If you’ve ever been medically treated for ADHD or any overall challenges with your ability to concentrate, retain information, or just general feelings of hyperactivity, the chances are high that you’ve taken a CNS stimulant drug. Names like Adderall, Vyvanse, and Dexedrine currently dominate this class of prescription medications, but not without their fair share of negative side effects.

The problem with CNS stimulants is that they’re legal – giving them a far greater amount of credibility than illegal stimulants of the same nature. However, the fact remains, many of the prescription offerings are nearly identical in chemical makeup in comparison to their illegal counterparts.

The Legality and Evidence for CNS Stimulants

Literally, the only difference lies in the fact that the former is researched by scientists and backed by a federal agency. Again, this is what makes this class of drugs so dangerous – which is an all-too-common theme when it comes to prescription medications with the potential for abuse.

Often, the users of these medications don’t exercise the appropriate level of caution regarding the potential for abuse. In fact, it’s not uncommon for many prescription recipients to develop a substance abuse issue and not even realize it as it’s happening.

This can happen in the case of any prescription drug, including benzos, opioids, and CNS stimulant drugs. In this article, we’ll discuss in detail the process of the latter and analyze these substances in detail.

What Are CNS Stimulant Drugs?

The CNS stimulant class of drugs are a variety of prescription medications that are used to battle the side effects of ADHD and narcolepsy. Therapeutic effects include increased attention and alertness and improvement of fatigue in narcoleptic patients.

Typically, these drugs are prescribed to improve focus, avoid the symptoms of narcolepsy, and assist in weight loss. Aside from the use for sleep disorders, they’re most commonly written for mental health disorders like ADHD.

By definition, CNS stimulants can include anything from caffeine to amphetamine. However, the term is more commonly used to describe the latter and other substances like it.

These prescription CNS medications increase the levels of chemicals in the brain like dopamine and norepinephrine.

CNS Stimulant Drugs

How Do Stimulants Work?

Central nervous system stimulant medications work in a unique way. Catecholamine levels are triggered by these medications, causing an increase in their production.

Additionally, they block the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain while simultaneously increasing the release of these neurotransmitters. These specific neurotransmitters are actively involved with various physical and mental tasks such as motivation, mood stabilization, and attention levels.

In clinical studies, amphetamines and similar substances are proven to be effective for the direct treatment of narcolepsy, ADHD, and weight loss. Many trials demonstrated relief in about 70% of patients with ADHD in children and adults.

Substances like dextroamphetamine, which is found in Adderall, stimulate the brain leading to increased activity. However, they have a distinct effect on other areas of the mind and body. The increase of catecholamines also increases norepinephrine, which elevates blood pressure and heart rate and triggers the body’s fight-or-flight response during stressful and traumatic situations.

What Are CNS Stimulants Used for Medically?

As mentioned above, CNS stimulants are used for ADHD, narcolepsy, and weight loss. In cases of ADHD, these medications are prescribed for adults and children.

In certain cases, CNS stimulants are used off-label to treat symptoms associated with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). It’s also been used in treating forms of depression that are otherwise unresponsive to traditional forms of therapy.

Recently, many physicians have begun backing off from writing CNS stimulant prescriptions for weight loss because of the potential for abuse. Additionally, new substances have hit the market that causes fewer potentially negative side effects.

The use of these drugs has also been heavily scrutinized for ADHD treatment in teens and adolescents. Studies have proven that young people prescribed these medications have much higher odds of developing issues with substance abuse disorder later in life.

This begs the question regarding the “development” of substance abuse issues later in life. Are these issues developed, or are these young people carrying the presence of an already well-developed case of substance abuse disorder into adulthood without being aware of it?

Who Takes CNS Stimulants?

Several demographics are prescribed CNS stimulants for different lengths of time.


CNS stimulants are widely used in the treatment of mental health and sleep disorders present in adults. These medications can be prescribed short or long-term, depending on physicians’ orders. They are combined with various forms of mental health therapies in nearly every case.


Children diagnosed with ADHD are often prescribed CNS stimulants. Again, these treatments are combined with talk therapy or different forms of behavioral therapy. However, certain age restrictions exist when it comes to these medications. Legally, Adderall can’t be given to children under the age of three years old.


CNS stimulants generally aren’t given to anyone over the age of 65 because of the increased risk of dangerous side effects. However, this doesn’t mean they still aren’t as effective as they are in other age groups. The problem lies in the fact that these medications can increase heart rate and blood pressure, leading to a higher risk of heart attack or stroke.

How Much Do Stimulants Cost?

The cost of stimulants varies greatly depending on several different variables. With nearly every prescription drug, name-brand versions and generic versions exist.

The generic versions are typically much cheaper than brand name versions – often as much as 75% or more.

