Prescription Stimulant Addiction: Effects & Treatment

Prescription stimulants are a class of drugs that are often prescribed to treat attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.1 However, these drugs have a known risk for misuse, which can lead to serious health consequences, dependence, and addiction.
Did you know most health insurance plans cover addiction treatment?
Prescription Stimulants Overview

What Are Prescription Stimulants?

Prescription stimulants are medications that increase activity in the central nervous system (CNS), which is thought to be beneficial in the treatment of the disorders they are prescribed for, like ADHD.  Prescription stimulants work by increasing the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, such as dopamine and norepinephrine, which are involved in attention, focus, and impulse control.1

Prescription stimulant drugs cause increased alertness, energy, and activity levels, as well as reducing appetite and the need for sleep.2,3

Types of Prescription Stimulants

There are various types of prescription stimulants, and while they’re used to treat the same conditions, they work slightly differently due to the different formulations. These include:1,4

Prescription Stimulant Effects

Prescription stimulants can help improve focus and concentration, which is one of the reasons they are used to treat disorders like ADHD.2 However, these medications can also have a number of side effects, which can include:2

  • Decreased appetite and unintentional weight loss.
  • Headache.
  • Insomnia.
  • Dizziness.
  • Nervousness.
  • Increased wakefulness.
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Increased respiratory rate.

Prescription Stimulant Misuse

Are Prescription Stimulants Addictive?

As Schedule II controlled substances, prescription stimulants have a known risk for misuse, which can result in physiological dependence or addiction.1, 5

Physiological dependence is when the body adapts to the regular presence of a drug, in this case, prescription stimulants, and requires them to function as usual.5  If you cut back or stop taking a prescription stimulant, symptoms of withdrawal can occur.5 People with physiological dependence may continue to take prescription stimulants to prevent withdrawal from starting.5

Addiction is a chronic but treatable disorder that involves compulsive use of a substance (or substances), even after having experienced negative consequences because of substance use.5, 9

What Is a Stimulant Use Disorder?

When someone struggles with addiction to a prescription stimulant the clinical diagnosis is called a stimulant use disorder.8 A stimulant use disorder occurs when the recurrent use of a substance, in this case prescription stimulants, causes a clinically significant impairment to a person’s physical or mental health, relationships, and a failure to meet responsibilities at work, home, or in school.2

Signs of Prescription Stimulant Misuse

While only a qualified healthcare professional can diagnose a stimulant use disorder, having a good understanding of what the diagnostic criteria are can help you know when you need to get help for yourself or a loved one. The signs of a prescription stimulant use disorder include:8

  • Taking prescription stimulants in bigger quantities or for longer periods than originally planned.
  • Wanting to cut back or control your use of prescription stimulants, or unsuccessfully trying to do so.
  • Spending a lot of time getting, using, or recovering from prescription stimulants.
  • Experiencing strong urges to use prescription stimulants.
  • Ongoing prescription stimulant use makes you unable to complete essential tasks at home, school, or work.
  • Inability to stop using prescription stimulants even after knowing that it is likely to have caused or worsened ongoing problems in your relationships.
  • Quitting or reducing participation in formerly enjoyable activities due to use of prescription stimulants.
  • Regularly using prescription stimulants when it could be physically dangerous, such as when driving.
  • Inability to stop using prescription stimulants even after knowing that it is likely to have caused or worsened ongoing physical or mental health concerns.
  • Developing a tolerance to prescription stimulants, meaning that you need larger amounts to feel the same effect.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when the use of prescription stimulants is stopped or significantly reduced.
Risks & Effects of Prescription Stimulant Misuse

Dangers of Prescription Stimulant Misuse

Misusing prescription stimulant medications is associated with certain risks to a person’s health and well-being.1,5 It’s important to note that these effects can vary due to route of use (e.g., orally, intravenously, inhalation), the type of stimulant used, amount taken, and any existing physical or psychological issues a person may have.5 These risks include:5

  • Heart problems, such as heart attack or arrhythmias.
  • Stroke.
  • Seizure.
  • High blood pressure.
  • Muscular and renal dysfunction.
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Altered mental status, including confusion, delusions, paranoia, hallucinations.
  • Suicidal ideation.
  • Increased risk of violence.
  • Tolerance.
  • Withdrawal symptoms.
  • Addiction
  • Overdose, which can lead to coma or death.

Overdosing on Prescription Stimulants

It is possible to experience a prescription stimulant overdose. This risk is increased when , such as alcohol or opioids.5,6 A prescription stimulant overdose can be fatal, even if other substances are not being used.3, 5

Signs of an overdose on prescription stimulants include:1-3

  • Chest pain.
  • Confusion.
  • Dangerously increased body temperature.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Losing consciousness or coma.
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and diarrhea.
  • Paranoia.
  • Raised blood pressure and heart rate.
  • Seizures.
  • Shortness of breath or breathing that is fast or isn’t regular.
  • Weakness.

Prescription Stimulant Withdrawal & Detox

When physiological dependence occurs, if you significantly cut back or stop the use of prescription stimulants suddenly you may experience withdrawal symptoms.8 Withdrawal symptoms may include:8

  • Fatigue.
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Psychomotor retardation or agitation.
Prescription Stimulant Addiction Treatment

Treatment for Prescription Stimulant Addiction

If you are struggling with misuse or addiction to prescription stimulants, recovery is possible. Prescription stimulant rehab programs offer varying types of addiction treatment at all levels of care, from medical detox to inpatient treatment to outpatient services.

Our admissions navigators are available 24/7 at to answer any questions you may have about our inpatient rehab in New Jersey. They can help you understand the rehab admissions process, check your insurance coverage for rehab, and if needed, help you identify other options for paying for addiction treatment. Recovery is only a phone call away.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.