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Ritalin Addiction and Treatment Options

Ritalin is one of the brand names for the stimulant drug methylphenidate. It is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.1 It has a high potential for misuse and dependence, which can lead to Ritalin addiction.3

In this article, you will learn about Ritalin and its main intended use. You will also find information about addiction to Ritalin, including signs and symptoms of Ritalin addiction, risk factors that may lead to addiction, and how to seek treatment for Ritalin addiction.

What is Ritalin?

Ritalin is a prescription stimulant medication that comes in both immediate-release and extended-release tablet forms to help control symptoms of both pediatric and adult ADHD. It has also been indicated for the treatment of narcolepsy.1 It is a schedule II substance, which means it has a high potential for misuse and may lead to severe dependence.2

Ritalin and other stimulants inhibit the uptake of both norepinephrine and dopamine thus increasing the activity of both these neurotransmitters in the brain, which leads to increased energy, alertness, and attention.1

Is Ritalin Addictive?

Yes, Ritalin is addictive. Chronic, long-term use or misuse of Ritalin can lead to dependence, even when taken as prescribed, which means a person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they stop taking the drug or significantly reduce the dose they regularly take.1, 3 This can make it more difficult to stop using Ritalin and may lead to stimulant use disorder. A stimulant use disorder, or Ritalin addiction, occurs when use becomes uncontrollable and results in negative consequences, like failing to meet responsibilities at work or home or health issues.1

Misuse of Ritalin occurs when a person takes it in a way or a dose that wasn’t prescribed, takes someone else’s medicine, or takes it simply for the effects it provides.1 People misuse prescription stimulants like Ritalin by ingesting it in tablet form, crushing the pill to snort or smoke it, or dissolving it in water to inject it.1

People misuse Ritalin and other stimulants used to treat ADHD for a variety of reasons. College students most commonly misuse them for cognitive and academic enhancement (although use is negatively associated with academic performance) but also for recreational purposes and to lose weight. The most common reason adults misuse stimulants is to increase productivity and help them to stay awake.4, 11 People may misuse Ritalin alone, or take it with other substances like alcohol.4

Signs of Ritalin Addiction

Ritalin addiction is known by the diagnostic term stimulant use disorder, which is outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5).5 A diagnosis can only come from a doctor; however, the criteria laid out in the DSM-5 provide some signs to look for that may indicate the need for help.

The criteria for a stimulant use disorder include:5

  • Taking the stimulant in larger amounts or for a longer period than intended.
  • Having a persistent desire or unsuccessful attempts to cut down on the stimulant.
  • An excessive amount of time is spent trying to obtain the stimulant, use it, or recover from its effects.
  • Craving the stimulant.
  • Recurrent stimulant use that causes a person to neglect major obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued stimulant use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems.
  • Giving up or not participating in important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of stimulant use.
  • Recurrent stimulant use that occurs in physically hazardous situations.
  • Tolerance, where a person needs more of the stimulant to feel the desired effects.
  • Withdrawal, where a person experiences withdrawal symptoms if they stop using or drastically reduce stimulant use.

The DSM-5 suggests that addiction would be the presence of 2 or more of these signs over the past 12 months.5 If you or a loved one is experiencing 2 or more of the signs listed above, you may want to contact your doctor or mental health professional for support.

Ritalin Effects and Risks

All prescription stimulants have similar short- and long-term effects, which may differ for each person. If you are experiencing concerning Ritalin effects, it is always best to contact your doctor.1

Common side effects of Ritalin include:3

  • Increased heart rate.
  • Palpitations.
  • Headache.
  • Insomnia.
  • Anxiety.
  • Sweating.
  • Weight loss.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Nausea.
  • Abdominal pain.

When higher doses are taken, Ritalin and other prescription stimulants can cause a feeling of euphoria or a “rush”, but may also be accompanied by:1

  • Hyperactivity and restlessness.
  • Dangerously high body temperature.
  • Irregular heartbeat.
  • Heart failure.
  • Seizures.
  • Anger.
  • Aggression.
  • Hostility.
  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis.

People who inject Ritalin or other substances can be at increased risk of contracting infectious diseases like HIV or hepatitis.1

Can You Overdose on Ritalin?

It is possible to overdose on Ritalin. If a person uses enough of the substance, it could produce a life-threatening reaction.1

When someone overdoses on Ritalin, they may experience symptoms that indicate overstimulation of the nervous system. These include:1, 6

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea.
  • Restlessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Tremors.
  • Overactive reflexes.
  • Convulsions.
  • Rapid breathing.
  • Confusion.
  • Aggression.
  • Hallucinations or panic.
  • Delirium.
  • Abnormally elevated fever.
  • Muscle pains and weakness.
  • Cardiac arrhythmias.
  • Heightened blood pressure.
  • Breakdown of skeletal muscle fibers with leakage into the blood (i.e., rhabdomyolysis).

Mixing Ritalin with Alcohol and Other Drugs

Mixing 2 substances together to obtain a different or more elevated “high” is common and referred to as polysubstance use.6

Some people may recreationally mix Ritalin with alcohol or some other depressant to either feel more alert or possibly lessen their drunkenness feeling to facilitate late-night partying.4 However, this is dangerous as it can mask each substance’s effects and make it difficult for people to know how much of each substance they’ve taken.6

Ritalin can mask the effects of alcohol and other sedatives potentially causing severe respiratory depression.7

Combining Ritalin with other stimulants can increase a person’s heart rate and blood pressure to dangerous levels. Potential health problems that can come from combining stimulants include brain injury, liver damage, heart attack, heart failure, cardiovascular collapse, stroke, and sudden death.6

Ritalin Addiction Treatment

There are several options used in the successful treatment of stimulant addiction. Each person comes with a different set of circumstances and treatment needs; therefore, an individualized treatment plan is an important part of recovery.7

Treatment settings for stimulant use disorders can include inpatient or outpatient facilities, or detoxification centers, depending on the severity of a person’s addiction and their needs. Detox is often the first phase of treatment and helps a person to safely and comfortably manage Ritalin and other drug withdrawal symptoms.8

Treatment for stimulant use disorders typically includes behavioral therapy like contingency management (CM), motivational interviewing, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).10 These modalities can help a person learn to cope with cravings, teach relapse prevention skills, and learn more about what leads them to substance misuse.1, 10

If a person has a co-occurring mental health condition like anxiety, bipolar disorder, or depression, it is the standard of care to integrate treatment of the stimulant use disorder and the co-occurring disorder(s).7 Medication may be used to treat certain symptoms, but there are no FDA-approved medications for treating stimulant addictions.10

Seeking treatment for addiction may feel overwhelming; however, help is available. Contact American Addiction Centers to learn about our treatment facilities across the U.S. and chat with a caring team member that can help you find the right treatment for you. Call us at to start your recovery journey from Ritalin addiction today.

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