In recent decades, the continual study of how substances interact with human anatomy helps clinicians gain a better understanding of behavior and physiology in terms of substance abuse and addiction. Equipped with this information, members of the healthcare team improve treatment methods concerning substance use disorders. Through ongoing research, addiction counselors, physicians and therapists also develop specific approaches that prove most effective for individual situations.
How Stimulants Affect the Body and Mind
When used, stimulants affect individuals by interfering with or changing the normal communication between the neurons found in the brain. Cocaine and meth, for example, act on the cells that release, react to and reabsorb dopamine. While under the influence, the drugs cause a variety of actions. Receptors increase the amount of dopamine released. When the drugs attach to receptor sites, neurons cannot breakdown and reabsorb the chemical compounds. The excess of free-flowing dopamine produces the desired euphoric effects, increased energy levels and all other symptoms commonly experienced.
When the amount of the drug in the brain subsides, dopamine levels return to normal and the symptoms of the high soon disappear. If used chronically, the drug produces many different biological actions. In an attempt to correct abnormal neurotransmitter levels, various adaptations take place. The reward center of the brain competes with or neutralizes the effects of the drug. Neurons may release smaller amounts of dopamine, which prevents overflow. Receptor sites may begin disappearing, limiting the number of available locations for the drug to affect. Message sending and receiving pathways may also change, which leads to alterations in physical actions, behavior, mental status and mood.
Intermittent bingeing or chronic use may progress to dependency or addiction. Individuals taking large doses or administering the drug using methods of rapid absorption can hasten the process by which the body becomes addicted. The feeling of being high soon takes precedence over former activities, pleasures and responsibilities. However, tolerance eventually sets in as the brain reacts by fighting harder to correct the chemical effects. When this occurs, the user must take larger doses to get high.
Users also begin experiencing unpleasant valleys once the drug’s effects subside. In time, individuals must take the drug to feel normal. The body craves the drug in the absence of normal dopamine levels. Drug use then becomes a necessity as a means of preventing withdrawal.
Learning and memory are other aspects of addiction. Every time a stimulant causes a flood of dopamine, neurons send chemical messages to other parts of the brain that remember the pleasant sensations. The brain also begins equating the experience with specific people, places or objects. When an individual comes in contact with any of the triggers, the brain instantly produces the memory of being high. The individual then feels a strong desire or craving to recreate the event by obtaining and using the drug. The brain retains this information even after someone undergoes detoxification. Addicts may experience cravings for years after becoming sober. Without the proper tools to understand the circumstances and combat the experience, addicts become the victims of relapse.
A Look at the Most Commonly Abused Stimulants
Cocaine is the white powder commonly equated with snorting to achieve the desired effects. The high typically lasts for approximately one hour and then wanes. Considered one of the most addictive substances, addicts experience severe psychological symptoms when trying to overcome the habit.
Crack, or crack cocaine, refers to the crystallized form of the drug. Though less expensive compared to the powdered counterpart, the effects tend to only last anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour. In this form, the drug is smoked through a glass pipe. The dangers involved with crack surround the diluting process that may include any number of harmful substances used as ingredients to arrive at the end product.
Methamphetamine is more potent than cocaine for a number of reasons. The body metabolizes cocaine faster. Meth isn’t broken down as easily and thus remains longer in an active form. Dopamine levels are higher when someone is under the influence of meth. Studies indicate that meth causes a three-fold level of dopamine release compared to cocaine. In addition to blocking reabsorption, the substance also encourages a greater degree of neurotransmitter release, which allows the compound to stay in the system longer and produce longer-lasting effects. The high lasts anywhere from eight to 24 hours.
Ecstasy, or MDMA, is the drug most commonly associated with the club partying scene. Not only does the substance cause stimulant effects, but it also has hallucinogenic properties. The class of stimulants affects dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin levels in the brain. Users often report experiencing strange distortions in sensory perception while under the influence. Additionally, the drug often causes the individual to feel emotional, have more empathy toward others and experience an increase in sexual arousal.
A number of prescription attention deficit hyperactivity disorder medications are abused for their stimulant properties. Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, Strattera and Vyvanse are some of the common drugs that may be abused by patients having the prescription, or by friends or family members of the patient requiring the formulations. In addition to providing a high that’s often equated with stimulants, the drugs are also addictive. Other dangers involved with abusing the substances include the possibility of accidental overdose, heart attack and stroke.
Pseudoephedrine is the active ingredient in over-the-counter allergy and cold medications that are used for their decongestant properties. The compound is also the main ingredient used in making meth. The potential for abuse and harmful side effects have led to the decreased availability of the substance. Retailers commonly keep the products behind the counter in an attempt at limiting access and distribution.
Caffeine levels found in energy drinks or pure powdered forms have become increasingly popular in recent years for the energy boost they provide. However, many accidental overdoses have occurred that led to emergency room visits and fatalities.
Seek Professional Help Today
In addition to the way in which the drugs affect the central nervous system, serious cardiovascular damage can occur when someone turns to stimulants. Getting professional help to stop the addiction can save a life. For more information concerning abuse, addiction or rehabilitation options, call the 800-447-9081 hotline today.