Ritalin Addiction, Adverse Effects, and Treatment

Ritalin is a prescription stimulant that is commonly used in the treatment of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).1 Despite having medical uses, Ritalin can also be misused, increasing the risk for adverse health risks such as addiction.2 If you or someone you care about misuses Ritalin, learning more about Ritalin addiction can be helpful.

In this article, we explain what Ritalin is, its potential for misuse and addiction, the adverse effects associated with prescription stimulant misuse, and available treatment options for stimulant use disorder.

What Is Ritalin?

Ritalin, a brand name for the generic drug methylphenidate hydrochloride, is a central nervous system stimulant that can be prescribed to treat conditions such as ADHD and narcolepsy.2

This prescription medication is associated with an increase in attention and decreased distractibility in people with ADHD.2 Although Ritalin is a stimulant, it can decrease symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsiveness in people diagnosed with ADHD.2

Despite its medical properties and utility in treating certain conditions, Ritalin is classified as a Schedule II substance by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), meaning it has a high potential for misuse that can possibly lead to dependence.3

Ritalin Side Effects

Like any prescription medication, Ritalin use is associated with potential adverse effects. Common Ritalin side effects may include:2

  • Elevated heartbeat.
  • Palpitations.
  • Abnormally excessive sweating.
  • Headache.
  • Nausea or stomach pain.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Diminished appetite.
  • Nervousness.

Health Risks of Ritalin Misuse

Ritalin is associated with a high potential for misuse potentially leading to severe physiological dependence.2 People might misuse Ritalin in different ways, including:1

  • Taking the medication in a way other than prescribed—for example, taking a higher dose than prescribed.
  • Changing the form of the medication or the route of administration. If prescribed a pill or capsule, they might crush or empty the capsule contents to administer the medication via intranasal inhalation (snorting).
  • Taking a prescription stimulant that was not prescribed to them.
  • Using the medication to only experience its euphoric effects (i.e., to “get high”) rather than for the reason prescribed.

Ritalin misuse can increase the potential for certain health risks, including:2

  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and respiratory rate.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Insomnia.
  • Increased sweating.
  • Loss of coordination.
  • Vomiting and/or abdominal pain.
  • Psychosis.
  • Hostility.
  • Aggression.
  • Suicidal or homicidal ideation.

There is also a risk of overdose and death, which is heightened when people misuse prescription stimulants using unapproved routes of administration.2

In addition, continued Ritalin misuse can result in tolerance (needing higher or more frequent doses to achieve the same effects) and lead to the development of a stimulant use disorder. Prescription stimulants like Ritalin can have reinforcing effects by increasing the activity of certain brain chemicals linked to reward.1,2

Signs of Ritalin Addiction

Addiction is a chronic condition characterized by continued, uncontrollable substance use despite experiencing harmful consequences.4

The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is used by healthcare providers to aid in the diagnosis of a substance use disorder. The DSM-5 lists the following signs and symptoms, with 2 or more experienced within 12 months indicating a likely stimulant use disorder:5

  • The stimulant is consumed in larger quantities or over a longer period than intended.
  • A strong urge or desire to reduce or quit using the stimulant exists or there have been unsuccessful attempts to reduce or quit using the stimulant.
  • Significant time is dedicated to using the stimulant or in activities related to stimulant use.
  • There is a craving or intense desire to use stimulants.
  • Continued stimulant use leads to failure in completing major responsibilities at home, work, or school.
  • Stimulant use continues despite suffering frequent or repeated social problems.
  • As a result of stimulant use, significant social, career, or leisure activities are reduced or stopped.
  • Stimulant use happens in situations that are physically dangerous, such as operating a vehicle.
  • Stimulant use continues despite knowing that it is causing or worsening physical or mental health.
  • A higher quantity of the stimulant is needed to achieve the desired effect, or the desired effect is significantly lessened when using the same amount of the stimulant (tolerance). Note that this criterion does not apply to someone prescribed Ritalin and taking it as directed.
  • Stimulant-related withdrawal symptoms are experienced when stimulant use is reduced or stopped, or a stimulant or similar substance is taken to avoid experiencing stimulant withdrawal symptoms. Note that this criterion does not apply to someone prescribed Ritalin and taking it as directed.

Ritalin Withdrawal

When someone who regularly uses Ritalin abruptly stops or significantly reduces their dose, they may experience withdrawal symptoms.5

Ritalin withdrawal symptoms may vary in type and severity, and typically develop within several hours or a couple of days after stopping stimulant use.5

Common signs and symptoms of stimulant withdrawal are:5

  • Changes in mood, often characterized as feelings of unhappiness, distress, and anxiety.
  • Extreme tiredness.
  • Intense, unpleasant dreams.
  • Sleep difficulties (sleeping too little or too much).
  • Increased appetite.
  • Feeling lethargic, moving sluggishly.

Less common symptoms may occur in a more severe presentation of Ritalin withdrawal. These may include depression and suicidal thoughts or behavior.5

Ritalin Addiction Treatment

If you or someone you care about is struggling with Ritalin misuse or drug addiction, treatment is available, and Sunrise House is here to help. Evidence-based behavioral therapies, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, and contingency management can be effective in treating stimulant use disorder.1,6

Although there are no medications specifically approved for the management of stimulant withdrawal or for treating stimulant use disorder, there can be benefits to receiving professional help during and after the Ritalin withdrawal period.6

Such benefits can include:5,6,7

  • Help managing uncomfortable Ritalin withdrawal symptoms.
  • Mental health monitoring, should a person experience less common withdrawal symptoms like depression and suicidal thoughts.
  • Behavioral therapy treatment to promote long-term recovery.

Whether outpatient or inpatient rehab in New Jersey is right for you, reaching out for help is the first step.

To learn more about Ritalin addiction treatment, types of rehab, the treatment admissions process, ways to pay for rehab, and whether your insurance plan covers addiction treatment, contact an admissions navigator at . Our team is available 24/7 and ready to assist you.

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