Ritalin Addiction, Side Effects, and Treatment

Ritalin is a prescription medication that is used to treat symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.1 Despite its legitimate medical uses, Ritalin can be misused, which may increase the risk of an addiction, which is diagnosed as a stimulant use disorder.

This article will discuss prescription drug misuse involving Ritalin, Ritalin side effects, Ritalin withdrawal, signs of Ritalin addiction, and how to seek help for Ritalin misuse and addiction.

What is Ritalin (Methylphenidate)?

Ritalin—a brand name for the central nervous system (CNS) stimulant medication methylphenidate—is prescribed by medical professionals to treat ADHD and narcolepsy.1,3

Ritalin is available in immediate-release and sustained-release (Ritalin SR) formulations that are orally ingested as tablets.1

Due to its potential for misuse, Ritalin is listed as a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).4

What is Ritalin Used For?

Ritalin is FDA-approved for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults and narcolepsy in adults.1,4

Ritalin is sometimes prescribed in an off-label capacity for the treatment of:4

  • Fatigue in patients with cancer.
  • Treatment-resistant depression in the geriatric population.
  • Apathy in Alzheimer’s disease.

Ritalin stimulates the nervous system by increasing the activity of two chemical signaling molecules, norepinephrine and dopamine.2,3

Ritalin has an onset of action around 30 to 45 minutes after ingestion.6 Therapeutic effects of Ritalin may develop between 4 to 6 hours after swallowing the immediate-release tablets and 3 to 9 hours after taking the SR tablets.3

Ritalin Misuse

Ritalin misuse may entail:2

  • Using the prescription medication in unintended ways. For example, grinding up oral tablets and snorting the powder or dissolving it in liquid and injecting it.2
  • Taking someone else’s prescription.
  • Taking medically prescribed Ritalin for the sake of getting high.2

Ritalin misuse may be most prevalent among people aged younger than 25 who obtain Ritalin from a friend or other student and use it as a study aid or to get high.7 However, Ritalin misuse sometimes also takes place among adults who use it to improve memory.2

Between 2020 and 2021, around 536,000 (0.2%) people in the United States aged 12 and older misused methylphenidate, according to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).8

Ritalin Side Effects

Many prescription drugs carry a risk of side effects. Some of the more common side effects associated with Ritalin use include:1

  • Headache.
  • Nervousness.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Nausea.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Loss of appetite.

More serious side effects may include:1

  • Slowed growth in children (height and weight).
  • Seizures, which have mainly occurred in people with a history of seizures.
  • Eyesight changes or blurred vision.
  • Painful and prolonged erections (priapism).

Adverse Effects of Ritalin Misuse

Prescription stimulant misuse may be associated with the side effects listed above as well as:2

  • Overdose toxicity.
  • Dangerously high body temperature.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Heart failure.
  • Seizures/convulsions.
  • Increased risk of developing an addiction.

Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms

People who use Ritalin for extended periods of time can develop dependence, a physiological adaptation characterized by the emergence of withdrawal symptoms if Ritalin use is suddenly stopped or reduced.1 Dependence is more likely to happen among people that misuse Ritalin or use it in high doses.1

With prescription stimulants such as Ritalin, withdrawal symptoms may include:2

  • Fatigue.
  • Depression.
  • Sleep problems.

Ritalin Addiction Signs

Ritalin addiction is diagnosed as a stimulant use disorder. Clinicians assess for several criteria outlined in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) to make their diagnoses. To receive a diagnosis, a person needs to meet at least 2 or more of the following signs of addiction within a 12-month period:9

  1. Using the stimulant in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended.
  2. Having a persistent desire or making unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control stimulant use.
  3. Spending a great deal of time on activities necessary to obtain and use the stimulant or recover from its effects.
  4. Having cravings or strong urges to use the stimulant.
  5. Failing to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home due to recurrent stimulant use.
  6. Continuing to use the stimulant despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or worsened by the effects of its use.
  7. Giving up or reducing important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of stimulant use.
  8. Using the stimulant in situations that are physically hazardous.
  9. Continuing stimulant use despite knowingly having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the stimulant.
  10. Developing tolerance to the stimulant, which means increased amounts of the stimulant are taken to achieve intoxication or desired effect. This criterion does not apply to someone prescribed Ritalin and taking it as intended.
  11. Experiencing withdrawal symptoms, often using the stimulant (or a closely related substance) to relieve or avoid these effects. This criterion does not apply to someone prescribed Ritalin and taking it as intended.

According to the NSDUH, 1.5 million Americans (0.5%) aged 12 and older had a prescription stimulant use disorder between 2020 and 2021.8

Ritalin Addiction Treatment

Ritalin addiction is a treatable condition.6

Effective addiction treatment confronts the issues that contributed to the addiction and teaches skills that help patients avoid triggers and cope with situations without resorting to drugs.10 Treatment typically involves a combination of:10

Currently, there are no FDA-approved medications to treat stimulant addiction.6

Oxford Treatment Center offers evidence-based treatment for Ritalin addiction and customized treatment plans that are personalized to your needs. We offer different levels of rehab, including:

When you’re ready to learn more about treatment and rehab at Oxford Treatment Center or to ask any questions you may have about the process, please call to speak to one of our caring admissions navigators. You can also learn more about rehab admissions, rehab insurance coverage, and other rehab payment options.

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