Recently, concerns have been raised about young people and college students abusing Concerta, a brand-name drug that contains methylphenidate. As explained by Mayo Clinic, this drug is medically used to treat conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), because it acts on the brain by increasing alertness and focus. When used correctly for this purpose, it is a safe treatment that can help people with this condition stay focused and organized on a day-to-day basis.
However, as a nervous system stimulant, it is sometimes abused for multiple reasons. One involves students using it, even when they don’t have ADHD, because of a perception that it can help them perform better in school or on other intellectual tasks. Another reason for abuse is that Concerta also acts on the dopamine system and can create a sense of euphoria that makes some people seek it out as a recreational drug.
Either with recreational use or through abuse or misuse of the drug, there are a number of long-term health risks that are of concern, as described by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), including:
Health Risks of Concerta Use
- High blood pressure and cardiovascular problems
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Appetite changes and malnutrition
- Anxiety and paranoia
These risks are further explained and described below.
1. High Blood Pressure and Cardiovascular Problems
All stimulants, including the one found in Concerta, are known to raise blood pressure and heart rate slightly. While this doesn’t normally cause problems over a short course or with occasional, low-dose use, over time, it is possible for continued, higher level use of the drug to cause changes in normal heart rate and blood pressure for an individual. This is particularly likely if the drug is being abused regularly.
The Federal Drug Administration’s information on Concerta, provided through Drugs.com, includes a caution regarding serious cardiac issues, including stroke and heart attack. It is known that extended or improper use of the drug can damage the heart. This potential can develop over time as a result of the effects that the stimulant has on the cardiovascular system, or can occur quickly in people who already have heart conditions, arrhythmia, or congenital abnormalities in their heart structure or blood vessels.
2. Insomnia and Fatigue
A study from Neurotherapeutics discusses the sleep issues that can be caused by the use of methylphenidate, including insomnia and resulting fatigue. As described in the study, there are multiple ways in which the drug can interfere with sleep, including:
- Delay of falling asleep that can shorten the sleep cycle
- Sleep disturbance that awakens the individual in the middle of sleep
- Altered circadian rhythms resulting in shifted sleep time, sometimes reversing the night-day cycle
On a long-term basis, insomnia or other sleep problems can lead to greater fatigue, irritability, and other psychological dysfunction that can result from not getting enough quality sleep.
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3. Appetite Changes and Malnutrition
A report from ADDitude demonstrates that stimulants taken to treat ADHD are known to result in a decreased appetite; Concerta has this effect as well, which is mild and can be managed when the drug is used properly. However, when it is abused, appetite suppression can become extreme, leading to weight loss and decreased intake of nutrients. In fact, some people will abuse stimulants for this reason: as an unsafe method to help with weight loss.
The long-term risk that results from this symptom is that the individual abusing the drug may become malnourished. Taking in less food often means that the individual is not getting enough of the vital nutrients needed to keep the body healthy. Over time, this can lead to other major health issues that result from malnutrition.
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4. Anxiety and Paranoia
People who have a co-occurring issue with anxiety may find that Concerta can increase the feelings of anxiousness. This side effect is typically mild if the drug is used correctly. However, long-term abuse of the drug can contribute to increased anxiety, and, like illegal steroids such as cocaine, it can sometimes result in the individual feeling paranoia, according to NIDA.
The increased focus and energy from taking Concerta result in part because the drug causes an increase in neurotransmitters that are also related to the body’s stress response. Sometimes, this can create a state of hypervigilance that increases anxiety and paranoia. This, in turn, can lead to some frightening behaviors, including hostility or even violence, when taken to the extreme. Especially with heavy, long-term use, this psychological health effect is a high risk.
A study from Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology has shown that use of stimulant drugs, especially in those who abuse them or are dependent on them, can lead to a condition called anhedonia, which is described as a loss of the ability to feel pleasure.
One of the notable issues with continued stimulant use is that tolerance can develop quickly. This means that the person begins to need larger doses to get the same effect that was achieved by an initial dose. So, while a stimulant might make a person feel positive the first few times it is abused, that positive feeling diminishes over subsequent uses of the drug, until the person begins to find it hard to feel pleasure. This leads to a downward spiral of increased use and decreasing pleasure until the person is experiencing anhedonia. Again, this is less likely to occur if the drug is used properly or on a short-term basis. Abuse, however, makes anhedonia a real long-term risk.
As with any drug taken recreationally because of its euphoric effect, Concerta has a high addictive potential. In fact, the National Library of Medicine’s Medline Plus encyclopedia has a specific warning at the beginning of its article about methylphenidate that the drug may be habit-forming, should not be abused, and should be prescribed with caution to those who have struggles with addiction or the potential of becoming addicted.
Addiction to Concerta can not only contribute to the other health risks listed above, but it can also result in its own problems, including destructive effects on the individual’s life, including:
- Inability to keep up with daily responsibilities
- Relationship problems based on drug abuse
- Increased risk-taking and using the drug in dangerous situations
- Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if the drug is stopped
If an individual becomes addicted to Concerta, treatment through a reputable, research-based rehab facility offers a solid path to recovery.
Even if Concerta abuse has not yet led to addiction, rehab can help an individual stop using the drug before the above effects interfere with the person’s life. With the motivation, therapy, and social support that can be provided through rehab, a person struggling with Concerta abuse can learn to get the problem under control and stop using the drug, preventing the long-term risks associated with continued abuse.
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