Ritalin is the common name for methylphenidate, classified by the Drug Enforcement Administration as a Schedule II narcotic—the same classification as cocaine, morphine and amphetamines.1 It is abused by teens for its stimulant effects.
Ritalin is a stimulant used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It affects the parts of the brain and central nervous system that control hyperactivity and impulses. Ritalin is one of the trade names for the drug known as methylphenidate. Other brand names can include Concerta, Methylin, and Metadate.
Even when Ritalin is used as a prescription drug, it may have severe effects including nervousness, insomnia, anorexia, loss of appetite, pulse changes, heart problems and weight loss. The manufacturer says it is a drug of dependency.
In June 2005, the US Food and Drug Administration issued a series of public health advisories warning that Ritalin and drugs like it may cause visual hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and psychotic behavior, as well as aggression or violent behavior.
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The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has classified it as a Schedule II drug, meaning it has a high potential for abuse. Ritalin addiction typically occurs when users take it non-medically, or in excess of prescribed parameters. Those who abuse Ritalin often take it to:
Ritalin is often referred to as a "smart drug" and abused for its reputation of improving school performance, even though such use of methylphenidate remains a highly debated topic.
It seems so simple at first. A student gets a little behind in his studies. An exam comes up and he needs to prepare. He'll have to stay up late to have even a chance of making the grade. Coffee gives him the jitters, but many of his friends use these pills to give the extra energy they need. Why not? A couple of bucks; one pill; an entire night of study; a feeling of "focus."
That may be where it starts, but it is very often not where it ends. Some students are chopping up Ritalin and snorting it like cocaine for faster absorption. Ritalin will keep you up for hours on end, and this may make it easier to study longer, at a level of intensity that you would normally find hard to sustain.
And just like cocaine or any other stimulant, that nice "up feeling" is inevitably followed by a "crash," a feeling of fatigue, depression and decreased alertness. Students on Adderall, another stimulant widely abused on college campuses, recount that a feeling of "utmost clarity" usually turns into a state of being "crashed out and overdone" the next day. Some have even reminisced that they "usually go into a crash coma afterwards."
And, of course, the user soon comes to know that this "crashed out" feeling can be relieved with the "help" of another pill that gets him back up again. And so on and so forth. Next may be larger doses, or snorting it for a bigger rush. Tolerance increases, so one has to use more. In these larger doses, Ritalin can lead to convulsions, headaches and hallucinations. The powerful amphetamine-like substance can even lead to death, as in the many tragic cases of children who have died of heart attacks caused by damage linked to the drug.
When users take Ritalin in ways other than those prescribed, they can experience a "high" that is not felt when the drug is taken as indicated. For example, when snorted, the effects of Ritalin can mimic those of cocaine, producing a feeling of euphoria. In fact, the pattern of abuse for Ritalin addicts is often very similar to that of cocaine addicts. Taken intravenously, effects of the drug have a significant spike, which can lead quickly to a pattern of dependency and addiction.
Ritalin is a methylphenidate, which is a central nervous system stimulant. Methylphenidates have similar effects and pharmacological uses similar to amphetamines and cocaine.
Ritalin comes in tablets and capsules and is mostly prescribed to children and adults for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. It comes in both sustained-release and extended-release compounds. When used according to a prescription by properly diagnosed individuals, Ritalin has a calming effect and helps them focus on tasks. There is widespread agreement that Ritalin, when taken as prescribed and intended, is a comparatively safe drug.
Although it has demonstrated significant efficacy in treating ADHD, Ritalin also comes with high abuse potential. In the surge of Ritalin prescriptions throughout the 1990s there was a consequent rise in abuse.
Ritalin is especially dangerous as a recreational drug both because recreational users typically take much larger doses than what would be prescribed and because recreational users typically crush the pills and either snort or inject them, delivering the medication to the body much faster than it was intended. If you or a family member are struggling with a Ritalin addiction, it is imperative that you get help as quickly as you can.
If taken according to the prescribed dosage, Ritalin is generally not considered to be addictive. As there is no set dose of Ritalin, and the dosage usually starts low and is increased until ADHD symptoms are controlled, the prevalence of addiction to Ritalin is not known. A survey of 12th graders, however, indicated that more than 3% admitted taking Ritalin without a prescription in the past year.
