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The Pros and Cons of Prescription Stimulants

Anne is a freelancer with a passion for writing and helping others by writing about important topics and issues.

Prescription Stimulants

Stimulants such as amphetamine are prescribed to individuals with ADHD or narcolepsy.

Stimulants such as amphetamine are prescribed to individuals with ADHD or narcolepsy.

Introduction

Prescription stimulants are popular drugs that are typically used to treat certain disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). While the use of these medicines in the pharmaceutical sense is effective, there are many stigmas associated with stimulant medications as well as a growing population of prescription stimulant drug abuse happening in the world today. In this article, I will outline the different uses for these drugs, the negative consequences and concerns in relation to stimulant abuse, the benefits of these drugs, and I will also discuss the negative stigma surrounding prescription stimulant medication.

Benzedrine

In the 1930s, amphetamine was sold in an inhaler under the name Benzedrine.

In the 1930s, amphetamine was sold in an inhaler under the name Benzedrine.

Applications in the Pharmaceutical Industry

Modern pharmaceuticals utilize several different prescription stimulants in the treatment of certain health conditions and disorders. These medications include Adderall, Concerta, Ritalin, Dexedrine, Focalin, Metadate, Methylin and Vyvanse. The most common uses for these prescription stimulants is in the treatment of ADD/ADHD or narcolepsy. However, it has been suggested that stimulants have been used in the past for weight loss as well as implications that certain stimulant medications may be useful to persons with different mental health disorders, but there is no formal certification for those uses of the drugs.


Adderall, also known as amphetamine, is the most popular stimulant medication. Amphetamine was first synthesized in 1887 by a chemist named Lazar Edeleanu, but research into the uses and application of the drug didn’t occur until later on. In the 1930s, amphetamine was used in inhalers as a decongestant. Unfortunately, many people began to abuse the inhalers in a search for the stimulating effects of the drug by consuming the amphetamine oil contents or injecting it into the bloodstream. This is where the addictive quality of the drug first started to surface. Through the 1930s, amphetamine was also prescribed for weight loss, depression, and sleep disorders. In addition, during World War II, amphetamine was given to soldiers to help combat fatigue and keep them stay alert during battle!

As the decades went on, amphetamine was still being prescribed for a variety of different ailments, including combatting fatigue, weight loss, and general wellness. The ongoing over prescribing of these medications led to a shift in thought about amphetamine and other stimulant drugs by the 1970s. At that point, many people were abusing the medication openly, largely due to the years of doctors prescribing it so willingingly, as well as the rise of hippie counterculture and drug experimentation. For these reasons, there began to be a crackdown on these medications, as they started to realize the harmful effects and impacts that they had on a person’s overall health if taken in excess.

In 1970, Congress passed the Control Substances Act, which essentially classified many substances as “controlled”, meaning they are illegal to possess and use. For some of these drugs, a prescription, for instance, would be necessary for you to legally use it. Amphetamine was labeled as a Schedule II controlled substance. This meant that if you were caught selling or using the drug illegally, you could be facing some serious jail time. Warnings and other words of caution were more apparent on prescriptions and distributed to the masses as more was learned about the risks associated with stimulant use.


Combatting Wartime Fatigue

A flyer advertising amphetamine for use in combat during WWII.

A flyer advertising amphetamine for use in combat during WWII.

Negative Side Effects of Prescription Stimulants

As with all drugs, including prescription drugs, there are certain side effects and risks involved when taking the medication. For example, stimulant medications typically are not recommended for those with high blood pressure or any type of heart issue or condition, as these medicines can exacerbate those problems and potentially cause a heart attack or stroke. If a person is being prescribed a stimulant, the doctor will typically run some tests beforehand to make sure a patient is in the right health to be taking the medicine, lowering their risk of having issues when they start the medicine. Additional side effects of stimulant medications may include loss of appetite, insomnia or disrupted sleep, tremors, agitation or moodiness, and headaches.

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As previously stated, prescription stimulants such as amphetamine are listed as Schedule II drugs. This means that they have a high potential for abuse, and caution must be taken when using these medicines. Abuse of the drug via selling it illegally on the street is a federal offense and subject to jail time. However, history has shown that many people still do abuse the drug despite the consequences. We have all heard the stories of college kids taking Adderall to stay up and cram for an exam they have the next day. Technically, this is an example of abuse of the drug, or what we would call “misuse” of the drug. It is not intended to be used as a study aid, although in the past some doctors have actually prescribed it for that use, it is not certified or mandated to do so now. There are clear boundaries when it comes to these medications now. However, some people end up abusing the drug in a different way. They get prescribed the medicine and need more and more of the drug to feel “normal” and effective in their lives. They enjoy the “rush” and “high” that the drug gives and continue using it despite the consequences, including withdrawal and the potential for heart attack, stroke, or other heart problems if they take too much. Those that abuse stimulant medications face similar withdrawal symptoms and risks to those that abuse cocaine, as they are both classified as stimulants. Despite the fact that prescription stimulants are used in certain medical situations, they are still highly powerful and addictive drugs.


Medical Applications

Persons with ADHD struggle with focus, attention, and lack sufficient levels of dopamine in the brain.

