Ritalin Addiction | Abuse, Effects, Signs, & Treatment

In the United States an estimated 8.1% of adults are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at some point in their lives.

While many grow out of the condition over time, large numbers of people (especially teenagers and young adults) are prescribed stimulant medications like Ritalin on a continuing basis to manage ADHD and improve their concentration, behavior, and mental clarity.

Unfortunately, while stimulant therapy is considered safe and effective for treating ADHD and narcolepsy, Ritalin is frequently diverted and misused for non-medical purposes.
Substance abuse involving Ritalin can, in many situations, evolve into a form of substance use disorder (drug addiction).

Ritalin Abuse

Ritalin is a brand-name stimulant medication made with the amphetamine-class drug methylphenidate, a Schedule II controlled substance.

Methylphenidate is similar in chemical structure and effect to other misused amphetamine class drugs such as mixed amphetamine and dextroamphetamine salts (Adderall), dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine), and the illicit stimulant drug methamphetamine.

In fact, according to results from the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 3.7 million Americans misused prescription stimulants like Ritalin in a single year.

Why Ritalin Abuse Occurs

Inside the body, methylphenidate blocks dopamine transport proteins (DAT) and noradrenaline transport proteins (NAT), increasing the dopamine and norepinephrine active in the body.

This, depending on the person using Ritalin and their dosage, may increase physical and mental activity and produce a wide variety of effects.

Those who abuse Ritalin may do so for one of several reasons:

  • to increase concentration (often during exam season)
  • to increase wakefulness and prevent sleep
  • to curb their appetite for weight loss
  • to produce a recreational stimulant high

Side Effects Of Ritalin Abuse

ADHD is associated with abnormally low dopamine levels, which is why dopamine-boosting stimulant medications can be safely used by healthcare providers to manage ADHD and narcolepsy long-term.

However, when a person without ADHD uses Ritalin, or when a person exceeds their recommended dosage, the effects of the drug can be greatly enhanced.

This can produce different short-term and long-term effects, including:

  • headache
  • insomnia
  • hyperactivity
  • racing thoughts
  • loss of inhibition
  • increased sexual impulse
  • anxiety
  • heart palpitations
  • increased sweating
  • dry mouth
  • tremors
  • nausea and vomiting
  • dilated pupils
  • elevated heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and body temperature
  • suppressed growth
  • priapism (prolonged erection)
  • peripheral vasculopathy (Raynaud’s phenomenon)
  • loss of appetite and weight loss/malnourishment
  • drug tolerance, dependence, and addiction

Ritalin Overdose

In addition, some people have experienced severe adverse reactions to stimulant medications, especially in high doses. This can produce symptoms of stimulant overdose, including:

  • restlessness
  • fever
  • tremors
  • manic or psychotic symptoms (aggression, paranoia, confusion, hallucinations)
  • sudden death from heart attack, stroke, or seizures/convulsions

This danger can be increased even further if Ritalin is mixed with other drugs of abuse, including alcohol, opioid painkillers, and other stimulants.

If you suspect that someone has overdosed, call 911 immediately and provide first aid until medical professionals arrive.

Signs Of Ritalin Abuse & Addiction

There are a number of potential signs and symptoms that can reveal Ritalin misuse or misuse of other stimulant prescription medications by a friend, family member, or loved one, including:

  • taking higher doses or more frequent doses than directed
  • unexplained pills, powders, bottles, or baggies
  • missing medications or funds (used to buy Ritalin)
  • running out of one’s Ritalin prescription early
  • behavioral changes, including deceit, aggression, or withdrawal if questioned
  • decreased appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • sweating
  • alternating periods of unusual high and low energy
  • mental health decline, often including anxiety, depression, and moodiness
  • frequent runny nose or congestion (snorting) or track marks and skin irritation (injection)

Treating Ritalin Abuse & Addiction

Underestimating the addictive potential of Ritalin and other stimulants is a mistake because these prescription medications are highly potent.

If abused over a long period of time, Ritalin can provoke the development of stimulant use disorder along with severe and lasting behavioral changes and negative health effects similar to those produced by methamphetamine addiction.

Likewise, Ritalin addiction treatment strongly resembles addiction treatment provided for other stimulant use disorders, featuring evidence-based treatment options such as:

  • medical detox: a professional service that can help participants work through discontinuation and Ritalin withdrawal symptoms in a safe and supportive setting
  • inpatient treatment programs: hosted in professional treatment centers where participants are closely supported as they progress through an intensive and personalized course of treatment
  • dual diagnosis treatment: a specialized form of treatment that addresses both Ritalin use and co-occurring mental health conditions like PTSD, anxiety, depression, and others
  • cognitive behavioral therapy and other forms of behavioral therapy and counseling
  • peer support groups, including Narcotics Anonymous (NA) and others
  • aftercare support, or continuing care following treatment

To learn more about your options for professional Ritalin addiction treatment, please contact Bedrock Recovery Center today.

Based in Canton, Massachusetts, we’re a leading inpatient addiction treatment provider and primary mental healthcare provider offering evidence-based treatment for all forms of substance use disorder and co-occurring mental health conditions.

  1. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) - Drug Fact Sheet: Amphetamines https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2023-02/Amphetamines%202022%20Drug%20Fact%20Sheet_0.pdf
  2. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - Ritalin, Ritalin SR Label https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2013/010187s077lbl.pdf
  3. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) - Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd
  4. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - Treatment of Stimulant Use Disorders https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/pep20-06-01-001.pdf

Written by Bedrock Recovery Center Editorial Team

Published on: August 22, 2023

© 2024 Bedrock Recovery Center | All Rights Reserved

* This page does not provide medical advice.

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