Stimulants change the way the brain works by changing the way nerve cells communicate. Nerve cells, called neurons, send messages to each other by releasing chemicals called neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters work by attaching to key sites on neurons called receptors.
Learn more about how neurotransmitters work in the section “How Does Your Brain Communicate?”
There are many neurotransmitters, but dopamine is the main one that makes people feel good when they do something they enjoy, like eating a piece of chocolate cake or riding a roller coaster. Stimulants cause a buildup of dopamine in the brain, which can make people who abuse stimulants feel intense pleasure and increased energy. They can also make people feel anxious and paranoid. And with repeated use, stimulants can disrupt the functioning of the brain’s dopamine system, dampening users’ ability to feel any pleasure at all. People may try to compensate by taking more and more of the drug to experience the same pleasure.