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The Science of Stimulant Addiction

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Stimulants are a unique class of drugs that are often overlooked in addiction discussions at large. Lantana Recovery understands that different underlying causes drive various addictions. This is why Lantana Recovery focuses on providing highly personalized treatment for stimulant use disorders. Behavioral interventions offered by Lantana Recovery seek to strike at the heart of why a person feels the need to use, recognizing that stimulant use disorder often has a strong psychological component.

This blog post will explore various forms of stimulants, their effects, and what the path to recovery looks like. One thing is for certain, the fleeting high of stimulant abuse cannot compare with the sustainable high of a life in recovery.

The Stimulant and Your Brain

Stimulants impact the brain in ways entirely different than depressants, like alcohol or benzodiazepines. There are a variety of effects that stimulants can cause. In acute quantities, positive effects include euphoria, motivation, a sense of well-being, and a sense of being alert. However, what goes up must come down. The negative effects of stimulant use include insomnia, nausea, aggression, panic, hallucinations, and paranoia.

Choosing to Use a Stimulant

There are a variety of reasons that people choose to use stimulants. Some people enjoy the euphoric impact that the drug provides. Others use it as a performance enhancement tool in a world that has grown increasingly competitive. Stimulant abuse, like other forms of substance abuse, can even start in a seemingly innocent manner through a prescription.

The Rise of Telemedicine

The impact of COVID-19 on how modern medicine is practiced has been profound. Changes in the regulatory rules surrounding prescribing practices of stimulant medication have revolutionized stimulant accessibility. Now, all it takes to get a powerful stimulant medication is the description of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms to a doctor during a brief telehealth visit. Between 2019 and 2022, the number of United States Adderall prescriptions increased by 16%, according to the article F.D.A. Confirms Widespread Shortages of Adderall by the New York Times.

The Gateway to a Stimulant

Stimulant medication, when used as prescribed, is not inherently dangerous. However, for those predisposed to abuse and addiction, the use of a prescription stimulant can be a gateway to something more serious. While certain stimulants do not have physical withdrawal effects, they can be psychologically addicting. People who use stimulants chronically anecdotally report needing the rush of drug-induced dopamine to accomplish small tasks in their day. Over time, the dependence can grow worse and worse.

A Competitive World

We live in a competitive global economy. We face many demands on our time, particularly working professionals. Stimulants present a siren song of temporary relief from the inability to meet the excessive demands of life. As with anything in life, there is no free lunch. The initial benefits of chronic stimulant abuse wear off, and an individual will be left with debilitating side effects and the overall impact of the scourge of drug abuse on one’s life. No life goal and no commitment are worth that sacrifice.

Cocaine and Methamphetamine

Cocaine and methamphetamine are both commonly abused illicit stimulants that have a similar effect profile. However, these drugs do have important differences. First, they appear differently cocaine as a white powder and meth as shards of glass. Cocaine leaves the body relatively quickly, whereas methamphetamine has a half-life of around 12 hours. Cocaine is abused by over twice the amount of people who abuse meth. Moreover, in a gram-for-gram comparison, the street cost of cocaine is more than twice that of methamphetamine. This fuels a perception that cocaine is a drug used more by the wealthy.

The Stimulant High

Cocaine is simply not as potent as methamphetamine. While both impact dopamine, cocaine primarily works by blocking the reuptake of dopamine through the dopaminergic transporter. Methamphetamine, on the other hand, works by both blocking the reuptake of dopamine, as well as by stimulating its release. The result is a more intense high from methamphetamine, which is, as a result, more addictive. Anecdotally, people report taking methamphetamine daily to get high, while those who use cocaine report less frequent evening use.


The withdrawal from stimulants has a variety of components. The severity of stimulant withdrawal effects is generally not considered life-threatening. However, the short-term effects of withdrawal can include trouble sleeping, hallucinations, and panic. The longer-term effects of withdrawal from stimulants largely relate to the length of which a person has used, as well as the intensity of the use. Over time, the brain becomes more and more accustomed to the high levels of dopamine supplied by the drug; as a result, the person may struggle with chronic symptoms from that lack of dopamine.

Low Dopamine Effects

The effects of chronic low dopamine in the brain, as a result of the brain’s habituation to a former stimulant habit, can be long-term. These effects can include depression, insomnia, hypersomnia, agitation, anxiety, anhedonia, and a general inability to execute the tasks of life. The impact of stimulants is paradoxical. In one way, they can make a person highly functional, while in another way, they can be completely debilitating.

Finding Recovery

The process of recovery is not easy. There is no medication-assisted treatment (MAT) regimen that a person can follow to sustain their recovery. The process instead revolves around building a new life without the rush of dopamine that was previously relied upon. This includes using the brain’s neuroplasticity to build the capacity to maintain discipline in daily activities.

Recovery also includes behavioral modification changes in which a person recognizes that they can live a good life without a stimulant high. It also means building mindfulness, which deepens a person’s appreciation for their existence and enhances their capacity to experience natural, sustainable highs.

Lantana Recovery understands that the world is a tough place and that, at least initially, stimulants can seem like a path toward managing the unmanageable. Unfortunately, Lantana Recovery also knows the costs that exist with this mindset. With the rise of telemedicine, powerful prescription stimulants are only a click away. This can be a gateway to more powerful substances. Lantana Recovery’s behavioral interventions work in individual and group settings to change the mindsets of individuals struggling with addiction to stimulants. Lantana Recovery helps individuals understand that their lives can be just as effective and happy without the dopamine rush that accompanies getting high. Call Lantana Recovery today to learn how your life can change for the better at (866) 997-2870.


Warren Phillips

Warren is a Licensed Master Social Worker, who specializes in substance abuse and mental health treatment. Clinically, Warren has developed a therapeutic skillset that utilizes a strengths-based perspective, Twelve Step philosophies, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Motivational Interviewing.

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Charleston South Carolina

Charleston South Carolina

Located on the historic peninsula of Charleston, South Carolina, Lantana Recovery takes a modern approach to Substance Use Disorder treatment, offering intensive clinical care while also immersing our clients in local Charleston culture.