Dangers of Ritalin Misuse

Ritalin is a prescription medication used for the treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.1 Though it has valuable therapeutic uses, Ritalin also has a potential risk for misuse and dependence.2 In 2021, it was estimated that nearly 3.5 million people, 12 and older, have misused prescription stimulants. More than 500,000 of these people specifically misused Ritalin or other methylphenidate containing meds.3

This page will provide information on how Ritalin works, the side effects of use, the risks of misuse, and how to get treatment if you or a loved on is struggling with Ritalin misuse.

What Is Ritalin and How Does Is it Work?

Both Ritalin and Concerta contain methylphenidate as their primary active medications. In its various formulations, methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant indicated for use in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy.1,2 For individuals struggling with symptoms of ADHD, stimulants like Ritalin can help improve focus and attention, while reducing hyperactivity and impulsivity.2,4

While the precise therapeutic mechanism of prescription stimulants such as Ritalin isn’t entirely understood, Ritalin is known to influence various types of neurotransmission — or chemical signaling — within the brain. By increasing activity within both the dopamine and norepinephrine neurotransmitter systems, Ritalin can have rewarding/reinforcing effects and may influence a range of physiological processes (e.g., blood pressure, heart rate), respectively.2

Ritalin Side Effects

There are some common side effects of Ritalin use. These include:2

  • Headache.
  • Nervousness.
  • Trouble sleeping.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Excessive sweating.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Nausea.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Decreased appetite.

Is Ritalin Addictive?

Ritalin is a Schedule II controlled substance with a high potential for misuse and dependence.2,5 In addition to the physical and mental health risks associated with prescription stimulant misuse, continued misuse of Ritalin may increase the likelihood of a substance use disorder (SUD) or addiction development.6

Ritalin misuse may also increase the risk of signification physiological dependence and association withdrawal syndrome.2 Dependence references to a state in which a person’s body has become so used to the presence of a substance, in this case Ritalin, that withdrawal symptoms emerge when use is suddenly slowed or discontinued.2 Withdrawal symptoms may be physical and psychologically uncomfortable, and may include:2

  • Dysphoric mood.
  • Fatigue.
  • Vivid, unpleasant dreams.
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Psychomotor retardation or agitation.

Though addiction and dependence aren’t the same thing, physiological dependence and withdrawal are commonly see in association with addiction development. Addiction is a treatment but chronic condition that involved continued, compulsive use of a substance despite experiencing negative consequences in association with such use.7

Ritalin Misuse

People misuse Ritalin for several reasons. Adolescents and young adults may take Ritalin as a study aid, mistakenly believing that it can help improve their academic performance.8 Some may combine Ritalin with alcohol or other drugs to offset some of the less desirable intoxicating effects of those substances.1 In some instances of misuse, people may crush the pills and snort, inject or smoke Ritalin to get high.1,2 Older adults may also misuse Ritalin or similar prescription stimulants, hoping to improve their memory other cognitive abilities.6

Misusing prescriptions stimulants like Rican can increase the risk of potential serious health risks including:2

  • Cardiovascular issues such as chronic hypertension, myocardial infarction, and stroke.
  • Changes in behavior such as increased hostility and aggression.
  • Serious adverse psychiatric reactions, including mania and psychotic episodes.
  • Addiction or Ritalin-related stimulant use disorder.

Mixing Ritalin With Drugs or Alcohol

When someone intentional or unintentionally combines Ritalin with other drugs or alcohol this is referred to as polysubstance use.9 Polysubstance use is particularly dangerous as the combination of Ritalin with alcohol, opioids, or other drugs can have unpredictable and, in some cases, life-threatening consequences.1,9

Combing stimulants can increase your risk of catastrophic cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke, which could lead to brain and other organ injury.1,9 Taking stimulants, like Ritalin, while drinking can make the effects of both substance, which can lead to additionally adverse health consequences, including overdose.1,9

Ritalin Overdose

It is possible to overdose on Ritalin.Ritalin overdose can occur when someone takes too much Ritalin or uses it in a matter not intended (e.g., smoking, injecting, snorting). Sings of a Ritalin overdose may include:2

  • Severe agitation.
  • Delirium.
  • Hallucinations.
  • High fever.
  • Irregular or fast heartbeat.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Hyperreflexia. 
  • Muscle twitching.
  • Tremors.
  • Convulsions.
  • Coma.

Ritalin Misuse Signs

Ritalin and other prescription stimulants are commonly diverted for non-medical misuse. More simply though Ritalin misuse may involve:6

  • Taking Ritalin in a way that was not prescribed.
  • Taking more Ritalin than prescribed.
  • Taking someone else’s Ritalin.
  • Taking Ritalin to get high.

If you are concerned that you or a loved one may be misusing or addicted to Ritalin, there are signs that you can look for. While only a qualified healthcare provider can diagnose a stimulant disorder — a diagnosis that encompasses addiction to Ritalin — knowing the diagnostic criteria may help you or your loved one get the help that they need.10

There are 11 diagnostic criteria used by healthcare providers to diagnose a stimulant use disorder. These include:10

  • The stimulant is taken in larger amounts or over a longer period of time than was intended.
  • There is a desire or unsuccessful effort to cut down or control use.
  • A lot of time is spent to obtain, use, or recover from the stimulant.
  • There is a strong desire or urge to use the stimulant.
  • The use results in failure to fulfill role obligations at home, school, and/or work.
  • The use is continued even though persistent or recurrent social or impersonal problems are caused by the use.
  • You give up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of the use.
  • You use the stimulant in situations that are physically hazardous.
  • The use is continued despite knowledge of having a physical or psychological problem that is caused or exacerbated by the stimulant.
  • You develop a tolerance to the stimulant.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when stimulant use is stopped.

Ritalin Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one has a Ritalin addiction, treatment is available. Through Greenhouse Treatment Center, there are various levels of care to meet your treatment needs. Treatment for stimulant use disorders will include a variety of evidence-based behavioral therapeutic interventions, which may be administered through an inpatient rehab near Dallas, partial hospitalization program, or intensive outpatient program setting.

Call to talk to one of the admissions navigators at Greenhouse Treatment Center today to discuss the rehab admission process, insurance coverage for treatment, and paying for addiction coverage.

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