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(Reprinted from the Rocky Mountain News, Denver, Colorado)

downs of mood. If you have a mental task to do at 3 p.m., when your brain wants to rest, you can mobilize it to concentrate by taking a stimulant drug and thereby forcing your nervous system to release some of its stored-up chemical energy. Or if you have to drive a long distance at night when your whole nervous system is ready for sleep, you can stay awake by putting a stimulant into your body. Or if you are feeling depressed when you have to go out and meet important people, a stimulant might brighten your mood for a while.

Another reason people like stimulants is that they suppress hunger, making it possible to think about something other than food and concentrate better on the task at hand. Not eating, moreover, tends to further increase one's energy and sense of alertness. The reason stimulant drugs suppress hunger probably has to do with the preparation of the body for emergencies. In emergencies, all digestive functions become nonessential compared to such processes as blood circulation and speed of muscular response. Under stress, therefore, the body shifts energy away from the stomach and intestines to the brain, heart, and blood vessels.

Because the nerves and muscles receive more attention under the effect of stimulants, these drugs may improve certain kinds of physical and mental performance for a time. They may enable people to concentrate longer and better or to perform physical work more efficiently and with greater endurance. This probably explains why these drugs are especially popular with students and athletes.

Of course, not everyone is affected by stimulants in the same way; some people find their effects unpleasant, just as some people find roller coaster rides unpleasant. Far from making everyone cheerful and alert, these drugs make many people anxious, jittery, and unable to sit still. Some people are so sensitive to stimulants that they cannot sleep at all even twelve hours after taking a small dose. Others get such distressing symptoms as heart palpitations, diarrhea, and urinary frequency and urgency. Instead of automatically improving physical and mental performance, stimulants sometimes just make people do poor work faster. There are famous stories of college students who wrote what they imagined to be brilliant final exams under the influence of amphetamines, only to find later that they had written the same line over and over or scribbled the whole exam on one illegible page.

Still, at first glance, stimulants sound attractive: they can make you feel alert, happy, wakeful, energetic, strong, and resistant to hunger, boredom, and fatigue. But one of life's basic rules is, You Never Get Something for Nothing (or, There's No Such

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Thing as a Free Lunch), and stimulants are no exception to this rule.

The most serious problems with stimulant drugs result from the way they work. For, instead of miraculously delivering free gifts of cosmic energy, stimulants merely force the body to give up some of its own energy reserves. So when the effect of a stimulant wears off, the body is left with less energy than usual and must replenish its supplies.

People experience this depletion of energy as a "down" or "low" state, marked by the very same feelings they take stimulants to avoid: namely, sleepiness, lethargy, laziness, mental fatigue, and depression. The price you pay for the good feeling a stimulant gives you is a not-so-good feeling when the stimulant wears off.

Now, if you are willing to pay this price and let the body recharge itself, there is nothing wrong with using stimulants now and then. The trouble is that many people are not willing to let their bodies readjust; they want to feel good again right away, so they take another dose of the drug. It's very easy to fall into a pattern of using stimulants all the time in order to avoid the down feeling that follows the initial up.

Unfortunately, when they are used in this way, stimulants quickly produce dependence. People who take stimulants regularly find they cannot function normally without them. They need them just to open their eyes in the morning, move their bowels, work, or do any of the tasks of everyday life. Without them they just don't feel like doing much of anything.

Kinds of Stimulants

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