Ritalin Addiction, Side Effects, & Dangers

Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a prescription central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that’s commonly used to treat ADHD but is also a popular drug of misuse.1,2 According to the National Survey of Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), around 536,000 people (0.2%) in the United States aged 12 and older misused methylphenidate between 2020 and 2021.2

This article will discuss Ritalin’s uses, side effects, and dangers and provide treatment resources to help someone recover from Ritalin addiction.

What is Ritalin?

Ritalin is a brand-name version of the drug methylphenidate, which is a stimulant indicated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.1

Ritalin is sometimes also prescribed off-label to treat:3

  • Fatigue in cancer patients.
  • Treatment-resistant depression in elderly people.
  • Apathy in Alzheimer’s patients.

Ritalin stimulates the brain and nervous system by increasing the activity of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine.4

Usually prescribed in tablet form for oral administration, Ritalin comes in 5-,10-, and 20-milligram tablets. An extended-release version is prescribed as Ritalin LA, and comes in 10-20-, 30-, and 40-mg capsules.1

Side Effects of Ritalin Use

Ritalin may cause side effects. Some side effects associated with Ritalin use include:1

  • Headaches.
  • Nervousness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Nausea and upset stomach.
  • Appetite loss.

More serious side effects may include:1

  • Slowed growth in children (height and weight).
  • Seizures, mostly among people with a history of seizures.
  • Eyesight problems or blurred vision.
  • Prolonged and painful erections (priapism).

Dangers of Ritalin Misuse

Chronic high-dose Ritalin misuse could increase the risk of adverse cardiovascular effects (e.g., stroke, heart attack, sudden death).5 Misusing Ritalin can entail:4

  • Unintended methods of using Ritalin. For example, crushing oral tablets and snorting the powder or dissolving it in liquid and injecting it.
  • Taking someone else’s prescribed Ritalin.
  • Taking medically prescribed Ritalin with the intent of getting high.

Ritalin misuse is more common among students under 25 who obtain Ritalin from a friend or other student and use it as a study aid or to get high. However, older adults may sometimes misuse Ritalin to try and improve their memory.4

Dangerous potential adverse effects from CNS stimulants like Ritalin include:1,7

  • Increased heart rate and respiration.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Vomiting.
  • Anger.
  • Psychosis.
  • Suicidal and homicidal ideation.
  • Seizures.
  • Fatal overdose.

Can You Overdose on Ritalin?

Yes, it is possible to overdose on Ritalin. A Ritalin overdose is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention.1

Symptoms of prescription stimulant overdose include:1

  • Sweating.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Tremors.
  • Agitation.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Convulsions (may be followed by coma).

Can You Become Addicted to Ritalin?

Yes. Like other addictive drugs, Ritalin increases dopamine activity, which may reinforce continued use which can eventually lead to compulsive patterns of misuse.4,6

Stimulant addiction develops when continued Ritalin use causes significant issues across various areas of a person’s life, such as health problems and issues in academics, at work, with their family, or in their social relationships.6

In young people, nonmedical use of prescription stimulants like Ritalin is associated with an increased risk of a substance use disorder, neurophysiological dysfunction, polysubstance use, depressed mood, and lower graduation rates.9

Research has identified several risk factors that increase the chances someone will develop an .11 Some of these risk factors are:11

  • An estimated 40% to 60% of addiction risk is related to genetics and the effects someone’s environment has on their gene expression (epigenetics).
  • Environment.
  • Trauma.
  • Substance use at a young age.
  • Presence of another mental disorder.

Ritalin Addiction Signs

Healthcare professionals use the following diagnostic criteria to aid in the diagnosis of a stimulant use disorder, the clinical term for a Ritalin addiction:10

  1. Using the stimulant at higher doses or is taken for a longer period than initially intended.
  2. Having a desire or making multiple unsuccessful attempts to control, reduce, or stop using the stimulant.
  3. Dedicating a significant amount of time to obtaining the stimulant, using the stimulant, or recovering from the stimulant’s effects.
  4. Experiencing cravings or strong urges to use the stimulant.
  5. Having a hard time fulfilling major responsibilities at work, home, or school because of recurrent stimulant use.
  6. Having frequent interpersonal or social problems that are caused or made worse by stimulant use.
  7. Stimulant use leads to a reduction or ending of important work, social, or recreational activities.
  8. Continued stimulant misuse despite knowing that psychological or physical health problems have been caused or worsened by stimulant use.
  9. Misusing the stimulant in situations where it is dangerous to do so.
  10. Needing higher or more frequent doses of the stimulant to achieve the desired effect or experiencing a weakened effect when taking the same amount.
  11. Experiencing symptoms of stimulant withdrawal when stimulant use is reduced or ended. This can also include taking stimulants or a similar substance to avoid stimulant withdrawal.

A stimulant use disorder diagnosis may be made when 2 or more of the above criteria are met within the previous year; however, criterions 10 and 11 will not apply to someone taking Ritalin under appropriate medical guidance.10

Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms

When someone who uses Ritalin chronically quits or drastically reduces their dosage, they may experience withdrawal. Withdrawal is more common among people that misuse Ritalin and/or use it in high doses.1

Withdrawal from prescription stimulants such as Ritalin, may include symptoms such as:1

  • Increased appetite.
  • Dysphoric mood.
  • Fatigue.
  • Vivid nightmares.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Repetitive unintentional movements or slowed physical activities.

Ritalin Addiction Treatment at River Oaks

Ritalin addiction is a treatable condition.6,10 While no FDA-approved medication exists for dealing with stimulant use disorder, other interventions such as peer support, psychoeducation, and behavioral therapy can help someone achieve long-term recovery.6,12

These approaches can be utilized through several types of addiction treatment. At River Oaks, the various levels of care include:

Begin the admissions process at River Oaks inpatient rehab in Hillsborough County, Florida or the outpatient center in Riverview by calling . Compassionate admissions navigators are standing by to answer questions about using insurance to cover addiction treatment, other ways to pay for rehab, and what to expect in addiction treatment.

You can also verify your insurance coverage by using the confidential .

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