Signs & Symptoms of Stimulant Dependence

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  • 0:01 Stimulant Use Disorder
  • 2:26 Signs and Symptoms
  • 4:11 Diagnosis and Treatment
  • 6:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ashley Dugger

Ashley is an attorney. She has taught and written various introductory law courses.

Stimulant abuse and dependence is relatively common among young adults. This lesson explains the general warning signs and symptoms that could indicate a stimulant use disorder.

Stimulant Use Disorder

Cara is a college student. She takes a full load of classes while juggling a job and several extracurricular activities. Cara often takes a pill, called Adderall, that she gets from a friend. Adderall is a prescription drug used for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. Cara doesn't have ADHD, but she takes the drug anyway to improve her energy, focus and attention while studying.

Though Cara's behavior is dangerous and illegal, Cara is not unlike many of her peers. A recent study by the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids showed that nearly one in every five college students abuses prescription stimulants.

Stimulant drugs are popular because they produce extra brain activity, increase alertness, improve energy and promote a sense of well-being. Prescription stimulant drugs are commonly used not only to treat ADHD but also to treat narcolepsy and obesity. Unfortunately, these drugs are the popular objects of prescription drug abuse. Prescription drug abuse is taking a medication that was prescribed for someone else or taking a prescription in a manner not intended by the prescribing doctor. Cara is involved in prescription drug abuse.

Though stimulant abuse doesn't end with prescription drugs, there are also illegal stimulants, such as methamphetamine and cocaine. The use of either prescription stimulants or illegal stimulants can lead to stimulant use disorder. This is a broad term used to describe stimulant abuse, stimulant addiction, stimulant dependency and any other disorder caused by the recurrent use of stimulant drugs.

Note that stimulant dependence can result from frequent or long-term use of stimulant drugs or from taking more than the recommended dose. Since Cara uses stimulants often, she'll need to be assessed for stimulant use disorder.

Signs and Symptoms

Let's take a look at some of the signs and symptoms associated with stimulant use disorder. First, note that stimulant use can lead to different types of dependence. Psychological dependence refers to a perceived need for a substance, based on a strong compulsion or urge to use the substance. Maybe Cara's body doesn't physically depend on the drugs, but her mind believes she must have the drugs.

Some psychological signs of stimulant use disorder include:

  • Long periods of euphoria or intense elation
  • Extreme self-confidence
  • Manic behavior
  • Violent episodes
  • Craving stimulants
  • Continued use of stimulants despite difficulties caused at work, home or school

Stimulant use can also lead to physical dependence, which refers to the human body's reliance on a substance to the point that the body cannot function without it. If Cara is physically dependent on stimulants, her body will react when she goes without the drug. Her body will experience withdrawal effects, such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and overall pain. These physical symptoms tell Cara's body she needs more of the drug in order to function.

Some physical signs of stimulant use disorder include:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dilated pupils
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Increased tolerance to stimulants

Diagnosis and Treatment

Let's say Cara decides to seek help. Cara visits a doctor. The doctor will likely explain that stimulant use disorder will only be diagnosed when use is continual and causes considerable difficulties with a patient's school, work, social life, home life or health. So, this will be the core of Cara's assessment.

Generally, in order to diagnose a use disorder, a patient must have at least three of these symptoms due to the use of stimulants:

  • Needing larger doses to achieve desired effects
  • Showing psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as depression, paranoia or anxiety
  • Feeling unable to cut back or stop usage
  • Spending considerable amounts of time trying to get stimulants
  • Missing obligations related to work, school, social ties or family
  • Continuing use despite acknowledging abuse or dependence

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