Ritalin is a prescription stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some other conditions. However, it is also a potentially addictive drug. Like other nervous system stimulants, Ritalin – a formulation called methylphenidate – acts on the brain’s dopamine system, creating a sense of wellbeing that can reach euphoria. This pleasure neurochemical is the main culprit in the brains of those who struggle with drug abuse and addiction.

Treating an Addiction to Ritalin

If an individual who is taking Ritalin develops an addiction, it can be a challenge to know what to do. However, with treatment, it is possible to recover from a stimulant addiction and learn to control the cravings and triggers that lead to relapsing to use. The steps to treating an addiction to Ritalin are outlined below.

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Step 1: Find a credentialed rehab program.

The first step to treating any addiction, including one to stimulants, is to find a reputable, research-based treatment facility. While many people try to treat addiction on their own, they are generally not prepared for the challenges that arise when trying to recover from drug abuse, such as:

  • Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms
  • Severity of cravings
  • Negative effects of triggers, such as friends who still use or certain places
  • Presence or effects of co-occurring conditions like depression and anxiety

Professional rehab facilities that provide treatment based on research and an understanding of how Ritalin acts in the brain can help the individual manage these challenges and stay on the path to recovery despite the stumbling blocks that may arise along the way.

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Step 2: Stage an intervention.

Sometimes, a person struggling with Ritalin addiction may not be aware of their dependency on the drug, or perhaps the person is aware but doesn’t realize how serious the consequences of maintaining a stimulant addiction can be. An intervention is a way of helping the individual understand the consequences of addictive behaviors and the effects that drug use can have on the body, encouraging the person to get help.

It is important to make sure that Step 1 is followed before Step 2, because, as mentioned by the National Institute on Drug Abuse’s Principles of Effective Treatment, a person’s decision to get help requires a quick response in order to maximize the potential that the individual will truly follow through with treatment.

Step 3: Detox from the drug.

It seems intuitive, but before treatment can be effective, the individual needs to stop using the drug. Nevertheless, this can be a challenge for the individual, because often attempts to stop using the drug can result in extremely uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms and cravings. As described by Mental Health Daily, Ritalin has the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Sleepiness, fatigue, and insomnia
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Dizziness
  • Increased appetite and weight gain
  • Agitation, anger, and mood swings
  • Depression
  • Upset stomach
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  • Cravings for the drug

None of these symptoms are life-threatening. However, they can make it difficult for a person to continue abstaining from use, especially as the symptoms can last one week to a month or more, depending on the symptom and the individual. Working with a treatment center to complete detox can help through tapering the dosage and using other medicines or techniques to ease the symptoms, increasing the likelihood that the person will come through withdrawal without relapse.

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Step 4: Participate in therapy.

Therapy is the main element of a treatment program to overcome Ritalin addiction. Because addiction is classified as a mental health disorder, the individual trying to recover from Ritalin addiction is most likely to overcome triggers and cravings by understanding how they work on the brain and replacing the drug-seeking response with other behaviors that have been shown, through research, to avoid relapse.

One example of a type of therapy often used in addiction treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. As described in the Harvard Medical School mental health newsletter, this type of therapy helps the individual recognize triggers of the desire to use drugs and learn other, non-drug-use behaviors to insert in response. An alternative is Contingency Management, where the person is given rewards or incentives to avoid drug use. Programs that are likely to have positive outcomes combine these therapies and others to fill the individual’s toolbox with techniques to avoid returning to Ritalin use.

Step 5: Collaborate in group and family work.

A major element of addiction treatment is the need for social support. Many times, it is social connections that get an individual into abusing Ritalin to begin with – a friend who encourages use to help pass a test or someone claiming that Ritalin gives a great high. Similarly, it is supportive social structures that can help the person stop using, including strong family relationships and connections with others who are also struggling with or who have recovered from stimulant abuse.

For this reason, a strong treatment program will include family therapy and 12-Step group participation as part of the treatment plan. Family therapy can help all family members learn how to cope with the changes that a drug addiction diagnosis creates in their lives, and how best to support their loved one and themselves.

In contrast, 12-Step group work can provide the individual with the solidarity and support that comes from those who have recovered from Ritalin abuse or addiction, providing insight into what works and what doesn’t, offering educational resources, and developing accountability for behavior over the process of recovery. Research from the Textbook of Substance Abuse Treatment shows that people who continue attending 12-Step programs as part of their recovery are more likely to achieve and maintain recovery than those who don’t attend or who stop attending.

Step 6: Get involved in aftercare.

Some people who have been addicted to Ritalin or other stimulants for a long time may need a little extra help after the treatment program is over to continue avoiding relapse on their own. A reputable treatment center provides resources to help with the transition from treatment to home through continual motivational support, ongoing participation in a 12-Step program, and even residential living in sober houses, if needed.

As explained by the American Society of Addiction Medicine, addiction is a chronic disorder, not a one-time lapse in judgment. As with other chronic illnesses like asthma and high blood pressure, treatment continues throughout the individual’s life to control symptoms, and relapse is always possible. The goal of both the treatment program and aftercare is to help the person maintain the level of treatment that increases the ability to stay sober and avoid relapse.

Step 7: Practice relapse prevention.

Relapse prevention is the main goal of treatment, and relapse rates for addiction are similar to those of other chronic illnesses, at between 40 and 60 percent. There are many reasons for this, and the individual might have a number of triggers that could cause cravings to return, even years after treatment is over.

Because of this, when treatment is complete, it is important for the individual to continue practicing the techniques learned in rehab to continue avoiding a return to Ritalin use, as well as applying active relapse prevention techniques, including an aftercare practice called mindfulness-based relapse prevention. A study from the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows that people who actively practice relapse prevention techniques have better recovery outcomes than those who don’t. This can be supported by family, friends, and 12-Step group members who encourage the person’s continued recovery and who can provide reminders of the positive effects of avoiding drug abuse.


Ultimately, the individual’s ability to continue in recovery is based on inner motivation to stay sober. By attending a strong treatment program, learning how to manage addiction symptoms, and developing a social support structure, the individual emerges from rehab with the tools and capabilities to stay abstinent and move forward into a life free from Ritalin abuse and filled with renewed potential.

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