Adverse effects can be categorised into three general areas: physical health, mental health and psychosocial problems. These effects can be exacerbated by concurrent use of other drugs, especially alcohol. Adverse effects can occur as a result of psychostimulant intoxication, withdrawal and long-term use and the safety of the contexts within which they are used.

Physical health problems
Mental health problems
Psychosocial problems

Physical health problems

The physiological and health effects from psychostimulant use are well documented (Arcuri, 2000; Dennis & Ballard, 2002; Hall & Hando, 1994; McKetin & McKenna, 2000; Topp, Breen et al., 2002; Topp et al., 1999; Weir, 2000; World Health Organisation, 1997). Chapter 3: Pharmacology of psychostimulants outlines the pharmacology and effects of psychostimulant use. Among young people accessing residential AOD treatment, physical health problems were most likely to be reported by those who nominated ATS as their primary drug of concern (Howard & Arcuri, 2003a).

Mental health problems

There is increasing evidence of the mental health problems associated with adult psychostimulant use (see Chapter 4: Risks associated with psychostimulant use and Chapter 10: The psychiatric comorbidity of psychostimulant use for reviews). However, only two studies have documented rates of comorbid mental health problems in young people.

An American study found significantly higher rates of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), major depression, oppositional defined disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sexual and physical abuse amongst adolescent amphetamine users compared to other drug users (Hawke, Jainchill & DeLeon, 2000). Howard and Arcuri (2003a) found Australian primary ATS users were more likely to report feeling trapped, have trouble concentrating and were more likely to have had suicidal thoughts. However, they were less likely to have seen a mental health professional than primary heroin and cannabis users.

The relationship between psychostimulant use and depression has received particular attention. A number of researchers have reported on the relationship between excessive psychostimulant use and resultant depression, in part due to their impact on serotonin and dopamine (Hall, Hando, Darke & Ross, 1996; McKetin & McKenna, 2000; Shearer et al., 2002; Weir, 2000). Others have found pre-existing depression is one of the strongest predictors of young people taking up and continuing psychostimulant use (Sussman, Dent & Stacy, 1999).Top of page

Psychosocial problems

Howard and Arcuri (Howard & Arcuri, 2003a) found primary psychostimulant users were more likely to have committed a crime against a person during the three months prior to admission than primary heroin, cannabis and alcohol users. Furthermore, a history of sexual assaults and risky sexual behaviour were most likely to have been reported amongst clients who nominated ATS as their primary drug of concern.