- amphetamine, dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine and Adderall), and methamphetamine.  Street names include "speed", "white crosses", "uppers", "dexies", "bennies", and "crystal".

What are the warning signs?

As with other drugs, stimulants can become addictive.  Physical withdrawal may occur when discontinuing use.  Withdrawal may include: fatigue, depression, and sleep disturbances.

In addition to physical effects, users report feeling restless, anxious, and moody.  Higher doses intensify the effect, and the user can become excited, talkative, and have a false sense of confidence and power.  Prolonged use can result in psychosis: seeing, hearing, and feelings things that do not exist (hallucinations), having irrational thoughts or beliefs (delusions), and feeling as though people are out to get them (paranoia).

What are the effects?

Amphetamines increase heart and breathing rates and blood pressure, dilate pupils, and increase appetite.  In addition the user, may experience dry mouth, sweating, headache, blurred vision, dizziness, sleeplessness, and anxiety.  Extremely high doses can cause users to flush or become pale, have irregular heartbeat, tremors, loss of coordination, and even physical collapse.  Long-term heavy use can lead to malnutrition, skin disorders, ulcers, various diseases related to vitamin deficiency, lack of sleep, weight loss, depression, brain damage that can result in speech and thought disturbance.  Amphetamine injection can create a sudden increase in blood pressure that can lead to death from stroke, very high fever, or heart failure.  Injection can also cause lung or heart disease, kidney damage, or infection from non-sterile equipment or needle use.

What is cocaine?

Cocaine (known as "coke," "C," "snow," "flake," or "blow") is a drug extracted from the leaves of the coca plant.  Like amphetamines, it is a central nervous system stimulant.  Cocaine usually comes in fine white powder form, but can come in larger pieces, known on the street as "rocks".  It is usually snorted into the nose, although some users inject it or smoke a form of the drug called "freebase".  Crack is a form of cocaine, which is made by chemically converting cocaine to a substance more suitable for smoking.

What are the warning signs of cocaine?

When cocaine is snorted, the effects begin within a few minutes. These effects can include dilated pupils, increase in blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature.  The user may have a sense of well-being and feel more energetic or alert, and less hungry.  Smoking crack produces a shorter and more intense "high" because it has a more direct pathway to the brain.  Users may experience confusion, slurred speech, anxiety, and serious psychological problems.

What are the effects of cocaine?

Cocaine, like amphetamines and other drugs, is a powerfully addictive drug.  The dangers of cocaine use vary, depending on how the drug is taken, the dose, and the individual.  Some regular users report feelings of restlessness, irritability, anxiety, and sleeplessness.  Others may become paranoid or experience "cocaine psychosis" where they experience hallucination of touch, sight, taste, or smell.  Occasional use can cause a stuffy or runny nose, while chronic snorting can ulcerate the mucous membrane of the nose.  Injecting cocaine with unsterilized equipment may cause hepatitis or other infections.  Death can occur as a result of overdose when the drug is injected, smoked, or even snorted.  Deaths are a result of multiple seizures followed by respiratory and cardiac arrest.

What is methamphetamine?

Methamphetamine or "meth" is a highly addictive central nervous stimulant that can be easily produced or "cooked" from a few over the counter and inexpensive ingredients.  Meth is slowly becoming one of the most serious drug epidemics the U.S. has faced. This is largely due to meth being much easier to obtain, and much cheaper to buy in comparison to cocaine.  Meth can be smoked, snorted, injected, or ingested orally.  Immediately after smoking or ingesting, the user will experience a rush that lasts up to 24 hours.  The preferred method of meth abuse varies by geographical region.  Smoking, which leads to very fast uptake to the brain, has become more common which amplifies addiction potential and adverse health consequences.

What are the effects of methamphetamines?

Short-term effects of meth use may include: increased attention, increased activity and wakefulness, decreased appetite, euphoria and rush, increased respiration, rapid or irregular heartbeat, or hyperthermia.  Long-term effects may include: addiction, psychosis (paranoia, hallucinations, repetitive motor activity), or delusions (i.e. the sensation of insects creeping under the skin, resulting in the user picking at their skin). Picking can lead to open wounds, scabs, and scarring. The user will quite often pick at their scars as well, leaving the body open to infection. Additional effect include: change in brain structure and function, memory loss, aggressive or violent behavior, mood disturbances, severe dental problems, increased risk of stroke, or severe weight loss.  Many addicts have an increased craving for sexual activity, which can lead to risky behaviors or STD’s.  Some of the psychotic symptoms can last for months or years after the abuse has ceased.  Their behavior becomes unpredictable. They may be friendly and calm one moment, angry and terrified the next. The most dangerous stage of methamphetamine abuse is when the drug use has produced psychosis ("tweaking"). A user who is tweaking has probably not slept in 3-15 days, and consequently will be extremely irritable and paranoid. A tweaker should be approached with great caution as he/she does not need provocation to behave or react violently, but confrontation will increase this risk.

What is caffeine?

Caffeine is the world's most popular drug.  It is a white, bitter, crystal-like substance found in coffee, tea, cocoa, and soft drinks.  It is also found in products such as aspirin, nonprescription cough and cold remedies diet pills and some street drugs.

What are the effects of caffeine?

There are several effects of cocaine use including an increase in the person's metabolism, body temperature, and blood pressure. Other effects include increased urine production, higher blood sugar levels, hand tremors, loss of coordination, decreased appetite, and delayed sleep.  Extremely high doses may cause nausea, diarrhea, sleeplessness, trembling, headache, and nervousness.  Poisonous doses have occurred occasionally and may result in convulsions, breathing failure, and death.  Deaths related to caffeine have most often been reported through misuse of tablets containing caffeine.   A regular user of caffeine who has developed a tolerance may have craving for the drug's effects.  Some researchers have found a withdrawal-like syndrome among people who suddenly stop using caffeine.  Symptoms include headache, irritability, and mood changes.

How can someone get help?

The first step is to determine if there is a problem.  A Certified Addictions Counselor can effectively perform an assessment to determine what level of care is most appropriate.  For a free confidential assessment, call the Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery at (800) 522-3784.  An assessment can be completed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are always welcome. 

Sources:  National Institutes of Health, Mayo Clinic, National Institute on Drug Abuse, American Psychiatric Association, Butte County Meth Strike Force