Misuse of Ritalin–Prescription Stimulant Abuse and Addiction

Misuse of Ritalin (methylphenidate) leads to addiction for many people and can cause many physical and psychological problems long before misuse is severe. Ritalin is a psychostimulant drug, often called simply a stimulant. It activates the brain and central nervous system causing increased activity. When used medically, it is effective in treating Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), and narcolepsy, which is a sleeping and excessive drowsiness disorder.

In America, Ritalin is legally available only by prescription since it is deemed a controlled substance, or Schedule II narcotic, by the US federal governmental agency, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration). A Schedule II drug is one considered to have a high potential for abuse and addiction, but also to have legitimate medical uses. It is classified similarly as stimulants like cocaine, amphetamine, and methamphetamine–some forms of which are illegally bought and sold in the US.

The Benefits of Ritalin

The effects of Ritalin use can vary greatly, depending upon who takes it. It can cause impairment, or it can cause one to function in daily life better. For example, ADHD symptoms can be decreased with medical use of Ritalin. People with this disorder can receive a great deal of benefit, finding relief from symptoms such as distractibility, excessive movement, talkativeness, and an inability to concentrate or stay on task. Many children, for instance, are able to have school and social success when taking the medication if they have attention and hyperactivity symptoms. Also, people with the sleep and excessive drowsiness disorder of narcolepsy benefit from the medical use of Ritalin. People with this disorder are unable to remain alert throughout waking hours and have periods of extreme drowsiness or actual sleep that interrupts daily functioning.

Why Ritalin Is So Often Misused

Ritalin, or any other prescription drug, can be misused in several ways. Misuse occurs, for example, whenever a medication is used differently than prescribed. This can be taking prescribed Ritalin more frequently than prescribed, or in greater individual doses than prescribed. Ritalin is also misused when taken without medical need or prescription, or ingested in a non-prescription manner such as snorted or injected.

Ritalin has long been known as a ‘study drug’ because it increases focus, concentration, wakefulness, and alertness. Consequently, it is often abused among young people who ‘cram’ for exams. However, research shows that students you use Ritalin to enhance their academic performance typically have lower grades than those students who do not.  Also, like all stimulants, Ritalin suppresses appetite, and many misuse it for weight control. Overall, Ritalin and other stimulants are misused for heightened energy, alertness, feelings of increased mastery and performance, as well as euphoria and intoxication.

Signs and Symptoms of Ritalin Misuse

The signs and symptoms of Ritalin misuse can be quite easily noted and are often very overt, or easily detected in a medical exam. Among these are:

  • physical, agitation, restlessness
  • nervousness, anxiety, panic
  • impulsivity
  • hostility, anger, aggression
  • excessive talkativeness
  • suspiciousness, guardedness, paranoia
  • insomnia or a decreased need for sleep
  • loss of appetite, weight loss, malnutrition
  • grinding teeth
  • sweating
  • heart palpitations
  • elevated pulse rate
  • increased blood pressure
  • elevated body temperature
  • hallucinations
  • delusions

Ritalin’s Effects on the Human Brain

Like all stimulants, Ritalin has a significantly powerful impact on brain chemistry and brain functioning. In great part, this occurs because of Ritalin’s effect upon the neurotransmitter dopamine. In Ritalin misuse, the level of dopamine in the brain can increase rapidly, creating the ‘rush’ or high of intoxication, but also this flooding of the brain impairs the brain’s own normal functioning.

Dopamine is directly tied to the human brain’s pleasure and reward center. Consequently, after frequent Ritalin-induced surges of dopamine, the brain becomes unable to produce this ‘feel good’ chemical adequately on its own. The result can be that people who have abused Ritalin can feel a lack of pleasure without it.

Ritalin Use Disorder

What we typically call an addiction or a substance abuse problem, is known medically as a Substance Use Disorder, or more specifically, a Ritalin Use Disorder. Sometimes a substance disorder diagnosis is given to indicate the pharmacological class of drug instead. In the case of Ritalin, the diagnosis may be classified as a Stimulant Use Disorder.

