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Quitting Ritalin: Timeline, Withdrawal, and Treatment

Ritalin, also known by the chemical name methylphenidate, is a prescription drug primarily used in the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).1 Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant classified as a Schedule II substance because it has the potential for misuse and dependence.1

Studies suggest people without ADHD misuse stimulants like Ritalin because they think it can improve their performance at school or work (via increased alertness, concentration, and focus), for recreational drug use, or to address the effects of other drugs.3

Ritalin and other stimulant drugs, however, are powerful substances that can be difficult to stop because regular use, especially at high doses, can lead to physiological dependence and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like drug cravings.1

This article will help people understand more about quitting Ritalin including potential withdrawal symptoms and where to get support and treatment.

What Happens When Quitting Ritalin?

Quitting Ritalin can produce undesirable withdrawal symptoms, which typically present as the opposite of symptoms of intoxication.3 This occurs when a person who regularly used Ritalin or other prescription stimulants, even as prescribed, suddenly stops or reduces their dose, resulting in withdrawal symptoms.3

Although stimulant withdrawal is generally not dangerous (unlike withdrawal from alcohol and other sedatives), long-term, high-dose Ritalin use is more likely to cause intense, severe symptoms, which can make quitting extremely difficult.3

The greatest risk during stimulant withdrawal is self-harm. Dysphoria (i.e., generalized dissatisfaction with life) and depression can be quite intense during stimulant or Ritalin withdrawal leading to suicidality and the potential for self-harming behaviors.3 A person quitting stimulants who is at risk of self-harm may need to be appropriately monitored.3

Additional Ritalin withdrawal symptoms include:1, 3

  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Dysphoria.
  • Fatigue.
  • Depression.
  • Inability to feel pleasure (anhedonia).
  • Loss of energy.
  • Psychotic episodes.
  • Unpleasant dreams.
  • Insomnia and hypersomnia (sleeping too much).
  • Increased appetite.

What is the Timeline for Ritalin Withdrawal?

Withdrawal symptoms from stimulants can vary based on the type of stimulant a person is using.3 There is little in the scientific literature about how long acute Ritalin withdrawal lasts for most people. However, withdrawal for other stimulants generally sets in a few hours or days after stopping stimulant use and lasts 1 to 2 weeks.3

After the initial 1 to 2 weeks of stimulant withdrawal, some people may continue to experience symptoms like increased appetite, depression, increased desire to sleep, drug cravings, and fatigue.3

Dangers of Quitting Ritalin Cold Turkey

Quitting “cold turkey” is a slang term for stopping a substance suddenly with little or no support. Many people stop using Ritalin or other stimulants on their own without any help; however, withdrawal symptoms can be extremely uncomfortable and may result in returning to drug use.3

Someone discontinuing regular use of methylphenidate who is at risk of experiencing severe depression and dysphoria should be monitored for self-harm.3

How to Quit Ritalin Safely

To minimize the risk of severe withdrawal-induced depression as well as increased supervision and other options to effectively quit Ritalin, several treatment options are available to help a person who wants to quit using stimulants. Since each person is unique, it’s important to receive a full assessment to create an individualized treatment plan that will help you to achieve your treatment goals.3

Treatment settings may include:

Detoxification for a person with stimulant use disorder helps a person safely and comfortably rid their bodies of stimulants and establish a period of abstinence before entering other forms of treatment.4 Many people find that transitioning to drug rehab treatment after attending a detox program is helpful in learning essential relapse prevention and other skills to help support their treatment goals.2

There are currently no FDA-approved medications for the treatment of stimulant withdrawal or addiction.3

Behavioral Therapy

Behavioral therapy plays an important role in treating stimulant use disorders and has proven to be an effective form of treatment.2, 3 Contingency management (CM) is currently the only treatment with significant evidence of effectiveness in treating stimulant use disorders. CM gives people rewards or other incentives for positive behaviors like remaining abstintent.2

Other forms of behavioral therapy that may be used include cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and motivational interviewing.2, 3 CBT is used to help a person modify and change behaviors about drug use and help them cope with cravings and triggers to use stimulants.2

If you’re ready to quit Ritalin or other substances, you don’t have to do it alone. Help is available. Contact American Addiction Centers (AAC) to learn more about our evidence-based treatment options and facilities located across the U.S. We have caring admissions navigators available 24/7 to take your call at and help you check insurance and get the help you deserve.