Stimulant Dependence: Amphetamines and Cocaine

Stimulant Dependence: Amphetamines and Cocaine
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  • 0:05 Stimulants
  • 1:30 Cocaine
  • 3:49 Amphetamines
  • 5:23 Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Many people take stimulants like caffeine in small doses every day. But what happens when someone becomes dependent on stimulants? In this lesson, we'll look at the effects of stimulants, including two commonly abused stimulants, cocaine and amphetamines.


Donna has been taking stimulants for years. It started when she wanted to lose some weight and a friend recommended that she take a diet pill that contained high amounts of caffeine. From there, she began using more hard stimulants. Now, just to get out of bed in the morning, she needs several different pills.

Donna is experiencing stimulant dependence, which is a special type of substance use disorder that involves developing a tolerance and necessity for stimulant drugs. People who have a dependency on stimulants need more and more of the drugs just to function in their everyday life.

What are stimulant drugs? Stimulants are drugs that stimulate, or speed up, brain and body functions.

In small doses, some stimulants like coffee are beneficial. In fact, in the short term, most stimulants result in a heightened alertness and higher self-esteem, increased physical and mental performance, and produce a feeling of exhilaration.

But there are downsides to stimulants, too. They can cause tremors, headaches, and a racing heart. In large doses, they can even cause heart failure. Illegal stimulants, like cocaine, can cause serious side effects and addiction.

Let's take a closer look at two stimulants that commonly cause stimulant dependence: cocaine and prescription amphetamines.


Cocaine is a very strong stimulant that is illegal in the United States. It was originally developed as a medicine, specifically an anesthetic, due to its pain-blocking properties. However, doctors discovered that it was incredibly addictive, and as a result, it hasn't been used as a medicine since the early 20th century.

Cocaine can be snorted through the nose, injected directly into the bloodstream, or smoked in a pipe. When it is used, it produces a feeling of euphoria, heightened awareness, and energy. Because it works closely with the part of the brain that is involved in rewarding behavior, it feels very good to take cocaine! And partly because it feels so good, it is highly addicting.

You might be wondering, with all the feel-good properties of cocaine, what's the downside? There are serious side effects to cocaine. Physical side effects include high blood pressure, heart and respiratory failure, brain hemorrhage, and stroke. All of these side effects can lead to death.

In addition to the physical side effects of cocaine, there are social side effects, as well. Because it is so addictive, cocaine often leads to binging, or taking many doses over a short amount of time. Binging can increase the chances of physical side effects.

Because cocaine is so addictive, people with cocaine dependency often have trouble focusing on anything beyond their next fix. As a result, social relationships can take a backseat and fall apart.

Cocaine also has costs associated with it. The price of cocaine and the addictive nature of it mean that many people dependent on it end up spending much of their money on the drug.

In addition, because cocaine is illegal, arrest and prosecution are always a possibility. Being arrested for cocaine use can be expensive. Court costs and lawyers' fees add up quickly. Not to mention that an addict could lose their job after being arrested for cocaine use.

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