What Is Ritalin (Methylphenidate)?

Ritalin is a brand-name drug, also known as methylphenidate in its generic form. Ritalin is one of the most commonly prescribed psychostimulant drugs used for the treatment of ADHD. This central nervous system (CNS) treatment is also prescribed to treat narcolepsy. Since it is a CNS stimulant, Ritalin affects certain brain neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine. When someone has ADHD and takes Ritalin at a therapeutic, prescribed dose, it can help improve focus, concentration and impulse control. Unfortunately, Ritalin has a potential for abuse and addiction as well. Since Ritalin affects neurotransmitters like dopamine, it can create feelings of euphoria that can lead to the development of addiction. Other effects include appetite suppression, increased energy and improved performance levels. When people abuse high doses of Ritalin, the effects can feel similar to those of cocaine.

Symptoms of Ritalin Abuse

When someone is abusing a stimulant like Ritalin, there may be physical symptoms that are noticeable to the people around them. Some of the symptoms of Ritalin abuse can include weight loss, agitation, irritability, dilated pupils or depression. Other symptoms of Ritalin abuse can include headaches, sweating, insomnia and vision problems. Someone who is abusing Ritalin may stay awake for long periods of time and then experience a crash. During a Ritalin crash, as the effects of the drug wear off, a person may seem to be very fatigued, irritable, depressed and lacking in motivation. Someone who is abusing Ritalin may have a false sense of self-confidence, they may do repetitive things, and they may seem paranoid or experience hallucinations. Symptoms of Ritalin abuse can also include appearing to be more social, alert or talkative than normal.

Side Effects of Ritalin Abuse

Some of the side effects of Ritalin abuse can include changes in mood or behavior, such as nervousness or agitation. There can also be serious side effects of Ritalin abuse. These can include raised blood pressure and a rapid heart rate. Developing a tolerance to Ritalin can occur relatively quickly. This can lead to a Ritalin overdose. Signs of a Ritalin overdose include confusion, hallucinations, vomiting, convulsions and seizures. Addiction and dependence are also side effects of Ritalin abuse. With all stimulant drugs used to treat ADHD, there is a risk of cardiovascular problems -which is higher in adults and in people with pre-existing heart conditions. Cardiovascular side effects of Ritalin abuse can include changes in heart rhythm, stroke, heart attack and sudden death; however, these are rare side effects.

Ritalin Addiction

Since Ritalin affects the area of the brain responsible for pleasure and reward, addiction is possible. Ritalin addiction wouldn’t typically occur when someone uses it as prescribed. Ritalin addiction is much more likely to occur in someone who is abusing the drug. Signs of Ritalin addiction can include compulsive, out-of-control seeking and usage of the medication. Other signs of Ritalin addiction can include being unable to stop using it and focusing most of one’s life on the use of Ritalin. Someone who is addicted to Ritalin might feel like they can’t function without it. Ritalin addiction can also lead someone to continue using the prescription drug even when there are negative side effects. A Ritalin addiction can lead a person to withdraw from friends, family and other responsibilities or to put themselves in risky situations in order to continue fueling their addiction.

Ritalin Long-Term Effects

Even when children take Ritalin as prescribed, there are potentially dangerous long-term effects that can occur. For example, recent research has been released that shows long-term effects in the brains of children who have been treated with Ritalin. One study showed that the use of Ritalin during childhood led to decreased GABA levels in the brain during adulthood. Other long-term effects can include the emergence of new or worsening psychological symptoms. For example, Ritalin long-term effects can include changes in mood and depression. Psychotic or manic symptoms can appear as well, especially in people who have a pre-existing history of such symptoms -but also in people without any history of similar symptoms. Dependence can occur with long-term Ritalin use, meaning that a person will experience withdrawal symptoms if they suddenly stop using the drug. Ritalin and other CNS stimulants can also cause cardiac and organ damage when they’re chronically abused.

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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.