Persons with ADHD struggle with focus, attention, and lack sufficient levels of dopamine in the brain.

Benefits of Prescription Stimulants

Despite the conclusion that amphetamine and other prescription stimulants can be highly abusable and very dangerous if taken in excessive amounts, there are several benefits of this drug to people that require it. In today’s society, ADHD and narcolepsy are the two common conditions that these medicines may be used for. For someone with ADHD, Adderall or Ritalin becomes an immediate game-changer, helping them to focus and accomplish tasks without the overwhelming thoughts and anxiety that come with the disorder. It helps to regulate the levels of dopamine in those with ADHD, who typically require more dopamine receptors in the brain to function at the same level as a normal person. In the case of narcolepsy, stimulant medications largely control and combat instances of fatigue and excessive daytime sleepiness, which helps people with this sleeping disorder be able to function during the day and get a good night’s rest at night. Typically for someone with narcolepsy, they will be fighting off tiredness, fatigue, and moments of dozing off even if they did get a full night’s rest the previous night before. Those suffering from narcolepsy lack the chemical hypocretin in the body. This chemical helps to regulate wakefulness, keeping you alert and functioning during the day. Those who use prescription stimulants for these reasons as monitored by their doctors are less likely to have issues with abuse or addiction if they follow the health plan and heed the warning signs and symptoms of addiction and other conditions that stimulants could cause. Much research has been done on these medications to ensure that they are still able to be used pharmaceutically for these conditions. The past several decades have brought many advances in the pharmaceutical industry as well, including being more straightforward in communicating with patients the risks involved in taking such medications. Oftentimes for persons with ADHD or narcolepsy, if the benefits of the drug outweigh the potential side effects, the drug would be considered beneficial for them and they could use it for effective treatment of their disorder. The doctor will emphasize the importance of monitoring the medication and levels, as well as following up with the patient regularly. This is why it is typically very difficult for persons to get a prescription for a stimulant drug anymore, as diagnoses must be accurate and present in order to prescribe stimulants to a patient.


Negative Stigma Associated with Prescription Stimulants

Despite the positive strides of doctors and pharmaceutical companies to make prescription stimulants effective and safely monitored for those that need the medication, it is not hard to see why there is a negative stigma associated with these drugs. They are one of the highest abused prescription medications out there, next to opioids. Young people might find the drugs in their parents’ medicine cabinet or buy it from a friend. These instances do happen. However, for those that do take it for the right reasons, the negative stigma can be almost hurtful to them. Someone with ADHD may think that the combination of their Ritalin and therapy has helped them significantly; now they are able to hold a job, take care of themselves, pay the rent on time, and they are very happy and satisfied with their life and the future ahead. But, someone out there is judging that. Someone out there thinks that ADHD is not real, that maybe the person is just “lazy” and maybe they are just “faking it” to get high and abuse the drug. This is not true. Those that put out those negative stigmas into society may very well be the reason that some people who really need to use this important medication lose access to it, so it is important to talk not only about the potential for abuse of the drug, but also about the benefits of the drug for medical uses. What most people don’t understand is that these drugs work differently in the brains of those that actually need it; it doesn’t feel like they are on cocaine, it makes them normal! Those who don’t need it will feel high and like they are having a rush the very first time they use it, and people that really do need the drug will feel better, more efficient, and happier because they have a drug that can help them. So many people, children included, benefit from the use of these medications, and it would be detrimental to persons with those conditions if these were no longer made available to them. This is why we must try to end and fight the stigma associated with stimulants. We must understand that despite its bad name and reputation, stimulants, including Adderall and Ritalin, are good drugs for those with ADHD and narcolepsy, and should be considered just as necessary as blood pressure medication to someone with high blood pressure; it is a necessity for these people.


Prescription Stimulant Addiction

Those who are addicted to prescription stimulants can recover by getting help from a licensed professional.

Those who are addicted to prescription stimulants can recover by getting help from a licensed professional.

Conclusion

To conclude, I ask you to consider both the positive and negative aspects of this medication. Although it is powerful and very likely to be abused by some, it has its place in our society and in the medical field to help those that need it. Should we deny that to these people just because others are not legally taking the medicine? We are at an important time in the opioid crisis, for instance, where it is very common for prescription opioids to be abused and sold on the streets by dealers; the same is happening with prescription stimulants. While we need to find a way to end this crisis, we must also understand that there are some people out there who need these drugs for health reasons and would not be able to function in their normal day-to-day life without them. We must protect the rights of those people. Until we come together and have a national and/or global conversation about the opioid crisis and prescription medication abuse, we will be in this constant back and forth in society, but I urge you not to judge anyone taking these medicines for the right reasons. Support them, hear them, and understand the good things that medication can do. Drugs are not all inherently bad, but the abuse that happens when they are misused is what often leads us and our society to form preconceived notions and negative stigmas with these drugs. With the proper education, safety, and training, this drug can be used in the right ways, and we also can help those that may be addicted to prescription stimulants recover from their addictions and lead normal lives as well.

Sources

Hart, Carl L., and Charles Ksir. Drugs, Society, and Human Behavior. Seventeenth ed., McGraw Hill Education, 2018.

National Institute on Drug Abuse; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018 July.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Anne Marie Carr

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