Find out how Ritalin is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), as well as its risk of abuse and addiction in people with and without ADHD.

Ritalin, available generically as methylphenidate, is a central nervous system stimulant used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. First approved in the 1960s, Ritalin is one of the most commonly used medications for ADHD and overall is an effective medication while being fairly safe to use.

Article at a Glance:

Consider a few key points when thinking about ADHD and Ritalin:

  • Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant used to treat children and adults with ADHD
  • Ritalin reduces the symptoms of ADHD including impulsivity, hyperactivity, and inattention
  • While Ritalin has addictive properties, it is thought that the risk of addiction is low when it is used as prescribed
  • Taking higher or more frequent doses than prescribed can lead to addiction
  • People who don’t have ADHD still can experience the effect of Ritalin, making it prone to abuse

Ritalin as an ADHD Treatment

ADHD is a brain disorder that begins in childhood and may extend into adult life. Living with ADHD can be difficult as it can interfere with the normal functioning of daily life and lead to other mental health conditions.

Symptoms of ADHD will vary with age. Hyperactivity and impulsivity are most common in younger children, while adolescents and adults tend to experience more inattention with restlessness and impulsiveness.

How Does Ritalin Work to Treat ADHD?

Ritalin works by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, which play an important role in thinking and attention. Ritalin has been shown to improve classroom performance and behavior in children and reduce other ADHD symptoms in adults.

While Ritalin has been shown to treat ADHD symptoms effectively, it is not absent of side effects. Taking Ritalin may lead to:

  • Headaches
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Decreased appetite, which could lead to weight loss
  • Increased blood pressure or heart rate
  • Mood changes

Because of the side effects, Ritalin should be used with caution in people who experience sleep issues, anxiety or low body weight.

Several versions of Ritalin are available including short-acting and long-acting formulations. Short-acting products last for several hours, so if treatment is required throughout the day, it must be taken several times. The long-acting form is usually taken in the morning and lasts for most of the day.

Ritalin Abuse and Addiction Among the ADHD Community

Ritalin is an effective treatment for those with ADHD. The effects of Ritalin are dose-dependent, meaning that a higher dose usually produces increased effects. This effect may lead some people taking Ritalin to seek higher doses.

Additionally, some people may seek the benefit of medication when they don’t need it. For example, if they are prescribed the medication only during work or school hours, they may still take the medication during the evenings or weekends.

While Ritalin has the potential to be addictive, it is thought that the risk of addiction is low when taken as prescribed. Doctors try to limit the dose and frequency to the smallest amount needed. However, addiction can occur when taken at higher doses or more frequently than prescribed, especially in those who are genetically predisposed to addiction.

If someone becomes addicted to Ritalin and requires treatment for ADHD, the prescriber will likely stop prescribing Ritalin and move to another drug. Other ADHD drugs are available that are less prone to abuse or addiction, such as Strattera (atomoxetine). A wide range of non-drug treatments is also an option including behavioral therapypsychotherapy, dietary changes or mindfulness.

Ritalin Abuse and Addiction Outside of ADHD Community

Even people who do not have ADHD can receive positive cognitive effects when taking Ritalin, making it prone to abuse. Ritalin has become a popular drug of choice when increased focus and attention is desired. For example, studying for an exam or staying up late to party. People without a Ritalin prescription can often get it from friends or family members who do have a prescription because of how commonly it is prescribed.

Ritalin may be more addictive for people without ADHD. This risk is because the drug is being used as a performance enhancer rather than treating a medical condition. Any amount taken is more than prescribed in people without ADHD, so the risk of addiction exists more so for them. If you believe you may have ADHD, speak to a medical professional to receive the appropriate diagnosis and treatment.

If you or a loved one live with a substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village to speak with a representative about how addiction treatment can help you reach sobriety. Using individualized treatment programs that address the addiction and any co-occurring mental health disorders, The Recovery Village provides a supportive and safe way to detox from substances and begin a life in recovery from addiction. You deserve a healthier future, call today.

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Editor – Thomas Christiansen
With over a decade of content experience, Tom produces and edits research articles, news and blog posts produced for Advanced Recovery Systems. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Nathan Jakowski, PharmD
Nate Jakowski is a clinical pharmacist specializing in drug information and managed care. He completed his Doctor of Pharmacy degree at the University of Wisconsin. Read more
Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.