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How Stimulant Addiction Can Lead to Depressive Symptoms

1 year, 7 months ago

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Posted on Apr 21, 2022, 4 p.m.

Stimulant drugs come in various forms. The more popular options include illicit drugs, such as meth, cocaine, ecstasy, and legal prescription drugs, such as Adderall and Ritalin. Stimulants are called as such because the drugs stimulate or “speed up” the body’s systems. People take these drugs because of the exhilaration and increased activity that these drugs promote. Stimulants are considered “uppers,” but it might surprise you to know that users can frequently experience some “downer” symptoms. Here’s how stimulant addiction can lead to depressive symptoms.

How Stimulants Affect the Brain 

Stimulants are psychoactive substances. This is because they increase central nervous system activity in the brain and throughout the body. When this activity is increased in the brain, people become more awake, alert, and energized. This explains why stimulants such as Adderall have been dubbed productivity or study drugs. Many people flock to these drugs when they want to get a lot accomplished in a short time or endure a physically demanding job. 

Unfortunately, this pattern of stimulating the brain results in the body’s inability to produce dopamine on its own and relies on dopamine from stimulant drugs instead. This occurs when taking any stimulant drug, with the main difference being how intense the release is and how long it lasts. This explains how stimulant use can quickly become a fully developed addiction that lasts for years and even decades. 

Over time, stimulant use leads to a rewiring of the brain. Since the brain controls the body’s nervous system, this rewiring results in organs failing to communicate properly. Some immediate health risks include blood pressure and heart issues. Illicit stimulants, such as cocaine, have been linked to loss of gray matter in the brain and white matter decay, which further damages the body’s natural dopamine production. This includes illicit forms of stimulants, but it can also occur with synthetic prescription stimulant drugs, even when used as prescribed. 

When Stimulation Becomes Depression

Once we understand how stimulants change the way the brain (and body) works, it’s easier to understand how they can lead to depressive symptoms. The easiest way is to look at what these stimulants do and what the withdrawal symptoms normally consist of. 

For example, Ritalin was initially prescribed to treat severe depression by enhancing mood, energy level, concentration, and motivation. By contrast, withdrawal and crash symptoms of Ritalin include depression, lack of pressure, irritability, mood swings, and the inability to focus. The same can be said about Adderall. In fact, the FDA’s labeling for Adderall includes a section warning that users who are already experiencing depressive symptoms could be at an increased risk for depressive symptoms when taking the drug. But how is it that users can suffer the opposite effects of what these drugs promise to do?

It’s important to note that withdrawal symptoms do not only include what people experience when they stop taking a drug. People can also experience long-term side effects similar or even identical to withdrawal symptoms because their body has built up a tolerance to the drug. Since this is the case, stimulant addiction will always hover on the verge of depressive symptoms that come with the territory of building tolerance and suffering withdrawal symptoms. 

A Controlled Environment 

Most people who take stimulants are likely trying to find relief from many depressive symptoms they are already experiencing. It’s easy to assume that other drugs are far more likely to cause “downer” side effects, but when a drug changes how our brains work, no side effect is off the table. 

The good news is that stimulant drug addiction can be treated safely and effectively. The key to seeking treatment is to surround yourself with a strong support system and medical professionals. Since these drugs can produce depressive symptoms, things like isolation, home detoxing, or cold turkey methods are dangerous because they can worsen depressive symptoms.

This article was written for WHN by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.

Content may be edited for style and length.

Materials provided by:

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NIH. (2009, March, 14). Adderall and Cardiovascular Risk: A Therapeutic Dilemma. Retrieved

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.).Effects of Ritalin: Can Nonprescription Ritalin Alter Brain Chemistry? Retrieved

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National Institute on Drug Abuse, (2019, October). What is Methamphetamine? Retrieved

National Center for Biotechnology Information. (2008, June, 4).The Search for Medications to Treat Stimulant Dependence. Retrieved

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