Ritalin is the brand name for the prescription stimulant methylphenidate, which is primarily used to treat the symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). For more than 50 years, Ritalin was the most commonly prescribed drug for the treatment of ADHD. While it’s still legal, it’s largely been overshadowed by Vyvanse and Adderall. In particular, Adderall has become more widely prescribed and more commonly misused and abused.
As the risks involved in Adderall abuse and addiction have become more well-known, Ritalin was viewed as being “safer.” But while Ritalin may not be an amphetamine, it’s still addictive, dangerous, and easy to overdose on.
How Does Ritalin Work?
While Ritalin and Adderall both stimulate the central nervous system (CNS) by boosting levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, Ritalin isn’t an amphetamine. Norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter that speeds up brain activity, so it makes users more focused and alert. Meanwhile, dopamine provides a feeling of euphoria that motivates the brain to stay on task and complete the desired activity.
People with ADHD may have faulty receptors or lower levels of these neurotransmitters, so they take stimulants such as Adderall or Ritalin to boost them. Adderall binds to the brain’s dopamine and norepinephrine receptors, and it floods the brain and CNS with them. However, Ritalin doesn’t create new neurotransmitters. Instead, it blocks the current ones from being reabsorbed.
Usually, the brain releases a certain amount of dopamine or norepinephrine until they’re no longer needed. Afterward, they’re reabsorbed for later use. Ritalin blocks dopamine and norepinephrine from being reabsorbed, which allows the levels of both chemicals to build up and remain in the brain longer.
Therefore, people with ADHD are able to remain focused, but people with normal dopamine and norepinephrine levels have intense feelings of euphoria and energy. Because Ritalin is such a fast-acting drug, it is very similar to cocaine when crushed and snorted.
Who Abuses Ritalin?
When experts were looking to determine who used prescription stimulant drugs, it was found that nearly 6.6 percent or 16 million adults in the United States abused prescription stimulants last year. The author who conducted the study and released the results found that prescription stimulant misuse in adults was higher in those with depressive episodes, suicidal ideation, and substance use disorders.
Ritalin, which is sometimes known by its surname the study drug, is a significant problem on college campuses. For many students, they view college as a time to party full-time while pushing their studies behind them. They find ways to cram for finals and tests by using stimulants like Ritalin to study the night before and not interfere with their party lifestyle. Unfortunately, misusing these drugs can lead to dependence and addiction.
College is viewed as a stressful time for students as they try to balance maturing into adults with their natural desires to party. By using stimulants to stay awake, they can manage their studies and party.
Many of the kids who were prescribed Ritalin as children grow out of their attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and don’t take the medication anymore. They can sell pills on the side to their friends for a few extra dollars. It seems like a winning situation for everyone, but Ritalin abuse can lead to illicit drugs like crystal meth when they have built a tolerance to prescription stimulants.
Other studies have shown that five to 35 percent of college students are abusing stimulant medication for non-medical reasons. Full-time college students between the ages of 18 and 22 are twice as likely to abuse stimulants than non-full time students.
Parents must take a role in their children’s lives and warn about the risks of amphetamine abuse. At the same time, they must not place unrealistic goals on their children to achieve excellence. Setting goals is encouraged, and a routine part of our lives, but expecting too much can push kids to seek drugs to enhance their performance. If you are concerned about an addiction to Ritalin, you must be aware of the signs.
What Are The Signs Of Ritalin Addiction?
Recognizing the signs of substance abuse and addiction can be more difficult than you might think. Specifically, Ritalin may cause you to dismiss abnormal behaviors as they appear until they’ve developed into a full-blown addiction. So it’s important to know the common side effects of Ritalin abuse, as they can point toward an escalating problem.
These Side Effects Include:
- Frequent bouts of mania and depression
- Sudden, rapid weight loss
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Chronic headaches
- Suicidal thoughts
The key characteristic that separates Ritalin addiction from abuse and dependence is the user’s inability to control their usage. At this point, they start compulsively seeking out Ritalin, despite the negative consequences.
Eventually, Ritalin will push out almost everything else in their life, so it becomes the driving force behind their actions and decisions. Other behavioral signs consistent with Ritalin addiction include:
- Using Ritalin in larger amounts or more often than prescribed
- Increasing tolerance to Ritalin’s effects
- Using Ritalin when you don’t have ADHD
- Experiencing cravings or withdrawal
- Trying to hide or lie about Ritalin use
- Becoming socially isolated
- Using savings or valuables to pay for Ritalin
- Seeing a noticeable decline in performance at work or school
- Needing Ritalin to feel “normal”
- Being unable to quit using Ritalin, even after repeated attempts
What’s Involved In Addiction Treatment For Ritalin?
Generally, the treatment process starts with medical detox. All related toxins are flushed from the user’s system to prevent the damage these substances may be causing the body.
The symptoms of Ritalin withdrawal are much milder than other stimulants, but they’re still uncomfortable. Therefore, most people may be able to detox from Ritalin on an outpatient basis.
However, Ritalin detox shouldn’t be attempted without some level of medical supervision, as users can experience extreme mood swings, depression, and suicidal thoughts. A professional detox center can provide the necessary psychological and medical support that will prevent self-harm and relapsing.
After detox, it’s critical that the next phase be ongoing treatment in an addiction treatment program. Depending on various factors, users may opt for inpatient or outpatient treatment. The essential difference is that inpatient treatment involves living onsite at a treatment center, while an outpatient program involves clients commuting to the facility for treatment sessions.
During the course of a treatment program, clients will pinpoint the roots of their addiction, which will help them gain the tools and skills necessary to more effectively manage their addictive behaviors and avoid relapsing.
Here Are Some Common Elements That May Be Included In A Treatment Plan:
- Behavioral therapy
- Holistic therapy
- EDMR therapy
- Individual and group counseling
- Addiction education classes
- Relapse prevention planning
- Dual diagnosis treatment
- Motivational interviewing
How Dangerous Is Ritalin?
As a prescription stimulant, Ritalin is comparatively safer than other amphetamines, but there are many serious dangers and health risks. Because it’s so often perceived as a “safe” stimulant to misuse, it’s frequently taken with alcohol, which greatly increases the risk of alcohol poisoning.
Regular, heavy Ritalin abuse also places a significant amount of strain on the heart, which can cause arrhythmia, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and strokes.
It’s Possible To Fatally Overdose On Ritalin. The Common Signs Of A Ritalin Overdose Include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Muscle pain
- Numbness in extremities
- Sudden, intense aggression
- Cardiac arrest
If someone is experiencing a Ritalin overdose, it’s vital that they receive emergency medical attention as soon as possible.
Ritalin Abuse Statistics
- The U.S. manufactures and consumes approximately 85 percent of the world’s supply of prescription stimulants, including Ritalin.
- According to the Monitoring the Future survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), more than 50 percent of the students who misused Ritalin and other prescription stimulants said a family member or friend gave them the drugs.
- In 2016, nearly 2 million Americans over the age of 12 reported the abuse of prescription stimulants like Ritalin.