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Ritalin Abuse, Addiction, And Treatment Options

Medically reviewed by

Debra Wallace, MA.Ed, LPCC-S, LICDC-CS

February 18, 2019

Abuse of Ritalin prescriptions can lead to addiction, which comes with various risks and dangers. Treatment for Ritalin abuse and addiction works to treat all behavioral, physical, and psychological effects and help a person manage addiction long-term.

About 6 million people in the U.S. currently hold a prescription for Ritalin. This prescription stimulant is used to treat a number of behavioral and mental health disorders, including narcolepsy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

However, some people abuse Ritalin, risking a number of dangers associated with abuse of the drug as well as overdose.

Treatment is available for Ritalin abuse and addiction and can help addicted individuals stop use of the medication and manage addictive behaviors.

What Is Considered Ritalin Abuse?

Abuse of Ritalin (methylphenidate) is any use of the medication in a way other than prescribed. This includes:

  • increasing dosage without consulting a physician
  • the increasing frequency of dosage
  • contacting multiple doctors to obtain a prescription (doctor shopping)
  • stealing or obtaining a prescription from someone else
  • giving Ritalin to someone who doesn’t have a prescription

Other Methylphenidate Drugs Of Abuse

Ritalin is a brand name for the generic medication, methylphenidate. The following are other commonly abused methylphenidate brands:

  • Concerta
  • Concerta XR-ODT
  • Metadate CD
  • Methylin
  • Methylin ER
  • Quillichew ER
  • Quillivant XR
  • Ritalin LA

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Signs And Symptoms Of Ritalin Abuse

Signs and symptoms of Ritalin abuse can manifest in physical, psychological (mental), or behavioral ways.

Physical Signs Of Ritalin Abuse

  • agitation
  • dilated pupils
  • headaches
  • increased alertness
  • irritability
  • sweating
  • vision troubles
  • weight loss

Psychological Signs Of Ritalin Abuse

  • depression
  • hallucinations
  • insomnia
  • “low” periods
  • outbursts

Behavioral Signs Of Ritalin Abuse

  • appearing more sociable than usual
  • being more talkative
  • fatigue
  • lack of motivation
  • mood swings

Reasons People Abuse Ritalin

Like many stimulants, Ritalin is prescribed for its stimulating effects, which help individuals stay alert and focused when taken as prescribed.

When abused, the effects of Ritalin provide the individual with enhanced stimulating effects, such as euphoria, extended periods of alertness and focused attention, and increased energy levels.

People may abuse the medication for a variety of reasons, but one of the most common reasons for Ritalin abuse is as a study aid in college and teen students.

Others may abuse Ritalin to counteract or enhance the effects of a drug with opposing effects, such as a central nervous system depressant like opioids or alcohol.

Some individuals abuse Ritalin with other stimulants, like cocaine or other prescriptions, for the compounded stimulating effects, despite the possible dangers of this combination.

How Ritalin Abuse Leads To Addiction

Ritalin may not be a highly addictive drug, but the medication does hold addictive properties. When abused, Ritalin can lead to addiction.

Ritalin works on the reward center in the brain, which is how it produces feelings of alertness, increased energy, and focused attention.

With time, Ritalin abuse trains the brain to come to rely on the medication to produce these feelings, fostering a mental reliance on the drug, also known as addiction.

Effects Of Ritalin Abuse

Ritalin abuse comes with a range of side effects, both with prescribed use of the drug and with abuse. Abuse of Ritalin only increases the chance of experiencing adverse side effects.

Those who abuse Ritalin tend to experience first a high (period of euphoria and desired positive effects) followed by a low (period of depression and irritability known as a crash).

One of the greatest and most risky potential effects of Ritalin abuse is addiction. Addiction comes with its own set of side effects and risks and can negatively impact a person’s physical and mental health and life.

Short-Term Effects Of Ritalin Abuse

Ritalin abuse can lead to mood changes and changes in behavior, which can result in extreme agitation, irritability, and depression.

Because Ritalin is a stimulant, it works to increase alertness and energy by increasing certain body function levels, including blood pressure, breathing, and heart rates. Abuse of Ritalin may increase these rates to unsafe levels.

Abuse of Ritalin can also quickly lead a person to developing a tolerance. Once tolerance develops, a person may no longer feel the effects of Ritalin when abusing it, which can lead them to take too much and increase their risk of overdose.

