Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate, a prescription stimulant prescribed widely to treat symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in both children and adults.
Ritalin’s effects on the body and the mind are comparable to the prescription amphetamine stimulants (Adderall, Vyvanse, etc.). For many with ADHD, this substance aids their ability to focus, and may help them in settings such as school and work. However, this drug is often abused for various reasons — to stay awake, to lose weight, or to get a euphoric “high”. Others may combine it with alcohol or other depressants to alter the usual intoxicating experience felt when these drugs are used alone.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Ritalin initiates excess release of two primary neurotransmitters in the brain: dopamine and norepinephrine. In fact, Ritalin essentially produces effects like those from cocaine by binding to the same receptor sites in the brain 2. This alone illustrates Ritalin’s addictive potential.
If you need help, don’t wait to find it. Detox programs are available to help free you of the substance so you can begin your recovery from stimulant addiction.
What Are the Short-term Effects of Use?
People typically begin abusing Ritalin for its feelings of increased focus and wakefulness, euphoria, elevated energy levels, and loss of appetite. While these effects can be desirable, there are many adverse effects that occur as a result of even short-term Ritalin use.6
Possible adverse effects of use include the following:3,4,6,8
- Increased blood pressure and pulse.
- Chest pain.
- Cardiac arrhythmias.
- Increased body temperature and increased sweating.
- Anxiety or restlessness.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Delirium or hallucinations.
- Excessive repetition of meaningless tasks or movements.
- Muscular weakness.
- Paranoia or psychosis.
- Emotional blunting.
- Impaired judgment.
It’s a common misconception that Ritalin is safe to use since it is a prescription medicine. You should never take Ritalin without a prescription, because the consequences can be unpredictable and even life-threatening.
Harmful Effects of Chronic Use
Long-term use of Ritalin is associated with many physical and psychological complications. Prolonged use leads to the development of tolerance, which means that the user must take higher doses to experience the desired effects, thus increasing the risk of serious side effects.8
Other potential long-term consequences of Ritalin abuse include:3,4,6,8
- Physiological dependence and acute withdrawal when use is dramatically reduced or stopped.
- Addiction, which is characterized by compulsive Ritalin use regardless of adverse effects.
- Weight loss.
- Perforated nasal septum and nose bleeds in those who crush and snort the medication.
- Vascular inflammation, skin infections, track lines, increased risk of contracting HIV and hepatitis viruses if injected.
- Increased risk of tuberculosis.
- Increased risk of cardiac issues, such as heart attack, palpitations, arrhythmias, and cardiac arrest.
- Serious injuries due to violent behavior.
- Legal issues due to theft or drug dealing.
- Interpersonal problems, such as divorce or loss of friends.
- Expulsion from school or termination from work.
Many of these detrimental effects can be prevented by seeking formal detox and Ritalin addiction treatment programs. These programs can help create a foundation for long-term recovery.
Effects and Symptoms of Ritalin Withdrawal
Symptoms of Ritalin withdrawal will rarely present an immediate threat to the user’s life; however, they can produce intensely uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms. In most cases, the psychological symptoms are the more severe issues that need to be addressed during the detoxification process.
Physical withdrawal symptoms of Ritalin include 1,3,5:
- Feeling jittery.
- Weight loss/anorexia.
- Adipsia (lack of thirst) and resultant dehydration.
- Changing sleep patterns (insomnia/hypersomnia).
- Fatigue with lack of energy.
Psychological withdrawal symptoms of Ritalin include 1,3,5:
- Depression with potential for suicidal ideation; suicide attempts.
- High anxiety.
- Poor memory.
- Lack of interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Vivid dreams about drugs.
- Changed social interactions with isolation.
- Paranoia and violent gestures.
There are several factors that affect the intensity of these withdrawal symptoms in the Ritalin user. They include 1, 5:
- The method of use.
- The duration of use.
- The average dose having been regularly used.
- The presence of other drugs and alcohol in the body.
- The existence of mental or physical health disorders.
The final point is an important consideration since, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the existence of co-occurring mental health disorders are common among stimulant-addicted individuals. These disorders include 5:
- Bipolar disorder.
- Personality disorders like borderline personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder.
- Post-traumatic stress disorder.
Ritalin withdrawal can lead to a resurgence of symptoms that were previously being managed by the drug (e.g., symptoms of ADHD, narcolepsy), and may further complicate the course of any co-existing mental health conditions.
In most cases, someone that has been using the substance for longer periods, at higher frequencies, and larger doses will experience more intense withdrawal symptoms. A period of supervised detoxification can ensure that these symptoms are carefully monitored and, if necessary, pay therapeutic attention to any co-occurring disorders to avoid potential dangers and complications.
Ritalin Detox Timeline and Protocol
The timeline of Ritalin detox will depend on the method, the dose, frequency, and duration of use. Taking high doses of the substance for several days – in other words, a binge pattern of use – will typically produce relatively prolonged and intense withdrawal symptoms 1, 5.
