Ritalin is a popular brand name for the drug methylphenidate, one of the approved treatments for ADD/ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). Ritalin can also be employed to treat the symptoms of narcolepsy, a condition in which a person has difficulty staying awake during normal waking hours. Ritalin is available in regular release and extended-release (XR) forms.
Use and Abuse of Ritalin
Methylphenidate products are classified as controlled substances (Schedule II) by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Moreover, this indicates that the government considers Ritalin a substance with a high potential for abuse and physical dependence but still has some beneficial medicinal applications. Therefore, the drug is strongly controlled and can only be licitly obtained and used under the care of a health provider.
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) data estimate the use of methylphenidate products in individuals over age 12. It is estimated that 150,000 people over this age used methylphenidate in 2016, and about 68,000 of these persons reported abusing it at least once.
Methylphenidate is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant medication. CNS stimulants, such as Ritalin, Adderall, meth and cocaine, increase the activity of the neurons in the brain and spinal cord. They affect neurochemicals (chemicals used by the neurons in the brain as messengers), such as dopamine, adrenaline, and others.
The treatment of ADD/DHD with stimulant medications may appear contradictory because ADHD is a disorder in which a person becomes hyperactive, impulsive, and has difficulties paying attention. However, stimulant medications reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention in conditions like ADD/ADHD and other disorders that produce impairments in concentration.
In the case of ADD/ADHD, it is hypothesized that the individual’s brain with the disorder is underactive in its normal resting state. This leads to issues with attention and the need for a person to be impulsive or move around a lot to compensate for this underactive brain state.
Moreover, research has indicated that children with ADHD treated with stimulant medications, such as Ritalin, tend to have more positive outcomes regarding their educational and occupational achievement. They also have fewer issues with substance abuse than children with ADHD who do not receive treatment.
Unfortunately, methylphenidate products such as Ritalin are also significant potential drugs of abuse. They can be misused in numerous contexts, but perhaps the best-known context is using these drugs as cognitive or performance enhancers.
For example, high school students and college students may abuse the drugs by grinding up the pills, snorting the powder, taking excessive dosages of the drug to study for exams, or staying awake for lengthy periods. Other individuals employed in high-demand jobs may also use stimulants like Ritalin to improve their performance at work and stay awake and alert longer.
The reputation of Ritalin and similar stimulants as cognitive or performance enhancers is somewhat exaggerated. Any stimulant, including caffeine, can improve focus and attention for a short period when taken in moderate to small amounts.
Still, when these drugs are abused in large quantities, they actually have the effect of mitigating a person’s attention span. Research suggests that abusers of Ritalin and similar drugs typically have lower academic and occupational achievement levels than those who do not abuse these drugs.
How Long Does Ritalin Remain in the Body?
As noted, the active ingredient in Ritalin is methylphenidate, a CNS stimulant, which typically has a relatively short half-life compared to other drugs, and quick onset of action. The half-life of a drug is how long it takes a person’s system to metabolize the concentration of the drug to half its initial concentration.
The peak effects from CNS stimulants are typically felt rapidly and then soon dissipate. The immediate-release form of Ritalin lasts between 4–6 hours before a person requires another dosage. The half-life of methylphenidate ranges from 1-4 hours.
Ritalin, being water-soluble, does not tend to accumulate in the body’s cells in the way that many other drugs do. The ability of a person to eliminate methylphenidate through urine can vary between individuals. Some individuals can eliminate nearly 100% of the drug within-2 days, whereas others may only eliminate 75% of the drug over the same period.
In general, however, urine screens can detect the presence of Ritalin for 1-3 days following use. Saliva tests can identify the presence of methylphenidate for 1-3 days after use. Blood screens are not commonly used to test for Ritalin. Methylphenidate may be found in hair follicles for up to one month after the last use. The most prominent factors that influence how long methylphenidate remains in a person’s system include the following:
- Age: Older individuals clear the drug more slowly than younger individuals.
- Body mass: Weight can also affect the rate at which methylphenidate and other drugs are eliminated from the body, with heavier people expelling it more quickly.
- Metabolism: Individual differences in metabolic rate can account for differences in how rapidly the body eliminates methylphenidate.
- Use with alcohol: Using methylphenidate while drinking alcohol will result in the methylphenidate being eliminated more slowly as the individual’s liver (the organ responsible for metabolizing drugs in the body) will prioritize breaking alcohol over most other drugs.
Once the liver has fully metabolized the alcohol in the person’s system, it can break down other drugs.
Other factors that can affect how long Ritalin is can be identified in a person’s body after taking the drug can include food consumption and hydration, which can increase or retard the drug’s absorption its release in the system. Using methylphenidate orally with a high-fat meal will result in a slower absorption rate for the drug. In contrast, well-hydrating oneself after taking the medication may slightly increase the drug’s metabolism.
The time that the drug stays in a person’s system can also depend on the type of methylphenidate used. For instance, taking the XL form of methylphenidate will result in the product being released more gradually in the person’s body. This means that the drug may be found for a more extended period than immediate-release forms of the medication if it was taken orally.
Getting Help for Drug Addiction
Drug abuse and addiction can be a devastating, life-long condition and often requires a comprehensive medical approach to treat effectively. Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer integrated, evidence-based programs in partial hospitalization and inpatient formats. Our goal is to ensure every person we treat received the tools, education, and support they need to sustain long-term abstinence and reclaim the life they deserve.