Stimulant Use Disorder:

Diagnosis, Symptoms, and Treatment

The misuse and abuse of stimulants are rising worldwide. A 2015-2016 report reported that as many as 5 million Americans had misused a prescription stimulant at least once, with 0.4 million people developing full prescription stimulant use disorder.

What are Stimulants?

Known by many street and prescription names, stimulants are drugs that speed up the body’s system, resulting in increased alertness, attention, and energy. These highly addictive substances are currently available in legal and illegal forms. Prescribers often recommend the use of prescription stimulants to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, but even the prescription stimulants can be misused, which can lead to addiction and stimulant use disorder.

Legal Prescription Stimulants:

  • Ritalin
  • Strattera
  • Adderall
  • Concerta

Illegal Stimulants:

  • Cocaine (“coke”, “crack”)
  • Amphetamine (“speed”)
  • Methamphetamine (“meth”)
  • MDMA (“Molly”)

Definition and Diagnosis of Stimulant Use Disorder

The definition and diagnostic criteria for stimulant use disorder have changed over the years. The current gold standard for diagnosing mental and psychiatric disorders, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders 5, Text Revision (DSM-5-TR), updated the definition and criteria for substance use disorders in the latest 5th edition.

The DSM-5 criteria identify 11 symptoms and clinical features for diagnosing stimulant use disorder. At least two signs must be present to qualify as a disorder, but the individual’s behaviors may still indicate they are misusing the substances. Misuse of stimulants still warrants attention and treatment to prevent escalation of the behavior. Individuals exhibiting six or more symptoms receive a severe stimulant or substance use disorder diagnosis, often referred to as an addiction.

In this course, learners will review the full list of symptoms and view video examples of stimulant use disorder signs.

Symptoms of Stimulant Use Disorder

Another significant change in the diagnostic criteria for stimulant use disorder (and other substances) is the presence of tolerance and withdrawal no longer being a necessary or deciding indicator of addiction. While many addicts do develop a tolerance and experience withdrawal, they can meet the diagnostic criteria for addiction without these symptoms. This change allows more individuals to qualify under the diagnostic criteria, hopefully increasing their ability to receive care and treatment.

Those suffering from stimulant use disorder often exhibit some of these hallmark symptoms:

  • Taking stimulants more than prescribed (if prescription)
  • Difficulty decreasing or stopping use of the stimulant, despite wanting to
  • Craves or urges to use
  • Continued use of stimulants despite a negative impact on life responsibilities like   school or work, or problems in relationships
  • Withdrawal symptoms

Discover all 11 signs and symptoms of stimulant use disorder in this Symptom Media DSM-5-TR Guided film.


Identifying signs of stimulant use misuse early can positively impact interventions’ effectiveness to prevent escalation to a full-blown disorder. While there are no approved medications to treat stimulant use disorder, counseling, and behavioral therapy (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy [CBT] have been proven to be effective, combined with support services.

Unlike other substances like alcohol, stimulant withdrawal and detoxification are not medically dangerous but may result in unpleasant feelings and severe depression. Because of this risk, mental health professionals and addiction specialists should carefully monitor individuals receiving treatment for stimulant use disorder for risk of suicidal thoughts.

Recovery from stimulant use disorder is possible, but it requires dedication, stability, and support. Ongoing care is necessary for sustainable recovery and overall mental health. Patients should be actively involved in their care at every step, and treatment should always be absent of judgment of prior decisions or choices.

Explore the hallmark symptoms of stimulant use disorder in this DSM-5-TR Guided film, which includes a video demonstration of key signs.