The Effect of Stimulant Use on Mental Health

Stimulants are substances that increase the activity of the central nervous system, often causing feelings of euphoria and increased energy. Using some types of stimulants can quickly lead to the development of tolerance and dependence. Both short-term and long-term use can affect your mental health, particularly if you have underlying mental health issues. We will talk about how stimulant use can affect your mental health. If you or a loved one is struggling with stimulant use, you may benefit from an addiction support service.  

What Are Stimulants?

Drugs are commonly classified into stimulants, depressants, and hallucinogens. Stimulants like amphetamines work by increasing the amount of dopamine available for acting on neurons. Dopamine plays a key role in reward pathways so increased dopamine action can cause euphoric effects.


Stimulants can be both legal, prescription, or illicit substances. Examples include caffeine, nicotine, MDMA, methamphetamine, cocaine, Adderall, and Ritalin. Effects vary depending on the specific drug you use, the purity of it, the frequency of use, previous experience with the drug, the context of use, and concomitant medical and psychiatric factors.

Effects of Stimulant Use on Mental Health

Short-term use of stimulants can initially have positive effects on your mental health causing euphoria, increased energy, focus, and confidence. However, they can also cause paranoia and anxiety. A come down even from short-term use can also affect your mental health causing restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia.


With long-term and heavy use of stimulants, the chances of negative effects on your mental health increase. For example, when you first use stimulants, particularly methamphetamines, it is common to experience curiosity about the world. As you take it for longer and in increasing doses, this can flip from looking outward with curiosity to thinking that others are watching you –  causing paranoid thinking, suspiciousness, and hallucinations. You could experience visual hallucinations from something seen in your peripheral vision, or when you do not hear things properly, you might hallucinate that people are speaking about you. As this continues you can develop a persistently altered perception of reality and feel unsafe.

Dependence and Withdrawal

Many stimulants carry the risk of causing dependency. Dependence is when your body and brain think you need the drug to function normally. Once dependence has developed, you will experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop taking the drug. With stimulants, this is due to the drug having excessive dopaminergic activity throughout your body.


Acute withdrawal symptoms – If you have developed a dependency on stimulants, you will experience acute withdrawal symptoms which last around one or two weeks after you stop taking them. Symptoms can include dysphoria, anxiety, depression, agitation, hallucinations, mood swings, suicidal ideations, and psychotic symptoms due to sleeplessness or long-term stimulant use.


Post-acute withdrawal – Following acute withdrawal symptoms, you may experience post-acute withdrawal also known as ‘the wall’. Symptoms include mood swings and confusion about memories from your bingeing as you struggle to understand what was real and what was a hallucination. This can be very distressing, especially if the hallucinations are related to you causing harm. You might be unsure whether you hurt someone in reality. This could negatively affect your mental health as you experience confusion, guilt, and paranoia.


Protracted withdrawal – Protracted withdrawal is more common if you used stimulants heavily and for a long time. This stage is characterised by symptoms which are the opposite of the effects of stimulants such as depression, anhedonia, and limited interest in your surroundings. If you experience particularly severe depression, this can lead to suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.


Post-crash euphoria – also known as ‘the pink cloud’. You may experience post-crash euphoria after protracted withdrawal. This is characterised by your brain overproducing dopamine around one month after withdrawal. You may be incredibly positive and self-confident and believe that you will never take drugs again. However, this passes as the brain then underproduces dopamine, and it is common to fall into depression around three to six months after you have quit.

Stimulant-Induced Psychosis

Stimulants can induce psychosis which can be acute but can also last for months. While tolerance decreases most of the effects of stimulants with use, susceptibility to a psychotic episode can increase. A psychotic episode can be experienced with chronic and high-dose use. Once you have experienced one psychotic episode, another episode may be induced with a lower dose of the drug, and it can also have a more rapid onset and longer duration than the initial episode.


Psychotic episodes may include intense unpleasant hallucinations and altered reality. This is usually experienced when intoxicated but can also occur during withdrawal or even after being abstinent for months. The likelihood of psychotic episodes depends on how much you are taking and which drug. For example, psychosis is more commonly caused by methamphetamines than cocaine.


Acute stimulant-induced psychosis – This psychosis directly correlates to the amount of substance taken and lack of sleep from a specific binge. The main effects of this are hallucinations which usually stop when you stop using the drug.


Persistent methamphetamine psychosis – will cause you to experience more profound hallucinations including visual, auditory, and tactile hallucinations. Persistent psychosis may last for six months or longer, particularly for those with a long history of heavy methamphetamine use.

Final Word

It is common for those who use stimulants to have underlying mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, attention deficit disorders, schizophrenia, or post-traumatic stress disorder. This is often because people use drugs to self-medicate. The use of stimulants can initially appear to help your symptoms but with persistent use, they can exacerbate your mental health issues.


The sooner you seek help for stimulant use the better. You or your loved one may be able to prevent these effects from occurring if you seek help before they develop. However, even if you are experiencing these negative effects already, seeking support could be important for your mental health. If you are ready for treatment, you can reach out for support at UK treatment centres.

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