Without insurance, individuals must pay full price for the cost of prescriptions. However, discount coupons and other vouchers may be available through discount prescription plans.

With insurance, prescriptions are much cheaper than paying the full cost out of pocket. Typically insured customers only pay a co-pay, which is a small percentage of the total price of the medication.

Common Stimulant Side Effects

Common Stimulant Side Effects

Multiple side effects exist when it comes to stimulant abuse. The chance exists for both mental and physical side effects, and severity ranges depending on the amount used and length of abuse.

Some of the most common side effects include:

  • Paranoia
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Anxiety
  • Dry mouth
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Sweating
  • Mood swings
  • Irritability
  • Hallucinations in large quantities
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness

These side effects are usually a result of abuse or overuse of these drugs. Additional long-term effects also exist with prolonged use.

The Risks of Long-term Stimulant Use

There are many risks associated with long-term stimulant use. After long periods of abuse, most individuals develop a tolerance to these medications, leading to larger doses to achieve the desired effects.

Long-term effects can be especially dangerous because of the direct effect these medications have on the heat and vascular system. Some of these risks include the following:

  • Risk of heart attack or stroke
  • Additional cardiovascular challenges
  • Extreme weight loss and vitamin deficiencies
  • Long-term depression
  • Risk of developing mental health disorders (schizophrenia, bipolar disorder)
  • Stimulant-induced psychosis

Many individuals question the possibility of overdosing on CNS stimulants. Newfound awareness regarding the use of prescription stimulants has risen because of the upturn in the illegal use of crystal meth.

The United States is currently in the middle of a methamphetamine epidemic because of the large influx of high-grade meth spilling over our borders and into the streets. There has been a huge surge in deaths related to methamphetamine overdose. Does this risk spill over into the category of CNS stimulants?

Can You Overdose On CNS Stimulants?

Is it possible to overdose on CNS stimulants? The answer is yes; however, there is no marked toxicity level when it comes to most CNS stimulants and even methamphetamine.

In cases of CNS stimulant overdose, the results produced from this occurrence may vary from person to person. This is unlike cases of opioid overdose, where individuals eventually go unconscious and slip into respiratory arrest.

Potential outcomes of stimulant overdose can range from heart attack and stroke to stimulant-induced psychosis. It’s important to be aware of the following signs of a potential stimulant overdose:

  • Intense sweating
  • Labored breathing
  • Red, flushed skin, followed by pale skin
  • Higher body temperature followed by cold, clammy skin
  • Cold sweats
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Headache
  • Convulsions
  • Chest pains

One of the largest contributors to CNS abuse disorder is the crash that comes after these medications wear off. Individuals continue to abuse the drug to avoid the crash process, which ends up leading to dependence and full-blown addiction.

The Crash That Comes With Stimulants

After an extended period of use or abuse, individuals must face the crash that comes with stimulants if the drug runs out. Many users describe the crash period as a train hitting a brick wall.

The euphoric, energetic properties of the stimulant high cease suddenly, leaving individuals in a state of depression. Additional side effects from the crash might include:

  • Loneliness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Severe depression
  • Intense cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Long periods of sleep

After prolonged use, individuals are unable to produce normal levels of dopamine and serotonin in the brain. This can lead to more serious effects such as thoughts of suicide and long-term challenges with depression.

It’s important that individuals suffering from stimulant abuse disorder seek treatment to avoid long-term challenges associated with stimulant and amphetamine abuse disorder.

What are Effective Methods of Stimulant Treatment

What are Effective Methods of Stimulant Treatment?

When it comes to treatment for stimulant abuse disorder, clients have several options for effective therapies. Normally the most effective remedies are forms of behavioral therapies.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the most commonly used stimulant abuse treatments. This form of therapy seeks to replace the negative behaviors associated with stimulant abuse and replace them with more positive, beneficial habits and actions.

Recently, dual-diagnosis treatment has proven to be effective as well in the case of co-occurring . This is the treatment of underlying mental health conditions at the center of a substance abuse issue.

Group recovery meetings and other programs are beneficial as well. These programs are normally included in inpatient rehabs and can be continued after graduation.

Talk therapy has been proven effective as a treatment in cases of stimulant abuse. Forms of talk therapy may also be combined with group therapy with the participation of family members and loved ones.

Is Long-term Recovery from CNS Stimulants Possible?

At Pathfinders Recovery Centers, we’re firm believers in long-term recovery from stimulant abuse. With the help of our compassionate care team and substance abuse and mental health professionals, our approach to treatment has one clear goal in mind – to give clients the ability to return home and experience long-term recovery.

With the right support system, armed with the proper tools after graduation, we’re confident in your chances of long-term recovery. To find out more about our program, contact a member of our admissions staff today.


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