Recreational use of Ritalin has put this medication on the radar as one to watch, particularly among college students who want to use a “study drug” to enhance their academic performance and help them pull all-nighters or party. However, such use of this drug, which was originally intended for use by people with Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is abused for its effects that are reportedly similar to that of other stimulants, such as amphetamines and cocaine. Repeated use of Ritalin can lead to dependence and addiction, and users may find it hard to concentrate and continue with life if distracted by a Ritalin addiction that may not end until they seek professional help from a treatment center.
What Is Ritalin?
Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate, a stimulant prescribed to treat Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder.
The medication can come in the form of patches, tablets, capsules, and a liquid. People who are prescribed Ritalin for ADHD management typically have an underactive prefrontal cortex. The medication acts on the central nervous system and works to increase two brain neurotransmitters—dopamine and norepinephrine—which results in brain activity being sped up. Users take the Ritalin to increase their concentration, stay focused on the activities they engage in, make them more productive and motivated to be productive, and control problematic behavior. The medication is also said to help people organize their tasks and improve their listening skills.
Ritalin was created to help treat adults who had severe depression. It was patented in 1954, but it wasn’t until 1962 that children could benefit from its effects. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved it for treating cognitive disorders, specifically in children. The drug also gained popularity and it became one of the most common drugs used to treat ADHD. Its cognitive-enhancing properties made adults want to try it as well as students.
The oral medication, which is typically prescribed to adults and children today, is found to be most effective when it is taken regularly at the same times each day. When taken as prescribed, Ritalin is not habit-forming, and it calms people down where they can focus. It provides the brain chemicals they do not have and helps them achieve balance. People who do not have ADHD but use Ritalin anyway will feel more alert and experience euphoria because of the excess amount of dopamine in the brain. They won’t, however, feel high. Crushing up Ritalin to snort it is considered abusing it, and using it in this manner leads to high doses that can cause fever, irregular heart rate, and seizures. It can also cause increased heart rate. Using the drug in high doses can be addictive. Crushing up an extended-release version of Ritalin skips the time-release feature, which makes the drug even more potent when it’s used all at once.
A serious psychological dependence on it may result from such use. Ritalin has a high potential of being abused because young people mistakenly think Ritalin can not be dangerous because it’s a prescription drug. But that’s not true. There’s also non-prescription Ritalin. Users are advised to be careful using that one, too.
Slang names for Ritalin include kiddy coke, kiddy cocaine, uppers, Vitamin R, R-ball, Skippy, diet coke, study buddies and R Pop among others.
What are the Signs of Ritalin Addiction?
Habitual Ritalin use can bring on mental, physical, and social changes. If you or your loved one has experienced any of these after excessive Ritalin use, the next option is to seek professional help. Signs and symptoms of Ritalin addiction consist of:
- Reduced appetite
- Sudden weight loss
- Pupil dilation
- Impaired vision
- Rapid heart rate
- Stomach pains
- Increase in alertness
- Chest pain
- Feelings of euphoria
Ritalin Use-Related Social Changes Include:
- Extreme mood swings
- Financial difficulties
- Obsession and compulsion to obtain Ritalin
- Physical withdrawal
- Priorities become altered
- Developing mania and depression
- Suicidal thought process
- Development of eating disorders
Other Signs Include:
- Constantly thinking about Ritalin or other addictive substance
- Taking a Ritalin dose outside of what is prescribed
- Not using the drug in the manner it was intended
- Using Ritalin despite not having ADHD, narcolepsy or a prescription for the medication
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms after the last dose of Ritalin is taken
- Taking Ritalin to avoid withdrawal symptoms
- Hiding Ritalin use from family, friends, colleagues
- Isolation from others; strained relationships
- Inability to stop using drugs despite repeated attempts to quit
- Feeling like you can’t function without the drug
- Mixing Ritalin with alcohol or benzodiazepines (polysubstance abuse)
- Using the drug despite the negative consequences that result from doing so, such as job loss
One major sign that addiction is underway is the presence of withdrawal symptoms after one stops using the drug. People in Ritalin withdrawal may feel what is known as a “crash.” This means the brain has become used to being provided with a certain amount of dopamine because of the Ritalin, so the body stops making it as it comes to rely on the drug. Symptoms of a Ritalin crash can happen quickly as the drug’s half-life is very short, usually only three to four hours.
After the drug wears off, the “crash” begins. Symptoms of that crash include irritability, anxiety, hyperactivity, and an inability to focus. Excessive or chronic use of Ritalin isn’t good, but quitting the drug suddenly after heavy use isn’t good either. Such a drastic move can shock the body from a sudden loss of dopamine, and that process can be harmful and lead to relapse, or worse, an overdose that could end in death. Professional addiction treatment is recommended to end Ritalin addiction.
