Understanding the causes and relative risk factors for stimulant misuse can be an important step in identifying and preventing SUDs. Early identification and treatment can be key to preventing serious harm as well as less complex and more affordable treatment.
Even as opioids like fentanyl continue to dominate most of the conversation on drugs, stimulant misuse has made a steady comeback over the recent years. Stimulant drugs were responsible for one of the worst drug problems in the Western world during most of the mid-20th century.
Their use eventually declined relative to other drugs as prescriptions for stimulants declined. In recent years, however, stimulants, particularly crystal meth, have made a resurgence, especially here in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Stimulants are a broad category of disparate substances that include relatively innocuous chemicals such as caffeine and nicotine to highly-dangerous illicit drugs like cocaine and crystal meth. All stimulants boost activity in the central nervous system (CNS), raising heart rate and blood pressure, creating euphoria and a feeling of wellness, as well as raising alertness, confidence, and reactivity, to name a few effects.
Compared to many other types of drugs, most stimulants have an incredibly strong effect on the brain’s reward and pleasure system. Compared to other general categories of drugs, stimulants generally have a perceivable euphoric effect that strongly reinforces drug-seeking behavior, which often leads to stimulant use disorder or other more specific substance use disorders (SUD).
Below are the causes and risk factors for stimulant-related SUD that have been identified over the decades. Get in touch with our team at Dallas Drug Treatment Centers to learn more.
Growing up in a household where people use illicit drugs or have an irresponsible attitude towards substance use is likely to predict future stimulant misuse. Likewise, peer pressure, particularly in adolescence, can predict whether or not a person will develop an SUD, later on.
Stimulant use is also extremely common in some occupations and circumstances. For example, individuals with certain occupations are more likely to consume larger amounts of stimulants or stimulant drugs of specific types.
Some circles of commodities traders, med school students, and truck drivers, for instance, may tolerate or encourage the use of stimulant drugs like cocaine or methamphetamines, not only as a way to enhance performance but also as part of bonding and socialization.
It’s now understood that the likelihood that of an individual developing behavioral addictions or substance use disorders is, in part, determined by genetics. This is separate from the risks a person may have from growing up in a household where the use of stimulant drugs is normalized.
What this means is that even if one’s parents or other household members do not use drugs, individuals with the genetics for developing SUD or other mental health conditions that encourage SUD will still have an elevated risk over other individuals.
Adolescent and childhood stimulant use is an extremely strong predictor of SUD, later in life. Infants who are exposed to stimulant use in utero are also likely to develop strong lifelong patterns of stimulant use disorders throughout their lives.
This likely has to do with the high brain plasticity of younger people. Brain plasticity or neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to grow new connections and cells.
Younger people exhibit high neuroplasticity, which is likely to be the reason children and teens can more easily pick up complex skills like language compared to adults.
Unfortunately, maladaptive patterns developed in childhood and adolescence can be very hard, if not impossible, to completely remove in adulthood. This includes mental health disorders such as SUD, as well as other psychiatric conditions that contribute to substance misuse.
We’ve already touched on how individuals in some careers are more likely to develop substance use disorder, partly as a means to cope with the pressures of their job. Stimulants are a common PED as they can temporarily boost focus, cognition, and physical endurance. However, habitual use of stimulants will almost always lead to a stimulant use disorder, especially if one feels that they are unable to work at their desired level without them.
The recent rise in stimulant use is most likely tied to the current opioid epidemic. Opioid drugs like fentanyl have strong sedative effects that may make it impossible for affected individuals to function “normally”. Some may turn to stimulants like crystal meth or cocaine as a way to stay awake and functional enough to meet professional and social obligations.
Having a co-occurring mental health issue can also predict the likelihood of stimulant misuse. Stimulants can compensate for the low mood and brain activity caused by chronic depression, allowing individuals to be temporarily more “on” than they would normally be. Before the widespread availability of modern SSRI and SNRI medications, stimulants like amphetamines were much more widely used for treating depression.
If given access to stimulants, people with chronic depression symptoms or social inhibition may be at risk of self-medicating. Stimulants commonly used for these purposes include Ritalin, cocaine, crystal meth, and MDMA.
Unlike other habit-forming substances, stimulants have relatively few medical interventions available during early withdrawal. Because of the strong compulsive behavior caused by stimulant use, withdrawal management in a secure inpatient facility is most often recommended for moderate to severe SUD, followed by personalized therapy.
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