Stimulants include a wide range of substances that increase activity in the brain and nervous system. There are some medical uses for prescription stimulants such as methylphenidate (Ritalin) and amphetamine salts (Adderall) used in the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy (1). The misuse or abuse of prescription stimulants or illegal substances such as cocaine and methamphetamine can cause significant problems such as addiction, health problems, and psychological distress (2).

Many people misuse or abuse stimulants for the desired short-term effects. But, there are some negative outcomes that can happen from long-term stimulant use. Some of these include:Short Term Effects of Stimulants:

-Increase of alertness, energy, and focus

-Decreased fatigue

-Feelings of intense pleasure or euphoria

-Impaired judgement and impulsivity

-Increased blood pressure and heart rate

-Sweating, agitation, and aggression

-Dizziness, tremors, paranoia, and hallucinations

Long Term Effects of Stimulants:

-Increased amounts of drug needed to get desired effect (tolerance)

-Withdrawal when stopping use of drug

-Cardiovascular disease including heart attack and stroke


-Depression and other mood disorders

-Tissue damage and heart failure from snorting and injecting drugs (3,4)

Any use of cocaine or methamphetamine is considered abuse as they have no accepted medical use. Though prescription stimulants may have medical benefit for some people, the following uses of prescription stimulants is considered abuse:

-Using medications not prescribed to you

-Using medications only to get “high”

-Using medications in a way they are not intended such as crushing and snorting or injecting them (2)

One in six people who abuse stimulants will develop a serious medical condition called stimulant use disorder. People with stimulant use disorder have one or all of the following symptoms:- they cannot control their use of stimulants.

– they continue to use stimulants even though it causes harm to them or their loved ones.

– they spend a lot of time obtaining, using, or recovering from stimulant use.

– they have powerful cravings to use stimulants.

– they need more and more stimulants to get high and have mental distress when they stop stimulant use.

Signs of Overdose:

– Rapid heartbeat or chest pain

– Loss of consciousness

– Rigid or jerking limbs

– Paranoia, extreme anxiety, confusion, psychosis

– Severe headache

If overdose is suspected, immediately dial 911 or go to the nearest emergency department (5)

Behavioral Treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy and contingency management are the best treatments for stimulant use disorder. There are currently no approved pharmacological treatments for stimulant use disorder, but research is ongoing.

Your community may have various supports including drop-in support groups for people who experience harms associated with alcohol, other drugs or gambling, individual counselling, and residential treatment. Please check in with your health care provider or local mental health and addictions organizations to see what might work best for you.

Self-help materials can also be found on the website under the “Online Programs” and “Toolbox” drop-down menus

Harm ReductionIt isn’t realistic to expect everyone to not use or to stop using substances. People struggling with addiction face many challenges and may not be ready for full recovery. If someone chooses to use stimulants, it’s important to take steps to be safe. These include:

Not using alone

Taking it slow with low doses,

Snorting or smoking instead of injecting

Using clean supplies.