Stimulant Abuse and How Stimulants Affect the Body - PAX Riverbend

How Do Stimulants Affect the Body?

stimulants affecting the body

Stimulants are a group of substances that cause increased activity in the body. While some stimulant drugs have medicinal value, these substances are commonly abused due to their performance-enhancing and euphoric properties. Commonly referred to as “uppers”, stimulant drugs cause heightened energy levels and increased ability to focus among those who abuse them. To further explain, stimulants speed up physical and mental processes, which produces short-term desirable effects by increasing dopamine in the brain. However, long-term stimulant abuse often results in an array of significant consequences.

Stimulant drugs include legal, prescription medications as well as illicit substances. For example, Adderall is a stimulant medication used in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). On the other hand, illegal forms of stimulants include substances like methamphetamine and cocaine. Despite the differences in legality, both legal and illicit forms of stimulants are commonly abused.

Individuals who abuse these drugs often suffer from an array of negative side-effects that can lead to addiction, and in severe cases – death. If you or a loved one is currently abusing stimulants, it is time to become aware of the associated health risks.


What are Stimulants?

Stimulants are a class of substances that increase cells that signal and amplify various physiological processes throughout an individual’s brain and body. Additionally, stimulant drugs are known to cause a heightened dopamine release. As a result of this, individuals who are high on stimulants experience a powerful sense of well-being, increased energy, attention, and alertness.

Stimulant drugs include:

  • Prescription ADHD medications such as Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate).
  • Methamphetamine (including crystal meth).
  • Cocaine and crack-cocaine

Depending on the particular substance, stimulants are ingested orally, snorted, smoked, or intravenously injected. The effects of stimulants range from short-term increased energy to long-term brain changes and/or organ system injury. In extreme cases of stimulant abuse, the harm done can be long-lasting and possibly permanent.

Side-Effects of Stimulant Drugs

Every form of stimulant will have a differing combination of side-effects. However, all stimulants share specific side-effects that can negatively impact a user’s system when abused.

Common side-effects of stimulant drugs include:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Heightened blood pressure
  • Very high body temperature
  • Muscle shakes or tremors
  • Agitation

Each of the mentioned effects is associated with stimulant abuse. Therefore, it is plain to see that even short-term stimulant abuse has devastating effects on an individual’s body.

For example, individuals who abuse stimulants are at risk of hyperthermia, cardiovascular abnormalities, and sudden death. Individuals who abuse stimulants over a long period of time will experience more frequent and severe mental and bodily health effects.

Short-Term Effects of Abusing Stimulants

Individuals generally abuse stimulants for their euphoric and energetic effects. For example, college students typically abuse stimulants in order to maintain their studies and their social lives. In regards to the short-term, stimulant effects are very pleasurable, however, some individuals may experience negative reactions to a stimulant drug depending on their personal body and brain chemistry. As a result, stimulants should only be taken on a prescription-basis.

Common short-term effects of abusing stimulants include:

  • Intense feelings of happiness
  • Increased energy/sociability and self-esteem
  • Improved attention
  • Increased sexual desire and performance
  • Opened breathing passages/easier breathing
  • Suppressed appetite

While these effects may appear desirable, they will not last forever. In fact, the longer an individual abuses stimulants, the substance may begin to affect them less. This is known as building a “tolerance”, which is a dangerous phenomenon that typically leads to dependency and addiction.

Long-Term Effects of Stimulant Abuse

Abusing stimulants can cause greater and more serious effects than the short-term, desirable high. Many users have a hard time acknowledging the long-term effects of stimulants due to their favor for the short-term high. However, the long-term effects of abusing stimulants should not be disregarded, as they can be severe and potentially life-threatening.

Long-term physical effects of stimulant abuse include:

  • Extreme weight loss
  • Reduced sexual functioning
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Muscle deterioration
  • Chronic exhaustion
  • Cardiovascular damage
  • Breathing problems
  • Headaches
  • Cerebral hemorrhage
  • Stroke
  • Seizure

In addition to physical side-effects, long-term stimulant abuse can cause psychological damage. For example, individuals who have abused stimulants over a long period of time may experience depression, persistent anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, delusions, and even psychosis. Due to the severity of the long-term physical and psychological effects of stimulant abuse, individuals should always seek professional stimulant addiction help.

Stimulant Dependence and Withdrawal

Individuals who abuse stimulants over a long period of time will develop a physical and mental dependence on the substance. As their body becomes accustomed to using a stimulant, the individual will begin to rely on the substance. This is known as dependency or addiction. As a result of developing a dependency to stimulants, individuals will experience withdrawal symptoms if they attempt to cease their stimulant use.

Common symptoms of stimulant withdrawal include:

  • Mental and physical exhaustion
  • Insomnia
  • Anhedonia (inability to feel pleasure)
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety and agitation
  • Excessive sleep
  • Intense hunger
  • Drug cravings

One of the biggest risks of stimulant withdrawal is the commonality of experiencing suicidal thoughts or ideation. Because of this, attending a professional stimulant detox center is imperative for one’s safety. If you or a loved one abuse stimulants, or have experienced any of the mentioned withdrawal symptoms, it is time to seek help.

Treatment for Stimulant Addiction

Stimulant addiction can cause severe physical and psychological side-effects. If you or a loved one are currently addicted to stimulants, quitting cold turkey is not recommended. Individuals recovering from a stimulant addiction should attend medical detox and inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment. In doing so, patients receive vital medical and psychiatric care, as well as learn how to cope with stress and live their lives substance-free. If you would like to beat the fight against stimulant addiction, give PAX Riverbend a call today to learn more about our inclusive and comprehensive treatment plans.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.