Ritalin Abuse and Addiction–Recovery is Possible

Ritalin abuse and addiction can be successfully treated with the right help. Ritalin is a pharmaceutical stimulant legally available by prescription. Its generic name is methylphenidate, and it is commonly used medically in the treatment of ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and narcolepsy (a sleep disorder).

Medical Uses of Ritalin

Ritalin has been in use medically since the 1960’s. The drug methylphenidate https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/stimulant-adhd-medications-methylphenidate-amphetaminesis also now marketed as Concerta, Methylin, Medikinet, Equasym XL, Quillivant XR, and Metadate. Ritalin is known as a psychostimulant since it increases activity in the CNS or central nervous system. The effects of a psychostimulant are increased alertness, and increased energy and an increased ability to focus attention. Consequently, Ritalin is commonly used to treat ADHD and is most well-known for use with children and adults that have inattention and hyperactivity problems.

Ritalin’s effects improve the symptoms of ADHD which occur in both childhood and adulthood. Some of the symptoms are:

  • Disorganization
  • Easy frustration, irritability
  • Difficulty completing tasks
  • Excessive movement, activity
  • Restlessness, agitation
  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty planning
  • Mood instability
  • Impulsivity
  • Difficulty maintaining attention (inattention)

People with ADHD will have difficulty in school, at home, and in social settings. They often complain of boredom, are unable to stay focused on activities, and are easily distracted even from pleasurable tasks. They can also have difficulty attending to others, hearing what is said to them, multi-tasking and following directions. Ritalin can resolve these symptoms when it is active in one’s system.  If Ritalin is effective for an individual with ADHD, however, the effectiveness stops when dosing stops. Immediate release Ritalin typically lasts 3-4 hours, and extended release can last up to 8 hours. It is thought that about 70% of those who use Ritalin find significant improvement in their symptoms.

Misuse of Ritalin

Ritalin is a drug of abuse and addiction when misused. It has been abused by students for decades to aid their concentration and energy when studying and is commonly believed to enhance performance. Misuse of any drug occurs when it is used without medical need, or in ways not prescribed. Ritalin addiction occurs when at least 2 of the following symptoms of a Substance Use Disorder occurs in a 12 month period. Ritalin addiction is also known as Ritalin Use Disorder, or a Stimulant Use Disorder. The symptoms of addiction are:

  • Ritalin is often taken in larger amounts 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.
  • Craving, or a strong desire or urge to use Ritalin.
  • Recurrent Ritalin use resulting in a failure to fulfill major role obligations at work, school, or home.
  • Continued Ritalin use 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.
  • Recurrent Ritalin use in situations in which it is physically hazardous.
  • Continued Ritalin use despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by Ritalin.
  • Tolerance—needing more to achieve the same effect as time progresses.
  • Withdrawal symptoms when use is stopped or the usual dose is reduced.

Negative Side-Effects of Medically Used Ritalin 

The negative effects of a drug, when used with medical supervision, can be very different than the negative consequences of use during addiction (see section above for symptoms of Ritalin addiction). Addiction involves greater quantities and more frequent use typically. Also, in addiction there may be Ritalin use combined with other substances of abuse, and these combinations can create toxic, even lethal effects. The most common negative side-effects of medically used Ritalin (as prescribed and with a doctor’s supervision) include:

  • Appetite loss and weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia
  • GI distress
  • Increased heart rate, blood pressure
  • Restlessness
  • Emotionality
  • Worsening of co-existing mental disorders such as psychosis, mania, and depression

Ritalin Overdose

Overdose is possible with the misuse of Ritalin and can be fatal. Some of the symptoms of Ritalin overdose include, but are not limited to:

  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • High body temperature
  • Profuse sweating 
  • Tachycardia 
  • Heart palpitations
  • Flushing 
  • Hypertension 
  • Fever  
  • Repetitive movements  
  • Convulsions     
  • Coma

It is important to obtain immediate medical attention if an overdose is suspected and to remember that one of the above symptoms alone can indicate the beginning of an overdose. Obtaining emergency medical care as soon as possible can save someone’s life.