How Does Ritalin Addiction Recovery Work?
Ritalin addiction recovery programs are available at many treatment centers. No one has to face stimulant addiction alone. A medical detox that keeps you safe as the drug is being removed from the body requires medical professionals to be present. This medically-monitored process involves around-the-clock care to ensure all traces of Ritalin and other drugs and toxins are safely removed from the system. During this process, clients are kept safe and comfortable as they are given medicines and other care to ease withdrawal symptoms and make them manageable. Medical professionals may use a tapering method to wean clients slowly off Ritalin and any other harmful substances used.
Detox is the first step in drug rehabilitation treatment. This process alone is not enough to stop someone from abusing Ritalin again. The resolve to do that involves a much longer process that varies according to the person who is on the road to recovery.
An evaluation will help determine how far along a person is in stimulant addiction and whether the person has a co-occurring disorder, which means a mental health disorder is present, such as depression, anxiety, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and bipolar disorder, along with their substance use disorder. Both conditions must be addressed at the same time to give the person the best chance at recovery, so finding a treatment program that can do that is recommended.
Once the detox process has been completed and an evaluation has taken place, clients are presented with treatment program options that best fit their situation based on the results of their assessment. These options include residential treatment, intensive outpatient treatment, and partial hospitalization programs. In all of these programs, recovering Ritalin users can address their addiction and begin to heal on all levels—mentally, physically, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually. These treatment programs can be tailored to an individual’s needs and preferences.
Ritalin treatment also can be customized according to the needs and preferences of the person. It can include 12-step fellowship programs (Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, for example), motivational therapy, trauma therapy, holistic therapies such as yoga and acupuncture, and individual counseling and group counseling sessions.
Aftercare services can help people recovering from stimulant addiction by giving them the tools and guidance to focus on their recovery goals and lessen their chances of experiencing a relapse. There are many opportunities out there that can help one achieve this goal, including follow-up medical care and ongoing therapies to help manage post-acute withdrawal symptoms, known as PAWS, which often happens long after dependence on the drug has passed.
How Dangerous is Ritalin Addiction?
Recreational Ritalin use among non-ADHD users can lead to a psychological addiction to the drug. It also can alter one’s brain chemistry linked to behaviors involving risk-taking, sleep disruption and other unwanted side effects, according to an article published on Futurity.org. Excessive Ritalin use can lead to extreme physiological dependence and overdose, which can be fatal. An overdose of this medication can bring on a sudden heart attack as well as:
- High blood pressure
- Panic attacks
- Overactive reflexes
- Extreme personality shifts
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heartbeat
- Numbing of the fingertips or swelling of the hands
- Kidney damage
If these symptoms happen to you or a loved one after taking a large dose of Ritalin, you should seek immediate emergency medical attention.
Mixing Ritalin and Alcohol is a Dangerous Combination
Polydrug use is common among recreational substance users. Alcohol is the most common substance used along with various drugs. When the substance is used along with Ritalin, it changes how the body processes Ritalin, according to Healthline. One may think because Ritalin is a stimulant and alcohol is depressant, the two would cancel each other out. But that’s not what happens.
Instead, the effects of both substances cause bigger problems when they interact. A person using both concurrently could experience increased side effects of both substances and risk a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal. If someone who takes Ritalin also begins drinking, the person may not be able to gauge how much they have been drinking. That means the possibility is there that the person will drink more than intended, which can lead to alcohol poisoning as a result of Ritalin and alcohol use. A person will find it difficult to breathe, exhibit confusion and fall unconscious or die if they do not recover from alcohol use and Ritalin.
Mixing Ritalin and Alcohol Can Cause:
- Racing heart rate
- Higher than normal blood pressure
- Sleep disturbances
- Mood disturbances, such as depression
Healthline also writes that in rare but serious cases, Ritalin can also cause a heart attack, a stroke, or sudden death. There also is a small but real risk of having serious heart problems as a result of Ritalin and alcohol use.
Ritalin Abuse Statistics
- College students’ use of nonprescription stimulant drugs such as Ritalin (and amphetamines such as Adderall and Dexedrine) fall between 14% and 38%, depending on the type of college and student’s age, recent studies show.
- About 20% of students take Ritalin regularly, although the percentage is probably much higher due to the rising number of people without ADHD taking Ritalin.
- 85% of the United States produces and consumes the world’s supply of Ritalin, which leads to the high number of children diagnosed with ADHD.