Ritalin can be a gateway drug for some people, who go on to take other drugs. Taking Ritalin can also create early experiences of drug dealing for some students. And if the drug is taken in higher doses, or through routes that intensify the effects — such as snorting the drug through the nose or injecting it — the risk of addiction increases.
Like amphetamines, which are also known as "speed" or "uppers," Ritalin increases alertness and concentration. It is often abused by professionals, students and athletes to increase productivity. It is listed as a Schedule II federally controlled substance because of its high potential for abuse.
Consumption of methylphenidates like Ritalin is markedly higher in the United States than in other countries. This is likely due to how accessible it is. Many students who are prescribed Ritalin have given or sold their medication to other students to help them study. Students may also take Ritalin simply to feel high.
The effects of Ritalin usually last for between 3-4 hours. The half-life of Ritalin (how long it takes for half of the drug to work its way through the body) is highly variable depending of numerous factors.
For children, it is approximately 2.5 hours. For adults, it is approximately 3.5 hours. Depending on how long the user has taken Ritalin, among other factors, the half-life can reach 7.7 hours.
Those who abuse Ritalin typically do so because they are trying to exacerbate the side effects of the drug, including an euphoria that is not generally found at therapeutic doses. Individuals with a proper ADHD diagnosis do not typically experience significantly increased energy level when taking Ritalin, but non-ADHD individuals often do because the drug affects them differently.
People abusing Ritalin through inappropriate doses, without a prescription, or by snorting or injecting the drug, run the risk of negative side effects, including:
Side-effects can vary depending on whether the individual has a diagnosis of ADHD or not. Just like all medications, when someone takes a medication they are not prescribed, the negative side-effects can be different and/or greater.
Those with mood disorders, like bipolar disorder, who abuse Ritalin may experience even worse symptoms and behavior. This is because Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that can trigger manic episodes in some individuals. Therefore, it is important to talk with a physician before beginning to take any stimulant medications, such as Ritalin.
Just like other stimulants, Ritalin increases the levels of dopamine reaching neuron receptors in the brain. Dopamine is a naturally occurring chemical in the brain essential for activation of the brain reward system. The brain reward system reinforces behavior that activates dopamine production.
Some people with ADHD have too many dopamine transporters, which results in low levels of dopamine in the brain. Ritalin blocks these transporters, keeping dopamine levels at a healthy level, increasing attention, focus and impulse control. However, Ritalin influences a much higher amount of dopamine to reach receptors in the brain for those who don't have ADHD. After repeated abuse, taking Ritalin basically becomes a learned behavior, spurring on the compulsion to take Ritalin regardless of consequences.
A telltale sign of a problem is continuing to use Ritalin despite wanting to quit. If someone recognizes that there are severe negative consequences from using Ritalin — such as straining relationships and spending unmanageable amounts of money on the drug — but still can't quit on their own, an addiction is likely present.
Other signs of a Ritalin addiction include:
No two Ritalin addicts are alike. Family situations, addiction severity and psychiatric conditions will inform the best course of action for you. If you're ready to find recovery and get your life back, look into one of the following options:
Two of the most well-known 12-step programs for addiction are:
Thousands of individuals who have actively engaged in recovery through these programs have remained abstinent from substance abuse for years to follow. These programs use collaborative groups to encourage people to become and remain abstinent from drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances or behaviors.
They are often incorporated into rehab programs, though people can be members of Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous long after they attend a rehab program, or without ever going through a rehab.
Self-management and recovery training (SMART) is yet another approach that uses the in-person meeting format, but also uses various online groups to assist in recovery.
SMART puts an emphasis on teaching practical skills and developing a sense of empowerment in dealing with one's addiction. It encourages individuals to determine the level of alcohol or drug consumption that works for them, whether that means total abstinence or skillful moderation.
Effective inpatient treatment is essential to improve outcomes for people with substance abuse issues. These treatments should be individualized, readily available, and well-rounded to address the full needs of the individual, and not only their addiction.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2014, more than 21 million people needed treatment for substance use issues, but only 2.5 million people actually received the help that they needed. This means that more than 88% of all people with substance use problems go without specialized treatment.
One potential barrier to those seeking treatment is the difficulty of knowing which program to choose from the many types available. With so many options, it can be challenging to know which type of care to choose. Different levels of treatment may be more appropriate for each individual and their unique situation. To seek effective treatment for Ritalin addiction, it is helpful to know what options exist and which one(s) may be a proper fit.