Habits and Behaviors - Stimulants

Stimulants are the family of substances that temporarily speed up or excite the function of the body or one of its parts. They tend to make the user unusually excited or overactive. The following drugs fall in to the category of stimulants.


Amphetamines are central nervous system stimulants that give the user a temporary feeling of energy. A popular nickname for amphetamines is "uppers" because they make the user feel up and wide awake. Amphetamines have been prescribed by doctors for a wide variety of ailments for years. Dieters have used amphetamines for many years, in prescription and over-the-counter form. They have been prescribed by doctors for obesity, depression, and narcolepsy (uncontrolled fits of sleep). Ritalin is a drug in the amphetamine family that is still prescribed for hyperactive children. In the 1970s there was a crisis of abuse of amphetamines. People began injecting them intravenously (directly into veins). These individuals were called "speed-freaks" (speed is one of the street names for amphetamines). Doctors responded to this crisis by limiting the amount of prescriptions for amphetamines. Nonprescription, over-the-counter versions of amphetamines are used every day by, for example, college students cramming for exams and truck drivers attempting to stay awake for long drives.

Therapeutic doses of amphetamines stimulate the central nervous system, increase blood pressure, widen the pupils, quicken the breath, lower appetite, and decrease fatigue. Higher doses can cause agitation, blurred vision, tremors, and heart palpitations. Severe reactions can result in dilated pupils, sweating, cramps, nausea, heart problems, hypertension, panic, aggressive and violent behavior, hallucinations, delirium, high fevers, convulsions and seizures. People have died from amphetamine abuse because of burst blood vessels, heart attacks and high fevers. Physical dependence to moderate doses of amphetamines is highly unusual, but psychological dependence from even low doses is common. Chronic users of amphetamines have long-term health consequences.


Methamphetamine is a newer class of illegal amphetamine. Some street names for it are meth, ice, zip, go-fast, cristy, and chalk. When meth is mixed with water and injected with a needle it is called crank. Sometimes crank is mixed with crack cocaine. The mixture is called "croak."

Often meth and certain so-called designer drugs (see section below) are cut (mixed or diluted) with cocaine or heroin. Sometimes they are cut with cornstarch, baby laxatives, baking soda, or even rat poison. Meth is even more dangerous than the typical, older forms of amphetamines because it gets into the system faster, lasts longer, and can have even more deadly effects.


The newest form of methamphetamine is a very pure version that is smoked in a pipe. In this form, the drug looks like little chips of ice. For that reason, it has picked up the nicknames ice, glass, or crystal. Meth is often used by ravers, kids that go to all-night parties that take place in empty warehouses and clubs. Raves are parties where electronic music is played and drugs such as meth, acid (LSD, or lysergic acid diethylamide) and ecstasy (MDMA, or methylenedioxymethamphetamine) are common and easily available. Kids who want to stay awake and dance until the sunrise (and often beyond) often use meth. Lokers (another name for people who smoke meth) can be identified by their hyper-energized, artificial dance moves.


Cocaine is another central nervous system stimulant. It comes from the coca plant, found in South America. (The soft drink Coca-Cola originally contained extracts of the coca leaf.) Some street names for cocaine are blow, C, coke, and snow. It is usually snorted. At one time, cocaine was very expensive, and only the very wealthy could buy it. In the 1980s, it became much more affordable and was considered the "drug of choice" among young, successful professionals. Crack is a smokable form of cocaine that is much more potent (strong), cheaper and sold in rocks. Crack is highly addictive; some experts say even one use has the potential to make someone addicted.

Cocaine causes an initial euphoric high that can last from fifteen to thirty minutes. People on cocaine tend to talk a mile a minute and feel like they are invincible. Socially awkward people on cocaine jump out of their shells and act tremendously self-confident, often arrogant. A cocaine user may feel sexually stimulated at first, but as the drug wears off this usually doesn't last.

The high from cocaine is short-lived, and "crashing" quickly sets in. A person crashing from a cocaine high is usually depressed, paranoid, irritable, and extremely tired. Because the high is so brief, cocaine users tend to buy a large amount of the drug and go through it quickly. Cocaine has the reputation of being a social drug, and people tend to do it with groups in bars and clubs. For serious users, cocaine binges can last for days. On a binge, a user will snort cocaine every half-hour for days on end. They will live without sleep or food until they crash from exhaustion.

Cocaine is highly addicting, although it is not physically addictive in the way that narcotics, such as heroin, can be. That is, physical tolerance to cocaine does not develop. Rather, users need to take it again and again to avoid crashing. One-time use of cocaine can result in death.


PCP (phencyclidine) is considered a stimulant although it is not commonly thought of as such. Also known as angel dust, it usually looks like white or colored chunks, powder or crystals. It's often smoked. Low doses produce muscle stiffness and poor coordination, slurred speech, drowsiness, confusion, numbness of the arms and legs, profuse sweating, nausea, vomiting, flushing and increased heart rate. Strange and violent behavior can result from higher doses. In some cases effects from PCP have lasted up to ten weeks. Heavy users can experience deep anxiety, depression and psychotic symptoms.

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