Methylphenidate, brand name Ritalin, is a prescription drug commonly used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. It has a high potential for abuse and is becoming more widely available, especially among teens and young adults.
Some people use methylphenidate outside of prescription guidelines to boost focus, produce a high and facilitate weight loss. They do not necessarily have a prescription and may obtain the drug from someone who does. Using methylphenidate without a doctor’s guidance and for purposes that it was not intended is substance abuse, and can have unpleasant results.
Is Methylphenidate (Ritalin) Addictive?
As a central nervous system stimulant, Ritalin increases the availability of brain chemicals that produce stimulation. This helps a person with ADHD becomes less inclined to self-stimulate and allows them to focus on the task at hand.
Regardless of whether the person taking methylphenidate has ADHD, the drug prevents dopamine from being reabsorbed by the brain, allowing more of it to be present. This surplus of dopamine can produce a euphoric feeling, similar to the effects of cocaine.
In a normal state, the brain naturally releases dopamine as a reward when a person does something that makes their brain happy, like eating ice cream or falling in love.
As the brain becomes accustomed to methylphenidate increasing dopamine levels, it stops releasing as much dopamine on its own. This leads a person to develop a mental dependence (addiction) and to believe that they need the drug in order to function normally and feel good.
The Dangers Of Methylphenidate Abuse And Addiction
Methylphenidate abuse is most commonly linked to students who use Ritalin in order to focus better on certain tasks. It makes it easier for someone to cram for a big test or project, allowing them to concentrate more deeply and for longer than usual. For this reason, methylphenidate is sometimes called a “study drug.”
Someone who begins abusing methylphenidate this way may feel that it is harmless since they only take it once in a while. The success a person acquires after taking the drug (a good grade or finished project) may reinforce this belief.
When the next big task comes up, though, they may use methylphenidate to help them complete it, and eventually become accustomed to using it for every project. This could lead them to depend on the drug to get anything accomplished.
Sometimes, the increased ability to focus may lead someone to take on more work than they can normally handle. Their ability to complete tasks and stay focused may cause those around them to think they are happy and successful, but this lifestyle can lead to exhaustion.
Some people abuse methylphenidate for its potential to produce euphoria. They may take high doses of the drug to achieve this. As with other stimulants, such as amphetamine (Adderall), methamphetamine, and cocaine, a person may experience a burst of energy, heightened alertness and exhilaration after taking methylphenidate.
Also like cocaine, a methylphenidate high may be followed by a crash, with symptoms like extreme fatigue, exhaustion, insomnia and depression. To avoid this, people suffering from methylphenidate addiction may take repeated doses of the drug.
This can create a build-up of methylphenidate in someone’s system, which increases the risk of overdose. It is possible to overdose on methylphenidate if too much is taken at a time. It is also dangerous to take methylphenidate with other substances, as it can have adverse effects and increases the risk of overdose.
Methylphenidate comes in pill form and is usually taken orally. That being said, a study on prescription stimulant abuse among college students reports that 38 percent of people surveyed who used stimulants outside of prescription guidelines took them by snorting (insufflation).
Snorting methylphenidate is a faster route of administration, as blood vessels in the nose absorb it immediately. It can severely damage the inside of the nose, inflaming the nasal tissue and irritating the throat and lungs. Over time, methylphenidate can wear away the roof of the mouth or the wall between the nostrils.
Because methylphenidate is an appetite suppressant, some people abuse it as a way to lose weight. Whether this is the case or not, prolonged use can cause dangerous weight loss. The stimulant properties of methylphenidate can also lead to long-term insomnia. Not having proper nutrition or sleep can weaken the immune system and lead to poor overall health.
Signs And Symptoms Of Methylphenidate (Ritalin) Abuse And Addiction
Prescription drugs come with side effects — negative health consequences that can happen even with regular use. Some are more serious than others, and possibly fatal. Abusing a prescription drug like methylphenidate (Ritalin) increases the chance of these side effects as a person takes higher doses of the drug more frequently.
Side effects that may indicate methylphenidate abuse include:
- loss of appetite
- difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
- irregular or rapid heart rate
- nausea and vomiting
- skin rash
- raised blood pressure
- muscle twitching or involuntary movements
- anxiety and restlessness
- painful, long-lasting erections (priapism)
- seizures, possibly with coma
People with existing behavior disorders may experience worsened psychological symptoms if they abuse methylphenidate. New psychotic symptoms like hallucinations, delusions and mania can result from this abuse as well.
If a person has become addicted to methylphenidate, they may be secretive, trying to hide the problem. Still, they may show signs of methylphenidate addiction, such as:
- using methylphenidate only to experience a high or focus on a project
- ignoring negative physical and mental effects of methylphenidate
- spending a lot of time and money obtaining and using the drug
- performing poorly at work or school
- taking Ritalin pills that were not prescribed to them
- visiting many doctors in order to fill multiple prescriptions (“doctor shopping”)
Since ADHD is a fairly common mental disorder, some people will fake the symptoms or claim that their child has ADHD in order to convince their doctor to prescribe medication like Ritalin. Once they obtain the pills, they may use them, share them or sell them.
Ritalin has been called the adolescent version of cocaine. As ADHD becomes more and more frequently diagnosed, more children and teens are being prescribed Ritalin and sharing it with their friends. The wide availability of this drug makes it easy to get, causing many people to develop a methylphenidate addiction early in life.
Treatment For Methylphenidate (Ritalin) Addiction
While there are no medications approved for treating methylphenidate (Ritalin) addiction, there are plenty of options. The best addiction treatment programs use a combination of therapies to educate the individual and explore personal issues related to substance abuse.
Behavioral therapies are commonly used to help people with a methylphenidate addiction to examine thoughts and behaviors and identify negative influences in their lives. These therapies may be combined with counseling and support groups to encourage emotional growth and positive relationships.
Many programs also include nutrition and fitness programs to support healthier living in every way. Because the goal of addiction treatment is complete and lasting recovery, treatment plans can be created uniquely for each individual to ensure the highest quality care for their needs.