Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a prescription-only stimulant drug intended to treat ADD/ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and narcolepsy. Ritalin is classified by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) as a Schedule II controlled substance at the federal level. This designation indicates that although it has a high potential for dependence and addiction due to its interaction with the brain’s reward system, it does serve some legitimate medical purposes.
How Ritalin Works
Ritalin is usually ingested as an oral tablet but can also be crushed and snorted or injected when abused. Among those without ADD/ADHD, its stimulant properties result in effects similar to cocaine and other amphetamines, such as meth.
Ritalin exposure increases the amount of dopamine in the brain, a chemical responsible for feelings of well-being and euphoria. Moreover, Ritalin and similar drugs are monoamine reuptake inhibitors of dopamine and other vital neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine (adrenaline) and serotonin.
By allowing more dopamine to bind to brain receptors, Ritalin helps individuals with ADD/ADHD to focus and remain on task. In people without these conditions, Ritalin use leads to heightened feelings of energy and euphoria.
Other prescription medications that include the active ingredient methylphenidate include the following:
The drugs have effects similar to those of Ritalin, and therefore also have a high potential for abuse and addiction.
How Ritalin Is Abused
Ritalin is commonly abused/misused for its stimulating properties. It is sometimes taken recreationally as a club drug and can be found at parties, clubs, concerts, raves, festivals, etc. It is also commonly abused or its energizing effects, such as by college students for study or cram sessions or truck drivers and other shift workers who must work long hours.
The consequences of Ritalin abuse can include drug cravings and withdrawal effects when use is discontinued. Frequent abuse can also result in both dependence and tolerance.
Dependence occurs over time when the brain adapts to a drug’s presence and can no longer function correctly without it. When the user tries to stop use, this action will result in various unpleasant side effects.
When tolerance occurs, the body needs ever-increasing amounts of the drug to achieve the desired results. This condition can drive users to consume higher doses more frequently, thereby increasing the addiction’s severity and the risk of overdose.
Avoiding Ritalin Addiction
Ritalin, even when used as directed, can cause dependence, and this is relatively normal. It is important to note this because dependence is one component of addiction, but it is not addiction itself. Addiction is further characterized by perpetual compulsive drug-seeking behavior despite the adverse consequences that result.
You can prevent a full-blown addiction to Ritalin by adhering to the following guidelines:
1. Do not use Ritalin or other amphetamines without a prescription from a health provider.
2. Do not take doses in amounts higher than those prescribed.
3. Do not take doses more often than prescribed.
4. Do not use Ritalin for any purpose other than what is intended by prescription.
Individuals with ADD/ADHD at a reduced risk for addiction than people who abuse it recreationally or for non-medical purposes. Moreover, it increases alertness, focus, and concentration in ADD/ADHD-affected individuals, rather than merely stimulate the person’s system to the point of excessive energy and euphoria.
Signs of Ritalin Addiction
Ritalin addiction can lead to several adverse physical, mental, and social effects. People who abuse Ritalin may engage in illicit activities as a means to obtain the drug, experience severe side effects, and engage in risky, impulsive behavior.
Ritalin abusers may also neglect essential responsibilities, such as work, school, family life, finances, etc. They may also struggle with legal issues strained relationships due to drug abuse.
Physical and Mental Side Effects
The magnitude and duration of Ritalin’s effects depend on the individual, the dose consumed and how often, and the person’s level of tolerance. Also, when Ritalin is snorted or administered intravenously, the initial effects are typically much more intense than when consumed orally as a tablet.
Effects of Ritalin abuse can include the following:
- Suppressed appetite
- Weight loss
- Depression and anxiety
- Elevated heart rate
- Chest pain
- High or low blood pressure
Long-term effects of Ritalin abuse may include the following:
- Apathy or anhedonia
- Significant mood disturbances
- Psychotic symptoms
- Anorexia/weight loss
- Mania and depression
- Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
Signs of a Ritalin Overdose
Although uncommon, a Ritalin overdose can be fatal, especially when the drug is used in combination with other intoxicating/psychoactive substances. If you or someone you love is exhibiting the following signs or symptoms related to Ritalin use, please call 911 immediately:
- Uncontrolled vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Fever and flushed skin
- Dryness of the mouth/nose
- Rapid heartbeat
- Severe chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Seizures and convulsions
- Loss of consciousness/coma
Treatment for Ritalin Addiction
Ritalin addiction treatment often begins with medical detox, a clinical process in which a person is supervised around-the-clock while their body clears itself of drugs and toxic substances. Detox typically takes several days to complete before the client is prepared to move on to formal, long-term addiction treatment.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery offer intensive treatment programs that include both inpatient (residential) and partial hospitalization formats. Both tracks offer psychotherapy, individual and group therapy, counseling, 12-step program meetings, substance abuse education, relapse prevention, art and music therapy, mindfulness therapy, aftercare planning, and much more.