Psychological Dependence upon Ritalin

When people have a Ritalin Use Disorder, or what we commonly call an addiction to Ritalin, they are considered dependent upon the drug. Dependency can be both physical and psychological. In physical dependence, one suffers withdrawal symptoms when use is abruptly stopped or the usual dose is reduced. In psychological dependency, one feels that Ritalin is necessary in order to cope and function with ordinary life. The effects of Ritalin abuse can be psychologically rewarding. People can feel euphoria and a false sense of well-being and confidence. Those prone to depression, feelings of low self-esteem, insecurity, and performance inadequacy are at risk for psychological dependency.

Polydrug Use and Ritalin Misuse

Polydrug use involves use of more than one drug of abuse at a time. Polydrug use can also involve more than one prescription drug, or drugs of abuse and a prescription drug taken together. Ritalin abuse can be particularly dangerous in itself, but when mixed with other substances can create unique, dangerous, and even lethal effects. The combination of Ritalin and alcohol is a good example of dangerous polydrug use involving Ritalin.

Ritalin is a stimulant which can mask the depressant effects of alcohol. For example, one may feel alert and energetic when using Ritalin, not fully aware of how much alcohol is being consumed. As a result, of Ritalin masking alcohol’s effects, one can overdose on alcohol. Also, the same works in the other direction. One may overdose on Ritalin because so the depressant effects of heavy drinking make it difficult to feel the full effects of a Ritalin dose. Consequently, high doses of Ritalin can be taken, resulting in an overdose.

Signs of Ritalin Abuse for Loved Ones

Loved ones can miss the signs of Ritalin abuse, but with some education and awareness can see early warning signs, and help intervene prescription drug addictionbefore problems escalate.  Here is some basic information that can help loved ones help a family member who is misusing Ritalin:

  • Ritalin can be abused in various ways. It can be taken orally, intranasally (snorted), or injected. 
  • Ritalin prescriptions may run out early or are reported lost or stolen. There are efforts to get prescriptions refilled early or replaced.
  • Periods of high energy and sleeplessness are followed by ‘crashes’ in which one is lethargic and sleeps for long periods of time.
  • Mood instability occurs with periods of irritability, anger, frustration, depression, euphoria, anxiety.
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss, change in physical appearance, grooming.
  • Compulsive behavior—excessive cleaning, sorting, and other repetitive behaviors one appears to have an uncontrollable urge to do.
  • Over-sensitivity, suspiciousness, paranoia.

Loved Ones Coping with Ritalin Abuse

There are many signs of Ritalin abuse. If you suspect a loved one may have a Ritalin abuse problem, there are ways you can help. Some of these include:

  • Gathering as much information as possible about the addiction, its treatment, and the recovery process so you can discuss the issue frankly with your loved one.
  • Remember that Ritalin addiction is a medical condition, not a moral failing.
  • Exploring treatment resources that are appropriate for your loved one. Treatment options should have expertise in treating Ritalin addiction specifically. Any reputable rehab will discuss their staff’s training and expertise with you. You can be prepared to help your loved one get to treatment when he or she is ready.
  • Discuss your concerns openly, honestly, with compassion and in a calm and non-judgmental way with your loved one. Avoid blaming and shaming tactics.
  • Consistently convey that you are willing to help get your loved one to treatment and be supportive throughout treatment.
  • Keep the lines of communication open.
  • Learn what enabling behaviors are and eliminate or avoid them.
  • Gather your own support and be open about your situation and needs with trusted people.
  • Practice self-care to reduce stress and keep yourself healthy as you support your loved one.
  • Seek professional consultations or counseling sessions if you need help coping with your loved one’s addiction.
  • Seek additional support from self-help groups for loved ones such as Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous

If You or a Loved One Need Help

If you or a loved one needs help for a Ritalin Use Disorder, help is available and recovery is possible. There are viable options for you that can meet your treatment needs and the financial needs of your family. We at Elite Rehab Placement offer a free consultation service to help clarify needs and find appropriate options for you. Making the decision to go to rehab is a difficult one, and support can mean a lot. We are happy to help you or your loved one navigate this process. Reach out today and begin your journey toward wellness and the life you want.