Long-Term Effects Of Ritalin Abuse

In addition to addiction, Ritalin abuse can lead to a number of heart troubles when abused long-term. These include risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

Abuse of any stimulant can also lead to long-term heart changes which can ultimately become dangerous, such as changes to heart rhythm.

Dangers Of Ritalin Abuse

Most stimulants suppress appetite, so individuals abusing Ritalin may experience extreme lack of appetite. This can lead to a number of nutrition-related complications, like malnutrition or vitamin or nutrient deficiencies.

Ritalin abuse can also be dangerous to a person’s heart muscles, as the stimulant can put strain on the heart with constant increased heart rate and blood pressure.

Addiction or stimulant use disorders are still some of the most dangerous consequences of Ritalin abuse. Once a person develops addiction, they may have trouble quitting use of Ritalin, even if they realize they have a problem with misuse and need help.

Ritalin addiction can lead to a number of risks, such as:

  • behavioral changes
  • extreme mood swings
  • neglecting hygiene and other self-care
  • lying, stealing, or deceiving in other ways, usually to hide addictive behaviors
  • changes in performance at work or school
  • neglect of home responsibilities
  • changes to relationships

Mixing Ritalin With Other Drugs

Mixing Ritalin with other drugs, also known as polydrug abuse, can have a number of dangerous side effects.

People may mix Ritalin with abuse of any number of substances for a range of reasons. The result amounts to the same: enhanced effects of each substance, increased risk of overdose, and unpredictable side effects.

Mixing Ritalin with other drugs will have different effects depending on the combination. For example, combining Ritalin, a stimulant, with a depressant, like alcohol, can have dangerous effects.

Ritalin works to stimulate the central nervous system, affecting brain receptors and producing an increase in the flow of certain chemical messengers like dopamine. Alcohol has the opposite effect, inhibiting flow of certain chemical messengers.

This can lead Ritalin and alcohol to mask the effects of each other, meaning the person mixing the drugs may not be aware of their intoxication level. This may lead them to abuse more of each or both substances, risking overdose.

Can Ritalin Abuse Lead To Overdose?

The hard answer is yes, Ritalin abuse can lead to overdose. Ritalin overdose is rarely life-threatening unless combined with another drug.

Yet many people abuse Ritalin with one or more other substances and this puts them at increased risk of overdose.

Ritalin overdose symptoms include:

  • confusion
  • convulsions
  • hallucinations
  • increased heart and blood pressure rates
  • seizures
  • vomiting

Treatment Programs For Ritalin Abuse

Treatment for Ritalin abuse is best in an integrated format or treatment that combines a number of therapies and methods for a comprehensive approach.

Individuals addicted to Ritalin experience behavioral changes and will likely need help learning constructive ways to modify behavior. This can be achieved through participation in behavioral therapy, like cognitive behavioral or dialectical behavior therapy.

Mental and physical effects of Ritalin abuse must be addressed at the same time, which can be achieved through multiple methods including an initial detox period and counseling.

Many rehab programs offer a variety of evidence-based, traditional, and alternative methods to treat abuse of prescription medications like Ritalin.

Rehab programs which are customized to individual need will afford the best chance for overcoming abuse, changing behavior, and learning to manage addiction.

Residential Rehab Programs For Ritalin Abuse

Residential addiction treatment programs are among the most effective forms of treatment for addiction to medications like Ritalin.

Residential treatment allows individuals to be surrounded by medical care and support and provides them with everything necessary to enter recovery.

Individuals in residential rehab programs will engage in skill-building activities, learn to change destructive thought patterns which lead to addiction, and learn how to prevent and manage relapse.

Residential treatment for Ritalin abuse can be modified to match the needs of each addicted individual, with varying treatment lengths, types of therapy, and recovery goals.

Aftercare Programs For Ritalin Abuse

As important as initial treatment, aftercare programs for Ritalin abuse helps individuals newly in recovery remain true to treatment principles.

Aftercare programs come in many formats but may include outpatient counseling, day programs, support groups, and sobriety sponsors.

Treatment for Ritalin abuse and addiction is highly available. With the right program, individuals wishing to stop Ritalin abuse can learn skills to change their lifestyle, cope with cravings, and manage addiction in long-term recovery.

National Institute on Drug Abuse - DrugFacts: Prescription Stimulants

University of Utah: Genetic Science Learning Center - Ritalin and Cocaine: The Connection and the Controversy

U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Methylphenidate

U.S. National Library of Medicine: National Institutes of Health - Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects

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