Prescription Stimulant Medications (Amphetamines)

prescription stimulants in a medication bottle

Photo by NIDA

What are prescription stimulants (amphetamines)?

Prescription stimulants increase—or "stimulate"—activities and processes in the body. When prescribed by a doctor for a specific health condition, like ADHD, they can be relatively safe and effective. However, it is considered misuse when they are taken not as prescribed, to get "high," or when you take some prescribed for someone else. This can lead to dependence and addiction.

Dependence means you will get uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit. Addiction means you continue to seek out and take these drugs despite negative consequences. 

There are three commonly misused types of stimulants: dextroamphetamines (e.g., Dexedrine®), dextromethylphenidate (e.g., Ritaln®), and stimulants that are a combination dextroamphetamines and amphetamines (e.g., Adderall®). Medical uses for these stimulant drugs are listed below:

Type Conditions They Treat
  • dextroamphetamines
  • dextromethylphenidate/amphetamine combination
  • dextromethylphenidate
  • ADHD
  • Narcolepsy (sleep disorder)
  • Depression

Read more about prescription drugs and what happens to the brain and body when someone misuses them.

How Stimulants Are Misused

Prescription stimulants are normally taken in pill form, but some people who misuse them to get "high" crush the tablets and snort or inject them. This can be dangerous because ingredients in the tablets can block small blood vessels, damaging the heart and other organs.

Some teens are prescribed stimulants to manage their ADHD. But if they share their medication with friends, it is considered misuse. People misuse stimulants by taking them in a way that is not intended, such as:

  • Taking someone else’s prescription stimulant medication, even if it is for a medical reason, like ADHD.
  • Taking stimulant medication thinking it will improve your grades even though you do not have ADHD.
  • Taking more than the prescribed dose.
  • Taking a prescription stimulant medication in a way other than prescribed—for instance, crushing pills, adding them to water, and injecting the liquid.
  • Taking the prescription stimulant to get "high."
  • Mixing the prescription stimulant with alcohol and certain other drugs. A pharmacist can tell you which drugs are not safe to mix with stimulants. 

Stimulants have been misused as an "academic performance enhancer," (for example, to stay awake all night to cram for an exam). That's why people sometimes refer to them as "study drugs." However, there is no evidence that stimulants increase your grades if you do not have ADHD; although there might be several other reasons those students struggle in school. For example, a decline in grades can be related to students skipping classes. Skipping classes can be linked to the use of a variety of drugs or mental health issues.

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