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Managing Ritalin Cravings and Relapse

Prescription stimulants like Ritalin improve focus and decrease impulsivity and hyperactive behavior, three hallmark symptoms of ADHD.2

Ritalin is a Schedule II controlled substance, which means that even though it has approved medical uses in the U.S., it also has a high potential for misuse and potential for psychological and/or physical dependence.3

People may misuse Ritalin to experience its euphoric effects, increase attention and alertness, or as a study aid.2 Prolonged misuse of Ritalin can lead to a stimulant use disorder.1, 4 One criterion for diagnosing a stimulant use disorder is craving to use stimulants, which also may occur in both early and sustained remission of the disease.4

This article will provide information on what Ritalin cravings are, how and why they occur, and ways to help prevent Ritalin relapse.

What Are Ritalin Cravings?

Ritalin cravings are “strong desires or urges to use the stimulant,” or a learned response that can drive people to want to use Ritalin or other stimulant drugs again.4, 6 The intensity of stimulant cravings can make it more difficult for a person to stop using the drug, especially if they have recently stopped using, are early in their treatment, and experiencing stimulant withdrawal.6

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (DSM-5), people with stimulant use disorder often develop conditioned responses to drug-related stimuli (triggers or cues). These responses are typically difficult to ignore or stop, can contribute to relapse, and may continue following detox.4

In general, stimulant cravings may include:5

  • Strong desire or urge to use stimulants.
  • Difficulty thinking about anything other than using stimulants.
  • Feeling compelled to take stimulants.
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about using stimulants.

Why Do Ritalin Cravings Occur?

Stimulant cravings can occur when a person is exposed to cues that trigger stimulant use.7 When a person uses Ritalin or other stimulants, associations are made with stimulant use, which can later become cues that trigger cravings.6 Cues can be anything that reminds the person of taking Ritalin or other stimulants such as specific objects, people, or places associated with drug use.6

Cravings can occur even when a stimulant isn’t present and in people who recently stopped using stimulants or those who have not used it in years.7

What Triggers Ritalin Cravings?

Stimulant cravings can be triggered by cues, which are any stimuli strongly associated with the effects of the drug, which can later trigger arousal and an intense desire to use the substance.6, 8 Although triggers can vary from person to person, common cues that may trigger a desire for stimulant use include:8

  • Thoughts about taking stimulants.
  • Behaviors or certain activities associated with stimulant use.
  • Specific people, places, things, emotions, sensations (e.g., smells and sights), and situations associated with stimulant use.
  • Drug paraphernalia related to stimulant misuse.6

Physical discomfort and stress (if stimulant use was used to alleviate).8

How Long Do Ritalin Cravings Last?

People can experience stimulant and Ritalin cravings during periods of active substance use and even after withdrawal and treatment when a stimulant use disorder is in remission.7

Cravings can feel mild or intense. Learning to recognize triggers and gaining tools to help manage cravings and prevent relapse, or return to drug use, are skills a person can learn in treatment.8

Ritalin Relapse Prevention

When a person has a Ritalin relapse, it means they returned to Ritalin use after a period of abstinence. Relapse is a normal part of the recovery process.8 Learning to recognize triggers and the early warning signs of relapse may be an effective way to help prevent relapse and remain abstinent.6, 8

A few ways to manage cravings and prevent relapse include:8

  • Avoiding cues (e.g., people, places) that trigger cravings for and reminders of Ritalin or other stimulants.
  • Using your support system and asking for help when you need it.
  • Creating a relapse prevention plan.
  • Engaging in activities that encourage a healthy lifestyle like eating healthy foods, being physically active, and managing stress.

What to Do About a Ritalin Relapse

Treatment that’s tailored to a person’s substance misuse and individual factors can be important in a person’s recovery.9 Behavioral therapies may be particularly helpful in the treatment of stimulant use disorders by helping people learn to identify and respond to cues, change thoughts and behaviors related to substance use, and learn effective coping strategies.10 Behavioral therapy and other treatment interventions can occur in both inpatient and outpatient facilities.10

Common behavioral therapies for the treatment of stimulant use disorders include:6

If you or a loved one are struggling with Ritalin or other stimulant cravings, addiction, or have experienced a relapse, it is important to get the support you need. Reaching out to a trusted friend or loved one, doctor, or facility that specializes in substance use treatment to learn more about your options could be helpful.

You can also contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) to learn about support and treatment options, and to check your insurance at our facilities. Our caring admissions staff are ready to help and are available 24/7 at .