Magazine article Addiction Professional

Second in a Series: Stimulants and Malnutrition; Counselors Must Understand Symptoms, Results of Discontinued Use

Magazine article Addiction Professional

Second in a Series: Stimulants and Malnutrition; Counselors Must Understand Symptoms, Results of Discontinued Use

Article excerpt

Stimulants are probably the favorite drug of choice among Americans. The work ethic requires more work in less time, and done more efficiently. Sleep becomes the "necessary evil" because while we have to sleep to survive, it is viewed as a waste of time due to lack of documented productivity during sleeping hours. In general, Americans are working more hours than they were 40 years ago, taking fewer vacations, experiencing more stress and having more stress-related medical problems.


Into this mix, let's add the recovering person who becomes a "workaholic" to try to make up for all the time lost while strung out on drugs. These individuals learn to use their own body chemistry (adrenaline) and caffeine to support their lifestyle patterns of multiple 12-Step meetings, working two or more jobs, and making amends for the damage done while they were under the influence.

The impact of the lifestyle we are living was really brought home when some counselors working in a psychiatric unit reported an influx of computer programmers as their most recent admissions. These individuals had been sent to live in hotels for three-month periods while designing new programs before the competition did. To accomplish this, they had no contact with family or friends, worked 24/7, slept as little as possible, used whatever stimulants (hopefully legal) to keep themselves going, and wrote programs.

The end result was admission to the psychiatric ward due to lack of sleep, stress and stimulant abuse. For those of us working in the addictions field, the question becomes, "Is the end result justified?" Is reliance on stimulants so much a part of our culture that we cannot break the cycle?

At the same time, the media are reporting that two-thirds of Americans are overweight, a fact related to more use of fast foods because of the time pressure to do more with less. Stimulants suppress appetite and promote weight loss.

Caffeine and nicotine

Caffeine and nicotine are the most widely used stimulants. Both substances are self-administered by animals and possess the possibility of dependence. Use of these substances enhances alertness, decreases the desire to sleep, enhances ability to concentrate, suppresses appetite, constricts blood vessels, and alters heart rate and blood pressure.

Caffeine is found most commonly in beverages including coffee, black and some herbal teas, and many soft drinks. In recent years, it has been added to fruit-like beverages that are consumed by individuals in an attempt to increase their fruit consumption. On a number of occasions, recovering persons have reported feeling "really good" as a result of drinking products that they do not think have ingredients such as caffeine, as well as herbal products containing caffeine. In addition, caffeine may be found in bottled water, chewing gum, candy, various dessert confections, and in purified form in tablets.

The overdose symptoms of caffeine are documented under "caffeine psychosis" in the DSM. For many persons, the aversive effects are enough to decrease the amount used. However, tolerance allows some individuals to consume large amounts without being aware of the consequences.

Nicotine use through smoking also decreases the ability of the blood to carry oxygen. The long-term and more severe effects of nicotine that usually appear after many years of use are well-documented. Discontinuing use is extremely difficult for most persons once dependency has developed.


Cocaine use produces reactions similar to those of other psychostimulants. The effects are relatively short in duration, so continued use is required to maintain the enhanced sense of well-being that is the reward for use.

A number of years back, a pharmacologist remarked that amphetamines would replace cocaine as the stimulant of choice because they are "American-made," less expensive and provide a longer effect. …

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