Central Nervous System Stimulant Drugs

Drugs that are used to increase mental alertness and wakefulness

Common drugs

  • Atomoxetine

  • Caffeine

  • Dexamfetamine

  • Methylphenidate

  • Modafinil

Central nervous system (CNS) stimulant drugs act by increasing activity in the brain, which increases wakefulness and mental alertness. Their main use is in the treatment of narcolepsy, a disorder in which a person experiences recurrent episodes of involuntary sleep during the day. Some CNS stimulants, including atomoxetine and methylphenidate, are used to improve the attention span of children who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

How do they work?

CNS stimulants improve concentration and increase wakefulness by acting on a part of the brain that regulates mental alertness. These stimulants promote the release of certain chemicals in the brain (neurotransmitters) that increase nerve activity in this part of the brain.

How are they used?

CNS stimulants are given orally long-term for the treatment of narcolepsy and as part of a treatment programme for children with severe, persistent attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. If CNS stimulants are prescribed for a prolonged period of use in a child, the child’s growth may be monitored because of possible slowing of growth with long-term treatment with some of these drugs.

What are the side effects?

While you are taking CNS stimulants, you may experience reduced appetite, tremor, and palpitations. These drugs can also cause restlessness, sleeplessness, anxiety, shaking, and sweating. Some CNS stimulants produce symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia, such as hallucinations. Other side effects include rashes and allergies. If you take a CNS stimulant long-term, stopping treatment may cause withdrawal symptoms, including lethargy, depression, and increased appetite.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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