Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant prescribed to treat narcolepsy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The medication is available in immediate and extended release formulations under a range of brand names, including Ritalin and Concerta.
When used as directed by patients with a legitimate medical need for the medication, methylphenidate can greatly improve the well-being and functioning of individuals who may struggle to meet the challenges presented by everyday life.
The medication is frequently abused, however, by people who take it without a prescription. This can lead to a range of daunting health complications, including addiction.
Understanding Methylphenidate Abuse
Methylphenidate is a stimulant drug that counteracts the extreme drowsiness and sudden bouts of sleep suffered by narcoleptics, and helps regulate the inconsistent levels of energy, focus and productivity experienced by individuals with ADHD.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “The therapeutic effect of stimulants is achieved by slow and steady increases of dopamine, which are similar to the way dopamine is naturally produced in the brain. The doses prescribed by physicians start low and increase gradually until a therapeutic effect is reached.”
If you take methylphenidate without a prescription, you will likely experience a loss of appetite, increased wakefulness, and increased concentration that you may use to lose weight, get more done on less sleep, or stay focused on a specific task for longer than comes naturally to you.
If you abuse methylphenidate for recreational purposes, you likely take the drug in higher doses, and you may crush and snort the drug, or dissolve it in liquid to be injected. When you do this, your brain releases a sudden and unnaturally large amount of dopamine that you will experience as a serene and blissful rush that is highly addictive, both psychologically and physically.
Signs and Symptoms of Methylphenidate Abuse
Methylphenidate abuse is fairly widespread, and many users manage to hide it from loved ones. Nevertheless, there are some indicators that you may be able to spot if you know what to look for.
The Mayo Clinic lists a number of signs that could point to recent abuse of stimulants. Users may feel exhilarated, and exhibit excess confidence, increased alertness and energy. They may be restless and speak rapidly, going on and on with varying levels of coherence.
Users may have dilated pupils. Mood swings, irritability and aggression are possible, as are nausea and vomiting. Continued use is likely to cause weight loss, as well as nasal congestion and nose bleeds if the drugs are being snorted.
High doses can cause delusions, paranoia and hallucinations, and all doses can cause insomnia, and depression as the drug wears off.
Dangers of Methylphenidate Abuse
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “For the brain, the difference between normal rewards and drug rewards can be described as the difference between someone whispering into your ear and someone shouting into a microphone. Just as we turn down the volume on a radio that is too loud, the brain adjusts to the overwhelming surges in dopamine (and other neurotransmitters) by producing less dopamine or by reducing the number of receptors that can receive signals.”
This means that not only are you likely to become tolerant and need to take higher doses of methylphenidate to experience the desired effect (putting you at risk of overdose), but that you will also need to take it to merely counteract the depression and fatigue that results from dopamine depletion. Essentially, the reward center of your brain is on the fritz, making it difficult for you to feel any pleasure from anything at all.
Dopamine depletion and a damaged neurotransmitter system can cause other mental problems. According to the Drugs of Abuse publication from the DEA, “Chronic 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.”
These effects may go away after the drug has left your system, or they may persist for weeks or months as your body and brain slowly heal from damage done by addiction. Some of these effects can cause permanent changes in cognitive function. This is why it is crucial that you seek treatment as soon as possible, so you can begin healing your brain before too much damage is done.
Who Abuses Methylphenidate?
All kinds of people abuse methylphenidate. You may begin innocently, thinking that the drug will give you a performance edge at work or school, but this belief is usually wrong. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse:
“Prescription stimulants do promote wakefulness, but studies have found that they do not enhance learning or thinking ability when taken by people who do not actually have ADHD. Also, research has shown that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t.”
You may take methylphenidate to get high. You may have done this the first time out of curiosity, or perhaps to self-medicate depression or escape from problems and conflicts in your life. No matter why you began abusing methylphenidate, doing so will quite quickly “train” you to keep seeking out the drug, due to its effect on the brain’s reward pathway.
When you abuse methylphenidate by snorting or injecting it, the effect on your system is quite similar to any other stimulant drug, such as cocaine—and just like cocaine, it is highly addictive.
Am I Addicted to Methylphenidate?
If you fear that you are addicted to methylphenidate, read the following statements and honestly consider how they relate to your own relationship with drugs.
- I feel as if the process of obtaining and using methylphenidate has taken over my life.
- I take the drug daily, or multiple times a day.
- I feel unable to cope with social activities or everyday tasks without taking methylphenidate.
- My friends and family have confronted me about my drug use, and I become defensive and angry in response.
- I take drugs to escape from negative emotions, problems and conflicts in my life.
- I am secretive about my drug use, lying about when I use and how much I take.
- I’ve tried to cut down or quit methylphenidate before, but I gave up because I couldn’t handle the withdrawal symptoms.
- I have engaged in risky behavior because of my drug use.
- I have done things that aren’t like me, or that I am ashamed of, while on drugs or to obtain drugs.
- I need to take more methylphenidate now than I did when I first started using.
- My drug use has caused major life issues in the past year, such as family problems, financial problems, a breakup, job loss, car accident, failure at school/work, or getting arrested.
- Even though I know how bad my drug use is for me and my loved ones, I feel incapable of getting sober on my own.
If you can see yourself reflected in one or more of these statements, then you will likely benefit from professional substance abuse treatment. Call 800 774 5796(Who Answers?) now, and let our advisors connect you to the right treatment option for you.
Methylphenidate Addiction Treatment
Your addiction is not a failure of willpower, or a sign of weakness. Addiction is a chronic, relapsing brain disease that causes actual, physical changes in how your brain functions.
But there is hope. Addiction can be managed, and your life can get better. All you need to do is seek help, and you can begin to heal under the guidance of caring, experienced professionals at an affordable treatment center near you.
Stages of treatment
- Detox– When you give up your drug of choice, your body will begin to detoxify and heal. There are no FDA approved medications to treat withdrawal from stimulant medications, but medical professionals at substance abuse treatment programs will be able to help you through the experience as safely and comfortably as possible.
- Talk therapy– Individual, group and family counseling will be a part of all recovery plans.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy– To keep you from falling back on old, destructive coping mechanisms after leaving a treatment program, CBT will retrain your brain with healthier ways of reacting to and coping with stress and trigger situations.
A better life can be yours with a little help.