Student Health and Wellness Services


Although there are many types of stimulant drugs, what they have in common is their ability to excite or stimulate the body’s central nervous system through a release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter related to adrenaline.

Stimulants may be taken orally, as in the case of prescription pills, or snorted, smoked or injected.

Examples of stimulants include:

  • Nicotine
  • Cocaine/Crack cocaine
  • Amphetamines: brand names include Benzedrine
  • aka bennies, Adderall, and Vyvanse
  • Methamphetamines: aka crystal meth/ice/speed
  • Caffeine
  • Methylphenidate: brand names include Ritalin and Concerta

People who use stimulants report effects like:

  • increasing energy
  • increasing alertness and focus
  • suppressing appetite
  • improving mood

Someone experiencing the effects of a stimulant drug:

  • May feel euphoric and experience a rush of confidence.
  • May display signs such as dilated pupils, sweating, increased heart rate and elevated temperature.
  • Using stimulants can also increase mental acuity, making people feel like their thoughts are sharper and faster. They may have a lot of different ideas that they need to share, and they may act giddy or restless.

Potential risks and harms of stimulants

  • Stimulants can actually decrease focus by making people feel jittery, anxious and irritable, and can impair judgement and contribute to poor impulse control. 
  • Stimulants can make it difficult to sleep and increase urination, leading to dehydration. 
  • They can also dangerously raise blood pressure and cause heart palpitations. 
  • Using stimulants in excess can result in physical and/or psychological dependence. 

Harm reduction strategies for using stimulants

  • One of the biggest risks of stimulant and cocaine use is “over-amping.” “Over-amping” is the term used to describe what is considered an overdose but for stimulants such as cocaine. The effects of this can be physical or psychological, and can include extreme anxiety, paranoia and hallucinations.
  • People who have used cocaine try to reduce harm by using the smallest amount possible and waiting between doses.
  • The effects of over-amping can be reduced by hydrating, eating food, getting sleep, breathing, exercise, walking, taking a warm shower and getting fresh air.
  • Cocaine alone adversely affects the heart, and drinking alcohol with it adds to that risk. The combination of cocaine and alcohol together or even within a few hours of one another can be extremely risky because it increases heart rate and blood pressure, which further heightens the risk of a heart attack. 
  • Prescription stimulants like Adderall are powerful substances that are actually chemically similar to illegal drugs like amphetamine and methamphetamine.
  • If you are prescribed Adderall or another prescription stimulant, it is important that you adhere to your proper dose and dosage.