Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a mild form of amphetamine prescribed to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a disorder that causes extreme drowsiness and sudden, uncontrollable bouts of sleep.
Ritalin functions by speeding up the messages between your brain and your body. If you have narcolepsy, this will cause you to feel more alert and energetic. If you have ADHD, this will have an opposite effect which induces a sense of calm and focus.
When abused in higher than normal doses, or by crushing and snorting the medication, Ritalin can cause extreme levels of energy and mild euphoria.
Understanding Ritalin Abuse
Central nervous system stimulants like Ritalin are unlikely to cause dependence when taken as directed, but can be highly addictive when taken without a prescription, especially in higher than normal dosages.
Because Ritalin can keep you awake and energized, even when you need sleep, you may have abused Ritalin to accomplish more in less time. Ritalin can also suppress appetite, so you may have used it to lose weight. When taken in higher than normal doses, Ritalin can cause euphoria due to the way it inhibits the reuptake of dopamine in the brain. This can make you feel happy, more confident, and more social.
Although Ritalin can make you feel as if your thinking is extremely clear, it does not appear that the drug can improve cognition and learning unless you have ADHD. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “research has shown that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t.”
Signs and Symptoms of Ritalin Abuse
The Mayo Clinic lists the following as possible signs of recent stimulant drug use:
- feeling of exhilaration and excess confidence
- increased alertness
- increased energy and restlessness
- behavior changes or aggression
- rapid or rambling speech
- dilated pupils
- delusions and hallucinations
- irritability or changes in mood
- changes in heart rate and blood pressure
- nausea or vomiting with weight loss
- impaired judgment
- nasal congestion and damage to the mucous membrane of the nose (if snorting drugs)
- depression as the drug wears off
Ritalin can also cause a range of side effects, some of them quite serious. MedlinePlus instructs you to seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the following symptoms on Ritalin:
- fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- excessive tiredness
- slow or difficult speech
- weakness or numbness of an arm or leg
- changes in vision or blurred vision
- believing things that are not true
- feeling unusually suspicious of others
- motor tics or verbal tics
- abnormally excited mood
- mood changes
- frequent, painful erections
- erection that lasts longer than 4 hours
- numbness, pain, or sensitivity to temperature in the fingers or toes
- skin color change from pale to blue to red in the fingers or toes
- unexplained wounds on the fingers or toes
- itching, hives or rash
- blistering or peeling skin
- swelling of the eyes, face, lips, mouth, tongue, or throat
- difficulty breathing or swallowing
Dangers of Ritalin Abuse
According to the Drug Enforcement Agency, “chronic [Ritalin] abuse produces a psychosis that resembles schizophrenia and is characterized by: paranoia, picking at the skin, preoccupation with one’s own thoughts, and auditory and visual hallucinations. Violent and erratic behavior is frequently seen among chronic abusers.”
If you are addicted to Ritalin, you may accidentally or purposefully harm yourself or others. Ritalin abuse may result in heart attack, seizure, or stroke. It is important that you seek help before too much damage is done.
Who Abuses Ritalin?
Although Ritalin abuse is most often associated with young people who horde pills from their own prescriptions and sell them to classmates, more and more adults are abusing the drug, both to improve performance at work, and as a party drug, because it causes euphoria and keeps you awake.
The problem is that after the high, comes the crash—a state of low energy and even lower mood that many people find so intolerable they take more Ritalin to counteract it. Continual use of Ritalin leads to tolerance, which will force you to steadily increase your dosage to even more unsafe levels. Taking large amounts of Ritalin puts you at risk of serious complications, including overdose.
The DEA’s publication on Drugs of Abuse explains that a Ritalin overdose can cause:
- increased body temperature
- possible death
When used appropriately for a legitimate medical condition, Ritalin can improve your quality of life, but it should never be taken without a prescription.
The fact that Ritalin is widely prescribed, and is even given to children, fools many into thinking that the substance is harmless. This is not the case. Any medication can become dangerous when misused or abused, and as a Schedule II controlled substance, Ritalin has been proven to be highly addictive.
You may even be aware of the dangers of illegally taking Ritalin, but ignore them so that you can continue to use.
Am I Addicted to Ritalin?
If you fear you may be addicted to Ritalin, read the following statements and honestly consider how they apply to you. If you relate to one or more, you may be an addict.
- I abuse Ritalin daily.
- I take the drug to counteract negative emotions and/or to escape my life.
- I am secretive about when, how, and how much medication I take.
- I have difficulty completing normal tasks without Ritalin.
- Friends and family members have expressed worry about my drug use, and I become angry and defensive in response.
- When I try to quit or cut down my Ritalin use, I give up due to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.
- I have experienced hallucinations, aggression, paranoia, or other symptoms of psychosis.
- I need to take more Ritalin than I used to just to feel the same effects.
- I take Ritalin in combination with alcohol or other drugs.
- Despite suffering problems such as relationship difficulties, financial problems, legal issues, health complaints, etc., related to my drug use, I continue to take Ritalin.
- I engage in risky and unhealthy behaviors while under the influence of drugs.
- I feel unable to stop using Ritalin on my own.
Ritalin Addiction Treatment
Many people abuse Ritalin because it makes them feel like a better version of themselves—at least at first. But the true, best version of yourself is the person inside you that cannot truly shine until you rid yourself of the burden of drug abuse.
Addiction treatment will allow you to rediscover yourself, and redefine your goals. You can achieve what you want to achieve while clean and sober, you just need a little help to get there.
Ritalin withdrawal is rarely dangerous, but it is usually quite unpleasant, which can lead to relapse if you try to detox on your own.
Although there are no FDA approved medications to treat addiction to stimulants, undergoing withdrawal in a rehab facility with the benefit of medical professionals and 24/7 monitoring will ensure that you detox with as little discomfort as possible.
Treatment isn’t about fixing you, but about freeing you from harmful substances and destructive behavior that keep you from living your best life. Addiction specialists have a wide variety of ways in which to do this, including:
Cognitive behavioral therapy– Most people who abuse Ritalin do so because they believe they need it in some way. To counteract this belief and to bolster your confidence in your natural abilities, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is invaluable. CBT can reroute your thought patterns, scrapping negative beliefs and replacing them with useful coping mechanisms and strategies that will help you turn to your inner resources instead of drugs in trigger situations.
Counseling and Support Groups– Most addicts suffer from underlying, possibly undiagnosed mental health issues that must be addressed in the recovery process. Talk therapy is one of the best ways to do this. In addition, support groups such as 12-step meetings, are a resource that you can continue to turn to as needed after leaving a treatment program.
Health and Fitness Interventions– Your body and brain needs to heal physically before you can completely heal in mind and spirit. This is why good nutrition, regular exercise, recreational activities, and quality sleep should be as much a part of your treatment plan as one on one counseling.