Breaking free from prescription drug addiction and abuse isn’t easy. However, with effective support, you can overcome the root causes of addictive behavior and rediscover your love of sober life.
What Is Ritalin?
Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate, a prescription-only medication that doctors use to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD (formerly known as attention deficit disorder), and narcolepsy. Ritalin is a stimulant drug that acts on the central nervous system, making you more alert, awake, and focused.
While Ritalin can be medically useful, it has a high potential for abuse. Abusing Ritalin puts you at risk of addiction, dependence, overdose, and other short- and long-term dangers. The Drug Enforcement Administration classifies Ritalin as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
What Does Ritalin Look Like?
Medically prescribed methylphenidate comes in yellow, grey, and white tablets or as capsules in various colors. If you buy methylphenidate illegally, it may also come as a powder, crystal, or pellet. Illicitly traded methylphenidate may be mixed with other substances, often unknown to the user.
What Are the Medical Uses of Ritalin?
Ritalin is FDA-approved to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by hyperactivity and impulsiveness. It’s usually diagnosed in children and persists into adulthood. Children and adults with ADHD may find it difficult to concentrate and focus, affecting performance at work or school.
Narcolepsy is a type of sleeping disorder that affects the brain’s control of sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy may find it hard to stay awake during the day, even after a good night’s sleep.
Some doctors also prescribe Ritalin for off-label uses. These include fatigue in patients with cancer, refractory depression in the geriatric population, and apathy in Alzheimer’s disease.
How Does Ritalin Affect the Brain?
Ritalin works by altering chemical balances in the brain, affecting several important functions.
Our brains are made up of various regions of nerve cells which communicate with one another through chemical and electrical signaling. Nerve cells send chemical signals by releasing molecules called neurotransmitters which travel across the brain and bind to certain receptors in other cells. Binding to receptors activates them, altering biochemical processes in the recipient cells.
Taking Ritalin prevents the reuptake of two neurotransmitters – norepinephrine and dopamine – increasing the availability of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine helps to regulate many important functions in the brain and body, including pleasure, motivation, and memory. Increased dopamine levels lead to a CNS stimulant effect, making people feel more alert and awake.
Scientists think that children and adults living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may have unbalanced levels of norepinephrine and dopamine, leading to problems in concentration, focus, and behavior. Ritalin may help to rebalance these chemicals, helping individuals to manage their symptoms.
However, when people without the condition abuse Ritalin, the effects can be undesirable and even dangerous, especially if they take Ritalin in high doses. Even people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder will still get a mind-altering effect from abusing high doses of Ritalin.
How Do People Abuse Ritalin?
Ritalin misuse has become increasingly common among college students, who use the medication as a “study drug”. Some students believe that using Ritalin can enhance their performance by helping them stay up late to revise, study for long periods, and concentrate better. A 2013 literature review found that 16% of medical students used methylphenidate, mostly to improve their performance.
However, while using Ritalin can help you to stay awake, there is no evidence that it improves memory or learning. Evidence suggests that central nervous system stimulant abuse can be detrimental to students’ performance. A 2008 study found that 21% of students taking nonmedical prescriptions were likely to skip classes, compared to just 9% who weren’t.
Some people also take Ritalin recreationally, often in combination with other drugs including alcohol. Mixing different psychoactive substances is extremely dangerous, especially when the effects compound each other, increasing the chance of overdose of both substances.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), prescription drug abuse is “profoundly impacting the lives of teenagers“. In 2014, more than 5,700 youth reported using prescription drugs without a doctor’s prescription. Several possible factors are driving the increase in prescription drug abuse, including:
- misinformation about the supposed benefits of “study drugs”
- unsafe storage of prescription drugs at home
- a lack of monitoring of the dispensation of Ritalin prescriptions and other medications
What Are the Dangers of Ritalin Abuse?
Methylphenidate abuse comes with several short-term and long-term risks to your physical and mental health.
What Are the Short-Term Side-Effects of Ritalin?
While people often take Ritalin to feel awake, alert, and energetic, it can also cause unpleasant and dangerous side effects. These include:
- irritability and agitation
- appetite suppression
- severe psychological symptoms including psychosis, a condition involving visual and/or auditory hallucinations and/or delusions that can put your safety at risk
- increased heart rate and blood pressure
- suppressed immune system
Because Ritalin puts a strain on the heart and nervous system, taking the drug can be particularly dangerous if you have an underlying heart condition.
Ritalin overdose happens when you take Ritalin in an unsafe dose, leading to harmful or even fatal consequences. Ritalin abuse carries an increased risk of overdose, as people often far exceed medical guidelines. The chances of overdose increase if you take Ritalin with other substances including alcohol.
