What is the abuse of prescription stimulants (amphetamines)?
Prescription stimulants increase (or stimulate) the body’s activities and processes. That increased activity can increase mental alertness, focus, and energy. It can also raise your blood pressure and make your heart beat faster. When prescribed by a doctor for a specific health problem, stimulants can be relatively safe and effective. However, dependence and addiction remain a possible risk when taking certain types of stimulants. That risk increases when these drugs are abused. Taking someone else’s prescription drugs or taking them to get high (meaning looking for a high ) can carry serious health risks.
Two types of stimulants are commonly abused: amphetamines (for example, Adderall) and methylphenidate (for example, Ritalin). In the past, stimulants were used to treat a variety of conditions, including asthma and other respiratory problems, obesity, and some health problems that affect the nervous system. Now, as more is known about the risk of abuse and addiction, doctors prescribe them less often and for only a few health problems. They continue to be prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), narcolepsy (a sleep disorder), and sometimes depression that does not respond to other treatments.
How Stimulants Are Abused
Prescription stimulants are often taken in pill form, but some people who use them to get high crush the tablets and inhale or inject the powder. This can be dangerous because the ingredients in the tablets can block small blood vessels, damaging the heart and other organs.
Stimulants are also prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in some adolescents. But if these young people share the medicine with their friends, that is abuse. People abuse stimulants when they take them in a different way than directed. Examples:
- Taking a stimulant prescribed for someone else.
- Taking a prescription stimulant in a different way than directed.
- Take a prescription stimulant to get high.
- Mixing prescription stimulants with alcohol or certain drugs. The pharmacist can tell you which drugs are dangerous to mix with stimulants.
Stimulants have been used inappropriately to “improve academic performance” (for example, staying up all night to prepare for a test). That is why they are sometimes called “study drugs.” However, studies show that stimulants do not increase learning or thinking ability when they are taken by people who have not been diagnosed with a medical disorder such as ADHD.