Stimulants, which can be prescribed or illegal, include cocaine and amphetamines, as well as variants of those substances (crack, crystal meth) that usually intensify their effect. Caffeine and to some extent, nicotine are stimulants. Betel nut and Khat are popular in some cultures, as are synthetic derivatives which may fall into the category of New Psychoactive Substances.
Stimulants galvanise the Central Nervous System (CNS), which is why some of them are referred to as “speed” or “uppers”. Stimulant drugs act as an accelerator to CNS processes. A user is likely to feel much more awake and alert, as well as perhaps initially enjoying a surge in confidence and energy, even euphoria.
Significant downsides of excessive use include the onset of anxiety, tremors, nausea, palpitations and increased body temperature. Often unpredictable in their effects, especially when combined with other drugs such as depressants, more powerful stimulants can exert significant strain on the body with heart failure, stroke and seizures possible. The risk of overdose increases.
As with all types of drug abuse, the first step to treating stimulant addiction is to find out what is currently being consumed, of what potency, in what quantities, with what frequency, and in what combinations. Because stimulant abuse of substances such as methamphetamines is so potentially damaging to major organs, a thorough overall physical and mental health check (including sexual health) is essential before deciding on the appropriate therapies.
Since individuals with stimulant use disorders are likely to present in a highly agitated state, early outpatient and inpatient treatment interventions will aim to have a calming effect. This may include temporary use of tranquillisers. Close psychological support will be vital. It is likely the person will be suffering from volatile mood swings, or, without the stimulant, may be susceptible to depression. Psychiatric intervention may be called for as some people may have suffered psychotic episodes.
Psychological stimulant withdrawal symptoms will often be intense cravings, which may last some time and sporadically recur. Maintaining motivation for seeking treatment and recovery will be paramount. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) helps to manage cravings. CBT can be enhanced by massage, guided relaxation, gentle exercise and improved nutrition. Restoring healthy sleep patterns will also be a priority.
It is important to explore the initial attraction to stimulant drugs. The person may be susceptible to boredom, find it difficult to self-energise or find little in life rewarding. They may lack confidence or may have turned to stimulants to assist working under great pressure in a demanding job. They may have become involved in drug-enhanced sexual activity known as Chem Sex.
Recovery from all addictions includes the discovery of non-addictive ways to regulate mood as well as being able to identify and pre-empt self-defeating impulses. There is a need to adopt activities that produce non-addictive rewards. It is so important to avoid isolation, which can be addressed by participation in mutual aid groups. By their very nature, stimulant users tend to be in a hurry. They need help to adjust to the reality that recovery takes time.