Stimulant overdose can lead to seizures, coma, and in some cases death. If you think someone may have overdosed, you should call 911 for emergency medical attention.
Knowing and recognizing the signs of a stimulant overdose can be life-saving. Some of the main ones include:
- rigid or jerking limbs
- loss of consciousness
- rapidly increasing temperature
- rapidly increasing pulse
- chest pains
- severe headaches, sweating, or agitation
What Are the Long-Term Health Risks of Ritalin Abuse?
Ritalin abuse can suppress the immune system, making it more likely that you will fall ill from infections and viruses. It can also worsen pre-existing psychological mental disorders and cause the development of new ones.
Other long-term effects of abusing Ritalin include:
- sleeping problems
- circulation issues
- stomach pain
- weight loss
Ritalin Dependence and Addiction
While it is safe to use Ritalin in therapeutic doses as your doctor prescribes, Ritalin abuse the substance puts you at risk of developing physical dependence and addiction. Ritalin addiction and dependence are two linked but distinct conditions. The medical diagnosis of a substance use disorder (found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) encompasses both conditions and other harmful patterns of substance use.
What Is Ritalin Addiction?
Ritalin addiction is when you continue to seek and use Ritalin, despite negative consequences. Addiction develops due to the interactions of dopamine with the brain’s reward pathway.
The dopaminergic reward pathway is a normal part of how the brain works, helping to reinforce life-preserving behaviors. When you engage in a beneficial activity, your body releases a small amount of dopamine, altering neuronal connectivity along the pathway and making it more likely that you will repeat the activity.
When you take Ritalin, it floods the brain with dopamine, hijacking the reward system. Repeated use causes long-lasting brain changes that produce strong urges (cravings) to use the drug. These urges are difficult to resist without effective support.
The physical nature of addiction means that it is hard to quit on your own. However, long-term addiction treatment can help anyone overcome addictive behavior and enjoy a productive, fulfilling life.
What Is Ritalin Dependence?
When you take Ritalin in too high a dose or too frequently, your body gets used to the presence of the substance. You start to build a tolerance, requiring higher and higher doses to experience the same effects. Your body adapts its functions in response to the substance, making you dependent upon the drug just to feel normal.
If you then suddenly stop taking Ritalin, you experience a series of uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms as your body readjusts. Stimulant withdrawal symptoms are mainly psychological but can involve some physical symptoms. Common withdrawal symptoms include:
- Unpleasant dreams
- Drug cravings
While Ritalin withdrawal is unpleasant, it’s often the first step in overcoming Ritalin abuse and leading a drug-free life. Medical detox programs offer professional support throughout the detox process to help you manage symptoms and cravings. Remember, you should always contact a medical professional before withdrawing from any prescription drug.
Ritalin Addiction Treatment
Ritalin addiction can be scary. Addiction is a destructive force with the potential to seriously harm your health, social life, and work life.
If you’re affected by Ritalin abuse, it’s normal to feel hopeless, worried, or ashamed. It’s important to remember that addiction is a brain disease and compulsive drug-seeking behavior isn’t your fault. What’s more, there is now a range of effective treatment options available to help you overcome addiction and maintain long-term sobriety.
Effective addiction treatment programs are individualized, combining a variety of treatment options to suit each client’s needs. Treatment approaches address the underlying causes of addiction, promoting long-term abstinence and meaningful change. Many programs combine talk therapies and medication with holistic mind-body therapies to treat the entire person and ensure lasting overall well-being.
Treatment options may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
- Support groups
- Family therapy
- Medication-assisted treatment
- Experiential therapy
- Complementary therapy
- 12-step method
- Life skills development
Private and Exclusive Addiction Rehab Center in the Rocky Mountains
Cirque Lodge is a luxurious, picturesque addiction recovery center in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. Our modern yet comfortable facilities make the perfect place to begin your recovery journey, away from the stresses and distractions of everyday life.
Our transformative programs offer exciting experiences in spectacular surroundings so you can reconnect with your passions and rediscover your love of life. We combine clinical excellence with compassionate care in a variety of treatment modalities proven to help you overcome addiction. The 12-step method underpins everything we do, providing a cohesive and powerful backbone to our programs.
At Cirque Lodge, we’re committed to helping you recover from Ritalin abuse. We work with each client personally, providing individualized experiences tailored to your unique needs. If you are struggling with Ritalin addiction and abuse or another substance use disorder, contact us today. Our compassionate team is available 24/7 to answer any questions you may have and talk you through the next steps.