Since Ritalin is an addictive drug with high risk for both physical and psychological addiction, there are many symptoms that can arise during problematic use. The symptoms of a Ritalin Use Disorder can include:

  • Ritalin is often taken in larger amounts than intended, or over a longer period than was intended.
  • There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control Ritalin use.
  • A great deal of time is spent in activities necessary to obtain, use, or recover from the effects of Ritalin.
  • There is craving, or a strong desire or urge to use Ritalin.
  • Recurrent Ritalin use results in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Ritalin use continues despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of Ritalin.
  • Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of Ritalin use.
  • Ritalin is used recurrently in situations in that are physically hazardous.
  • Ritalin use continues despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance.
  • Tolerance develops which causes one to need greater amounts to achieve the same effect as time progresses.
  • Withdrawal symptoms occur when use is stopped, or the usual dose is reduced.

A Ritalin Use Disorder is diagnosed if there are at least 2-3 of the above symptoms within a 12-month period, and there are various degrees of severity that can occur. For example, a condition is mild if there are 2-3 symptoms; moderate 4-5 symptoms are present, and severe disorder when there are 6 or more. One can expect that if Ritalin is misused, and misuse continues over a prolonged period of time, a Ritalin Use Disorder will develop and will worsen as time goes on if use continues.

Issues of Psychological Dependence Upon Ritalin Misuse

One of the most difficult issues to deal with in any Substance Use Disorder is that of psychological dependency upon the drug. When one has been misusing Ritalin for a prolonged period, aspects of daily life become entwined with the substance. Consequently, one can have many beliefs about how important the drug is to coping and functioning overall, but also in specific instances. For example, people can believe they cannot cope with the demands of ordinary life without it.

Of course, the reason one began to misuse Ritalin in the first place will play a big role in what one believes about themselves and how important the drug is. For example, if weight loss was an incentive, fears of becoming overweight can surface with anxiety and even panic if one has food and body image issues. Or, if the drug gave a sense of confidence in the performance of some sort, one may be fearful to work, perform academically, or even interact socially without Ritalin.  Also, one may even desperately want to stop using, but cannot believe they will be able to tolerate the idea of withdrawal from it.

Stopping the Misuse of Ritalin

There is a great deal of help available for Ritalin misuse and Ritalin Use Disorders, and a structured setting with medical support as well as counseling services is recommended. A rehab program begins with withdrawal and detox to stop the toxic effects of the drug and to begin the repair of its impact. Withdrawal symptoms will begin when the usual dose is significantly lowered or dosing is stopped altogether, and a rehab stay greatly improves one’s chances of successfully establishing a sustainable recovery process.

Withdrawal can be stressful and medical supervision is always recommended due to the risks of physical and psychological distress. Some of the symptoms that can occur are concerning such as elevated pulse and blood pressure, or fluctuations with spikes of high readings. Also, Ritalin withdrawal can cause anxiety, nervousness, restlessness, agitation, and insomnia. There can be mood problems such as hostility, anger, depression and mood swings; and, ‘brain fog’ or declined cognitive abilities for a while such as poor concentration and poor memory. It is also common for intense cravings for Ritalin to occur during withdrawal.

Among the most concerning possibilities during Ritalin withdrawal are hypertensive crises and cardiac problems or stroke. Also, depression that involves suicidal impulses, or aggressive behavior that may harm others can require a therapeutic setting for safety. Additionally, some develop hallucinations and/or delusions during withdrawal. Support for personal care and safety during these symptoms may also be required.

If You or a Loved One Need Help for Ritalin Misuse

If you or a loved one need help to overcome Ritalin misuse, there is a great deal of help available. However, not every available option will be a good fit. We can help you or a loved one in distress. We offer free consultations in which we identify clinical needs, preferences and insurance coverage.  That information helps us quickly find recommendations that are a good match for you.

It takes more than withdrawal and detox to overcome a Ritalin problem, and our service can help you find the treatment services you need. The programs we recommend will prepare you for sustainable recovery through insight, education, and skill-building that will help you stay quit. Recovery is more than possible, and countless people have overcome their Ritalin misuse problem. 

Let us help you find the help you need. Give us a call today and begin your journey to a Ritalin-free life today.