Focus on... Stimulant Misuse

A stimulant is a class of drug that elevates a person’s mood, intensifies feelings of well-being, and increases energy and alertness. Stimulant misuse has recently been attracting a great deal of media attention.

Tony Horrocks, a Team Manager with GMMH's Alcohol and Drugs Directorate explains more.

What is Stimulant Misuse?

This is when a person uses a stimulant harmfully which can lead to psychological dependency, as opposed to physical dependency. This can manifest in mood swings, depression or anxiety. People may find that relationships can become difficult. In some cases people spend more money than intended or may need to use more of a substance to get the same effect.

Examples of legal stimulant substances:

Caffeine drinks and tablets, coffee.

Examples of illegal stimulant substances:

Amphetamine sulphate (speed), Methamphetamine hydrochloride (crystal meth), MDMA (ecstacy) and cocaine.

How does stimulant misuse start?

Stimulant misuse usually begins recreationally. It can be used to override tiredness or for weight management, for example as an appetite suppressant.

Why do people misuse stimulants?

Most people use stimulants such as cocaine or ecstasy socially to alleviate tiredness or the effects of alcohol.

People may use amphetamines to help them stay awake, complete household chores, to stay focused when at work, to control weight or even for sexual enhancement.

What are the symptoms of stimulant misuse?

There are a variety of symptoms resulting from stimulant misuse. Some people may feel extremely elated or alert. Others may experience increased alertness or enhanced self-confidence.

Stimulants can also make people aggressive, anxious or paranoid, usually related to the production of adrenalin. In addition, people can lose their appetite and feel depressed or in a low mood which is usually related to the withdrawal.

Can stimulant misuse be treated?

Yes, treatment is available. People who are misusing stimulants need to be treated with psychosocial interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy, motivational interviewing, relapse prevention therapy and complementary therapies such as auricular acupuncture, which is a process of inserting and manipulating fine needles to relieve pain or for therapeutic purposes.

If a person is misusing stimulants such as amphetamines, they can have an assessment by a specialist doctor or consultant psychiatrist at a drug service. There is no standard set of medication which is offered but in some cases it may be beneficial to be prescribed dexamphetamine following the assessment.

What can suffers do to help themselves?

People who are misusing stimulants can attempt to cut down or stop using the stimulant. Due to the lack of physical withdrawal symptoms, it should be safe. People tend to suffer from low mood, tiredness and will think about using the stimulants, such as cocaine or amphetamine for long periods of time as a result of the psychological dependency.

If the low mood becomes worse it could develop into depression, people can visit their GP. A GP may decide a course of either medication and/or cognitive behavioural therapy is necessary.

If I think I am abusing stimulants where should I go to seek help?

People can speak to their GP or contact their local drug service. There are also a limited number of specialist stimulant services who can offer support in your area.

There are a number of mutual aid groups who can offer free support such as narcotics anonymous, cocaine anonymous and SMART recovery. There is also a national helpline FRANK.

I have seen a number of people who have gone on to lead fulfilling lives without abusing stimulants.

Useful links

Narcotics anonymous: http://www.ukna.org/  or Tel: 0800 9991 212

Cocaine anonymous: http://www.cauk.org.uk/  or Tel: 0800 612 0225

SMART recovery: http://www.smartrecovery.org.uk or Tel: 0330 053 6022

FRANK: http://www.talktofrank.com/ or Tel: 0800 776 600