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What are the signs and symptoms of stimulant abuse?

Stimulant drug abuse is the excessive and problematic use of CNS (Central Nervous System) Stimulants, aka Uppers. Stimulants include caffeine, theophylline, theobromine, nicotine, amphetamines, and cocaine. Caffeine is found in coffee beans and Kola nuts, Theophylline in tea leaves, theobromine in cocoa beans and nicotine is from tobacco leaves. Amphetamines are a synthetic substance, and cocaine is derived from coca bush leaves. Caffeine, theophylline, and theobromine are weak simulants, nicotine is a medium strength stimulant, and cocaine and amphetamines are strong stimulants. The weaker stimulants are readily available in foods and beverages and are widely used across the world. Nicotine is a relatively safe stimulant, but the method of administration, smoking or chewing tobacco carries multiple, well established risks. The strong stimulants have legitimate medical uses, but are also widely abused.

The effects of CNS stimulants are similar. The user will experience dilated pupils, and diaphoresis, or sweating, if strong stimulants have been used. Tremors can occur from strong stimulants, or if very high doses of weak stimulants have been used. 

Stimulants also produce the following objective physiological signs: 

  • Tachycardia (heartrate over> 100 BPM)
  • Hypertension (blood pressure > 140/90)
  • Rapid respiration (breathing > 16 BPM)
  • Hyperthermia (body temperature > 98.6 F)

A person under the influence of stimulants will display the following behavioral signs: 

  • Euphoria, or excessive, ecstatic happiness
  • Increased energy
  • Feelings of confidence
  • Agitation and restlessness
  • Irritability, hostility, and aggression
  • Rapid, pressured speech
  • Dramatic, obnoxious, exaggerated speech and behavior
  • Increased sexual desire 
  • Loss of appetite & Insomnia

The heavy, prolonged use of strong stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamines will lead to: 

  • Loss of interest in sex, and inability to perform sexually 
  • Neglect of personal hygiene
  • Neglect of ones living space
  • Psychosis- paranoid delusions, auditory and visual hallucinations, and parasitosis (the sensation of insects or parasites crawling on or under the skin)

What are stimulants?

All of the stimulants discussed here are white powders in their refined form. Cocaine is a crystalline powder. Both cocaine and amphetamine can be converted into a large crystal form to facilitate smoking 

How long stimulants take to work, and how long the effects last?

The effects of stimulants will depend on the type, and how they are administered. The effects of stimulants will begin seconds after smoking, snorting or injection, or minutes after swallowing them. The effects will last as little as three minutes in the case of crack cocaine, or as long as 72 hours in the case of methamphetamine. 

Short-term and long-term risks of using stimulants

All of the stimulants mentioned here are addictive to a degree. All produce withdrawal symptoms upon cessation of use. The stronger stimulants can produce psychosis if used heavily, and can be fatal to overdose on. Even the weaker stimulants can be fatal to overdose on, though the quantities that would be required are enormous. In order to get a fatal overdose of theobromine, one would have to eat about 500 lbs. of dark chocolate, or to overdose on caffeine over three gallons of coffee.


Some stimulants have approved medical uses, and others are regularly consumed for energy and to stave off the effects of fatigue, and prolong work. Others are highly addictive, and potentially dangerous.