Your Brain on Stimulants, Part 2: Types of Stimulants

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Overhead view of unlit cigarette next to full cup of coffee

For Part 1 of this series, please visit this page.

In our previous post, we described how prescription stimulants can reduce symptoms of ADHD. Treating ADHD with stimulants (sometimes combined with counseling) can help improve ADHD symptoms, as well as a person’s self-esteem and their interactions with friends and family.

However, other, non-prescribed stimulants don’t help with ADHD, and each one has its own side effects and risks:

  • Caffeine is found in coffee, many kinds of soda and energy drinks, and chocolate. It also comes in pills and tablets that are advertised as helping you stay awake. Caffeine produces a small rise in dopamine. Consuming too much of it can be harmful, but scientifically speaking, it isn’t addictive—although you can feel withdrawal symptoms if you stop consuming it all of a sudden.
  • Nicotine is found in cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Nicotine stimulates both dopamine and the body’s adrenal glands to release epinephrine (also called adrenaline). Nicotine is extremely addictive.
  • Illegal stimulants include cocaine, methamphetamine or meth, and MDMA (Ecstasy or Molly). These drugs produce a large surge of dopamine that unbalances the reward system in the brain and produces the “high.” This surge also increases the risk for addiction.

In the third and final part of this series, we’ll investigate what it means to “misuse” stimulants—and what the consequences of misuse can be.

Read Part 3 of this series here!

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