Stimulant Addiction: Crystal Meth, Cocaine, and Prescription Stimulants

Treating Stimulant Addiction At The UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program In Los Angeles

Stimulants are a class of psychoactive drugs characterized by their ability to produce short-term improvements in physical functions, mental functions, or both. These include increased concentration, higher levels of energy, more alertness, and several other effects. Colloquially known as "uppers" (in contrast to depressants, known as "downers"), stimulants are often abused for the euphoric rush accompanied with them.

Stimulant medications include Ritalin, Adderall, ephedrine, and others, often utilized to help control the symptoms of ADHD. Other examples of stimulants include caffeine, cocaine (as well as its derivatives), and meth. There are dozens of different stimulants, both illegal and prescription, and all of them may eventually lead to addiction.

Signs And Symptoms

Signs of an addiction to stimulants include:

  • Inability or strong reluctance to stop using stimulants or reduce doses
  • Feeling dependent on stimulants to carry out normal functions
  • Severely reduced appetite, despite knowing food is necessary
  • Feeling tired, but being unable to sleep regularly or restfully
  • Requiring higher doses of stimulants in order to feel the same effects (increased tolerance)
  • Displaying symptoms of withdrawal when stimulant doses are reduced or stopped entirely. These symptoms can include depression, trembling, anxiety, sensitivity to touch, and disturbances to sleep patterns

Causes And Risk Factors

Stimulant addictions can begin in a number of ways. Individuals seeking treatment for ADHD or similar disorders might gradually increase their prescription stimulant doses to the point of increased physical dependence on the substance. Abuse of prescription stimulants among high school and college students, who begin using without medical supervision in order to feel more competitive academically, can frequently lead to addictions. Oftentimes, individuals with chronic depression or other mood disorders may turn to stimulants in order to fight against the symptoms, eventually losing their desire and ability to stop using the substance.

Risk factors for stimulant addiction include:

  • Chronic use of prescription or illegal stimulants
  • Gradually increasing stimulant doses over time
  • Having a family history of depression or other mood disorders
  • Suffering from ADHD or similar learning disabilities

Stimulant Addiction And Other Mental Health Disorders

Stimulant addictions can be fueled by long-term mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder, which are marked by chronic periods of low mood that instill an urge to artificially improve mood, cognition, and energy levels. ADHD, a common learning disability, is often treated with certain prescription stimulant medications. Using these medications inappropriately or for longer than directed by a physician can increase the risk of developing an addiction.

Diagnosing Stimulant Addiction

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) describes a series of criteria for diagnosing a substance addiction. Some of these criteria include demonstrating withdrawal symptoms, refusing or being unable to quit using a substance, or showing an increased tolerance.


As with most types of addiction, the first phase of treatment is detoxification. In this phase, abusers will decrease doses of the substance, preferably under the supervision of a medical professional to help reduce the severity of potential withdrawal symptoms. Occasionally, medications can be used during the treatment process, and most patients benefit from recurring sessions of group therapy and similar therapeutic programs.

Stimulant addictions and subsequent withdrawal can be very intense, resulting in extremely low moods, frustration, and other negative symptoms. At the UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program, we understand that addictions rarely occur without other factors at play; we will work with addicts and their families to develop an effective treatment plan. Call us now.