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Stimulants are one of the most commonly abused drugs in the world. The energy and feeling that stimulants provide lead many people to overuse and even develop an addiction to this dangerous type of drug. In 2018, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) released survey results that five million people, or 2.1% of US adults, had misused prescription stimulants at least one time. That shockingly high number only includes one type of stimulant – there are plenty of others out there! Keep reading for a complete rundown of some of the most frequently abused stimulants.

What is a Stimulant?

First, let’s cover exactly what a stimulant is. You may not realize that you probably use stimulants in your regular life. Stimulants are substances that increase the activity in the body by speeding up the messages between the brain and the body. People often refer to stimulants as “uppers” because they offer up a boost of increased energy. Some everyday examples of stimulants that aren’t drugs are caffeine and nicotine.

What are the Most Frequently Abused Stimulants

Unfortunately, the positive feeling people get from the temporary boost of energy can make them crave and start to rely on stimulants in their day-to-day life. Here are the most frequently abused stimulant drugs:


Cocaine is a white powder substance that offers an almost immediate increase of energy, as well as strong feelings of euphoria, excitement, and confidence. This illicit drug can be snorted, injected, or rubbed onto the gums. A typical cocaine high only lasts between 15-30 minutes, depending on how you took the drug. The short high can quickly lead to abuse and addiction, as people need to continue to take more cocaine to keep the high going.

According to a 2020 survey by the NIH, approximately 1.9% (or 5.2 million Americans) aged 12 or older reported they’ve used cocaine in the past year.

Crack Cocaine

Crack cocaine is a mixture of cocaine and baking soda heated until it forms small, crystallized rocks. People smoke crack cocaine, allowing the drug to hit the brain quickly and result in an almost immediate high. “Crack,” as it’s most commonly known, produces a stronger high than cocaine and is extremely addictive.

An NIH survey found that approximately 6.2 million Americans aged 12 or older used crack cocaine at least once in their lifetime.


Methamphetamine, known as Crystal Meth, is an addictive illicit drug that comes as a white powder or tiny blueish crystals. This drug releases an enormous surge of dopamine, resulting in a euphoria high that lasts for many hours. Meth is an incredibly dangerous drug that comes with risk of addiction, as well as physical and mental health problems.

The 2020 NIH survey reported that 0.9% (or 2.6 million) Americans aged 12 or older had used meth in the last year.


Ecstasy is a drug that comes in pill or powder form. This illicit drug is known as a party drug as it releases dopamine in the user and gives them intense feelings of happiness, pleasure, and excitement. People who take ecstasy often experience significantly reduced dopamine levels after the high fades, leaving them feeling depressed and anxious to take more of the drug.

The 2020 NIH survey reported that 0.9% (or 2.6 million) Americans aged 12 or older had used ecstasy in the last year.

Prescription Stimulants

Along with illicit stimulants, there are prescription stimulants that can be abused. The most common prescription stimulants are amphetamines, methylphenidates, and dextroamphetamine. You may be more likely to recognize them from their brand names, such as Adderall, Ritalin, Concerta, Biphetamine, and Dexedrine.

Prescription stimulants are FDA-regulated drugs that are typically prescribed to help manage the symptoms of certain mental health conditions. However, people can abuse these drugs for the rush of energy and focus they can provide. For example, Adderall abuse has been a known problem among college students who use the drug to concentrate better when studying.

Prescription stimulants are offered in pill form and can be snorted or ingested. The withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe for prescription stimulants, often because the person has been abusing the pills for an extended period.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH) five million people have misused prescription stimulants at least one time.

Drug Number of Americans Using/Abusing
Meth 2.6 million
Ecstasy 2.6 million
Prescription Stimulants 5.0 million
Cocaine 5.2 million
Crack Cocaine 6.2 million

Note that this list didn’t focus on non-drug stimulants. Millions of people are addicted to caffeine and tobacco. And while a caffeine or nicotine addiction can come with health risks, it’s the abuse of stimulant drugs that can be incredibly concerning.

Get Help Today

If you or someone you love is abusing stimulants, it’s important to seek professional help as soon as possible. America’s Rehab Campuses can help you get the treatment you need today. Our modern, state-of-the-art drug treatment facilities offer both inpatient and outpatient programs, so you can enroll in the type of program that fits your needs. Reach out today to find out more.