Taking other stimulants in combination with Ritalin will likely increase and extend the withdrawal symptoms of Ritalin. Co-abuse of depressant substance like opioids, alcohol, or sedatives can increase the risk of overdose, as each substance may mask the other’s effects, leading to the consumption of even more dangerous amounts.
What Happens During Ritalin Detox?
Detox programs offer a variety of styles and intensities, but there are two general categories of treatment: medically assisted detox and “social” detox. Medically assisted detox offers observation and assistance from a treatment team comprised of medical professionals. This team will know how to detox from Ritalin safey and can:
- Assess current needs and symptoms.
- Monitor vital signs.
- Administer medication as needed.
- Refer the client to follow-up treatment.
Medically assisted detox for Ritalin may be appropriate for:
- People that are using other substances with Ritalin.
- Anyone that has experienced negative withdrawal symptoms previously.
- Those that opt to be weaned from the Ritalin through a controlled taper rather than ending use “cold turkey”.
- Those with concurrent, or dual diagnosis mental health conditions.
There are no drugs approved to specifically treat Ritalin addiction. Instead, supportive medications such as antidepressants and anxiolytics can be used to treat withdrawal symptoms if they present with sufficient severity.
Social detox programs provide supervision and support through the process of detox but do not provide medications to alleviate symptoms. This method of detox will offer a range of services including:
- Proper assessment.
- A safe, respectful, and sober environment.
- Space to rest.
- Nutritious meals.
- Support and encouragement to build sobriety.
- Connection to further treatment after detox ends.
Do I Need Ritalin Detox?
Detox can help to lower the risks associated with Ritalin intoxication, long-term use, and withdrawal symptoms. You may need the help of a structured substance detox program if you are dependent on or addicted to Ritalin.
Signs that you may be dependent on Ritalin include:
- Feeling odd or strange without Ritalin.
- A desire for the substance to feel normal.
- Anxiety or panic when the drug is not available.
One major indicator of addiction to Ritalin is continued, compulsive use despite the mounting negative consequences associated with using the substance. Other symptoms of Ritalin abuse and addiction include:
- Changes in social relationships and increased isolation.
- Decreased performance at work or school.
- Changes in interests and activities.
- Financial strain due to spending more on Ritalin.
- Engaging in illegal activity like buying, selling, and trading Ritalin.
- Worsening physical and mental health. *
* Ritalin can lead to a host of unwanted physical and mental health effects in the long-term like 2, 3, 4:
- New or worsening anxiety and depression.
- Psychotic features, such as paranoia.
- Hair loss.
- Sexual dysfunction.
- Nasal mucosal inflammation; septal deterioration in the case of the substance being snorted.
- Widespread vascular inflammation; embolic events in the case of injection use.
Entering a Ritalin detox program may help you avoid or stop the progression of these long-term effects.
How Does Supervised Detox Help?
Although sleep and fatigue will be the primary symptoms for some at the onset of withdrawal, others will experience severe psychological symptoms that may place them or those around them at risk. The presence of these symptoms can make detoxing alone extremely difficult or even dangerous.
Additionally, the discomfort of both the physical and psychological symptoms can prompt relapse and deter the user’s recovery efforts.
For people that are addicted or dependent on Ritalin, a detox program can help them to start their path to long-term sobriety and lower the risk of relapse that often accompanies attempts to withdraw.
Finding a Treatment Program
Many treatment programs are available for individuals looking to free themselves from Ritalin. Methods to find a program include:
- Word of mouth.
- Professional referral from those with experience in managing substance use disorders, such as a primary care physician or addiction specialist.
- Contacting your insurance company.
Be advised that detox is only the first step in a longer course of addiction treatment. While detox addresses the client’s physical dependency by eliminating the drug from the body, other methods of treatment will address the psychological aspects that promote substance use through therapy and other activities (which will depend on the program). Many options for further treatment include:
- Inpatient drug abuse rehab – Provides therapy, support group participation, and relapse prevention training in a live-in environment that generally lasts between 30 and 90 days.
- Outpatient substance abuse treatment – Provides a predetermined number of hours of therapy on a weekly basis to specifically target relapse prevention and healthy coping skills.
- Outpatient mental health treatment – Helps address the psychological concerns leading to and resulting from Ritalin use.
- Alternative housing – Offers a safe sober living environment focused on recovery.
- Support group meetings – Encourages fellowship with others in recovery while building a strong support group.
- Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Detoxification and Substance Abuse Treatment. Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series, No. 45. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 15-4131. Rockville, MD: Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2006.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (2013). Methylphenidate.
- Morton, W. & Stockton, G. (2000). Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects. The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2(5): 159-164.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2014). DrugFacts: Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2001). Quick Guide for Clinicians: Treatment for Stimulant Use Disorders.
- Center for Substance Abuse Research (2013). Ritalin.
- Drug Enforcement Administration. (n.d.). Drug Fact Sheets: Methylphenidate.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Publishing.