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Tuesday 12 April 2011



How Do Prescription
Stimulants Affect the Brain?

All stimulants work by increasing
dopamine levels in the brain—dopamine
is a brain chemical (or neurotransmitter)
associated with pleasure, movement,
and attention. The therapeutic effect
of stimulants is achieved by slow and
steady increases of dopamine, which
are similar to the natural production of
the chemical by the brain. The doses
prescribed by physicians start low and
increase gradually until a therapeutic
effect is reached. However, when taken
in doses and routes other than those
prescribed, stimulants can increase
brain dopamine in a rapid and highly
amplified manner—as do most other
drugs of abuse—disrupting normal
communication between brain cells,
producing euphoria, and increasing
the risk of addiction.

Methylphenidate can like cocaine cause dopamine build up in the synapses causing toxicity.

What Is the Role of
Stimulants in the Treatment
of ADHD?

Treatment of ADHD with stimulants, often
in conjunction with psychotherapy, helps
to improve the symptoms of ADHD, as
well as the self-esteem, cognition, and
social and family interactions of the
patient. The most commonly prescribed
medications include amphetamines (e.g.,
Adderall—a mix of amphetamine salts)
and methylphenidate (e.g., Ritalin and
Concerta—a formulation that releases
medication in the body over a period
of time). These medications have a
paradoxically calming and “focusing”
effect on individuals with ADHD.
Researchers speculate that because
methylphenidate amplifies the release of
dopamine, it can improve attention and
June 2009 

What Adverse Effects Does
Prescription Stimulant
Abuse Have on Health?

Mathew Smith died of heart failure in 2002 after six months on Methylphenidate.

Stimulants can increase blood
pressure, heart rate, body temperature,
and decrease sleep and appetite,
which can lead to malnutrition and
its consequences. Repeated use of
stimulants can lead to feelings of
hostility and paranoia. At high doses,
they can lead to serious cardiovascular
complications, including stroke.
Addiction to stimulants is also a very
real consideration for anyone taking
them without medical supervision. This
most likely occurs because stimulants,
when taken in doses and routes other
than those prescribed by a doctor, can
induce a rapid rise in dopamine in the
brain. Furthermore, if stimulants are used
chronically, withdrawal symptoms—
including fatigue, depression, and
disturbed sleep patterns—can emerge
when the drugs are discontinued.

How Widespread Is
Prescription Stimulant

Monitoring the Future Survey†
Each year, the Monitoring the Future
(MTF) survey assesses the extent of drug
use among 8th-, 10th-, and 12th-graders
nationwide. For amphetamines and
methylphenidate, the survey measures
only past-year use, which refers to use
focus in individuals who have dopamine
signals that are weak.

One of the most controversial issues in
child psychiatry is whether the use of
stimulant medications to treat ADHD
increases the risk of substance abuse in
adulthood. Research thus far suggests
that individuals with ADHD do not
become addicted to their stimulant
medications when taken in the form and
dosage prescribed by their doctors.
Furthermore, several studies report that
stimulant therapy in childhood does not
increase the risk for subsequent drug and
alcohol abuse disorders later in life.5,6,7
More research is needed, however,
particularly in adolescents treated with
stimulant medications.

Why and How Are
Prescription Stimulants

Stimulants have been abused for both
“performance enhancement” and
recreational purposes (i.e., to get
high). For the former, they suppress
appetite (to facilitate weight loss),
increase wakefulness, and increase
focus and attention. The euphoric
effects of stimulants usually occur when
they are crushed and then snorted or
injected. Some abusers dissolve the
tablets in water and inject the mixture.
Complications from this method of use
can arise because insoluble fillers in the
tablets can block small blood vessels.
June 2009 Page 3 of 4
is declining in this group, when asked,
“What amphetamines have you taken
during the last year without a doctor’s
orders?” 2.8 percent of all 12th-graders
surveyed in 2007 reported they had
used Adderall. Amphetamines rank third
among 12th-graders for past-year illicit
drug use.

Other Information Sources

For more information on treating ADHD,
visit the Web site for the National
Institute of Mental Health, National
Institutes of Health, at
For street terms searchable by drug
name, street term, cost and quantities,
drug trade, and drug use, visit
at least once during the year preceding
an individual’s response to the survey.
Use outside of medical supervision was
first measured in the study in 2001;
nonmedical use of stimulants has been
falling since then, with total declines
between 25 percent and 42 percent at
each grade level surveyed. MTF data for
2008 indicate past-year nonmedical use
of Ritalin by 1.6 percent of 8th-graders,
2.9 percent of 10th-graders, and 3.4
percent of 12th-graders.
Since its peak in the mid-1990s, annual
prevalence of amphetamine use fell
by one-half among 8th-graders to 4.5
percent and by nearly one-half among
10th-graders to 6.4 percent in 2008.
Amphetamine use peaked somewhat
later among 12th-graders and has
fallen by more than one-third to 6.8
percent by 2008.

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