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Ritalin Addiction | Statistics, Signs & Treatment

Methylphenidate, better known as Ritalin, is a prescription stimulant commonly used to treat narcolepsy and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The drug has been in existence for more than 50 years and has netted positive results for people with chronic ADHD and narcolepsy. Ritalin has been the most commonly prescribed medication for these treatments, but as of late, it has been surpassed by other medications like Adderall and Vyvanse.

For a brief period, Ritalin was misused recreationally and known as the “study drug,” but over the years, that title has been stripped and handed over to Adderall. While the inherent dangers associated with Adderall have become more widely known, the alternative in Ritalin may come off as a safer substitute but can be abused in the same way. There is a still a strong potential for addiction and overdose when abusing Ritalin.

Ritalin can be incredibly addictive and holds the risk of misuse. Those who use the drug without a prescription may feel as though they’re doing nothing wrong, but over time an addiction may begin to form without the user even being aware. Ritalin is a very dangerous drug when not consumed in a manner it was intended for.

How Does Ritalin Work?

Ritalin is a central nervous stimulant that boosts the levels of two neurotransmitters called dopamine and norepinephrine. Like other stimulants, Ritalin increases the activity of dopamine. Amphetamine drugs stimulate the release of dopamine, whereas Ritalin blocks the transporters that reuptake dopamine into the neuron it’s released from, allowing them to build up in the synapses.

The result is increased norepinephrine that aids in speeding up brain activity. When this occurs, the user becomes more alert and focused, and the extra dopamine provides euphoria as a reward to motivate the brain’s focus.

People who have ADHD and lower levels of dopamine can focus on tasks as a result. Those who do not have lower norepinephrine levels or compromised dopamine will feel an energetic and often euphoric high.

Ritalin is a fast-acting substance that provides the user with immediate relief. When it is consumed in a fashion that it was not prescribed for, such as being snorted, it acts in a similar way you’d expect from cocaine. When using the drug in this fashion, it increases the likelihood of an overdose occurring. 

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What Are the Signs of Ritalin Addiction?

In the early stages of prescription medication addiction, the outward signs are a bit skewed. If you are prescribed Ritalin by a doctor, certain symptoms may seem normal. To ensure the abuse does not progress into a full-blown addiction, you need to know what to look for. These unusual behaviors may seem obvious but can go unnoticed at the time.

It’s easy to overlook addiction because these drugs are seemingly safe. There is a certain connotation that prescription drugs are harmless. However, that’s on the contrary; Ritalin can be extremely dangerous when abused. 

If the drug is used in excess or more than the dose prescribed, then there will be symptoms you will be able to identify.

Common signs to determine whether you or a loved one is slipping into Ritalin addiction include:

  • Bouts of mania or depression
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dehydration
  • Periods of confusion
  • Noticeable weight loss
  • Frequent headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Suicidal thoughts

While Ritalin use can benefit users and improve their quality of life, there is a point when misuse can lead to dependence and addiction. This will become apparent when the user loses complete control of their ability to monitor their use and abuse the drug compulsively. Their lives will be ruled by accessing the drug at all times and this will become the primary decision-making factor in their lives. 

When this point has been reached, the person will begin to show behaviors of someone who struggles with a substance use disorder. These can include neglecting their responsibilities, health, and relationships among many others.

Some of the other behavioral signs you should watch out for are:

  • Withdrawal symptoms when not using Ritalin
  • Increased tolerance to Ritalin effects
  • Taking Ritalin in a larger dose than prescribed
  • Using Ritalin when there is no formal purpose to do so 
  • Taking Ritalin without a prescription
  • Consuming Ritalin in ways not intended (e.g., snorting)
  • Hiding use from friends or family
  • Inability to function without the drug
  • Stealing money to fuel your habit

If you have personally experienced any of these symptoms or witnessed them in someone else, it might be time to consider treatment for the addiction. By getting treatment, you can save yourself from a potential overdose or any additional physical or psychological damage. You are not alone in this journey, and just one step can change your entire life.

What Is Involved In Ritalin Addiction Treatment?

Medical detox is the first step of the treatment process. This is often regarded as the most challenging stage in the continuum of care, but health care professionals recommend that people starting their recovery undergo supervised medical detoxification. While Ritalin withdrawal is on the milder end of the spectrum when it comes to stimulants, it can still be an uncomfortable process that requires a helping hand from the professional staff to remind you that you are not alone.

The type of detox will depend on the severity of the user’s addiction. If the person’s addiction is relatively mild, then detox services can be received on an outpatient basis, but this does not by any means indicate that it should be done alone. Detox is for your safety and comfort to have the right medications and support. 

Although Ritalin is a milder stimulant, Ritalin withdrawal symptoms are mood-based. What this means is there could be unpredictable and extreme mood swings accompanied by depression and thoughts of suicide. Ritalin withdrawal itself may not harm the individual, but their actions could.

Once the individual has successfully rid their system of Ritalin, the next phase of Ritalin addiction treatment will be to enter an addiction recovery treatment program. To ensure long-term success, it’s imperative that aftercare is sought out after detox. Statistics have shown that the longer someone stays in treatment, the more probable a long-term positive outcome will occur. There is no single solution for treatment, but the odds are in your favor the longer you are in treatment. 

There are different levels of care in substance abuse treatment, and depending on the severity of the addiction, you can either be placed in a residential treatment or outpatient program. The client will participate in therapies geared toward understanding the root of the addiction and learning coping techniques that will be utilized after the completion of treatment. These are tools they can use for the rest of their lives.The client will work alongside their medical team to design a customized treatment plan for their unique needs. While nothing is typical in this situation, it is likely the client will be involved in group counseling and behavioral therapies. This is where you will also devise a relapse prevention plan to take with you.

How Dangerous Is Ritalin?

Ritalin may be perceived as harmless because it is prescribed by a doctor and isn’t an amphetamine such as Adderall, but that does not diminish its danger factor. Combining Ritalin with alcohol is dangerous. When someone consumes Ritalin and drinks, Ritalin masks the effects of the alcohol. On most occasions, when someone who is drinking doesn’t feel the effects they continue to drink, this is where the problem lies. This can significantly increase the likelihood of alcohol poisoning in the body.

Ritalin is especially hard on the heart, and excess Ritalin can create major health problems such as high blood pressure, a heart attack, or even a stroke. These can all be triggered by an overdose of the drug.

If you suspect a Ritalin overdose, signs to watch for include:

  • Vomiting
  • Extreme aggression
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Seizures
  • Spasms
  • Muscle pain
  • Hallucinations
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Psychosis

If someone is exhibiting any of these signs, you need to call 911 immediately. Seeking medical help immediately will be the difference between life or death.

Ritalin Abuse Statistics

Your Recovery Journey Can Start Today

If you or someone you care about is battling with Ritalin addiction and ready to start recovery from substance abuse, Ocean Breeze Recovery can help. We offer outpatient treatment to those that have either completed a residential program or those that can’t afford to put their lives on hold for treatment. We provide medical detox and residential treatment at our sister facility, Arete Recovery.

Call (844) 554-9279 now to speak with one of our addiction recovery specialists about which of our treatment programs is best for you or your loved one. You can also contact us online for more information.

Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Principles of Effective Treatment. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/principles-effective-treatment

Morton, W. A., & Stockton, G. G. (2000, October). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181133/

Ritalin | CESAR. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/ritalin.asp

WebMd. (2000, May 9) Ritalin — Prescriptions Don't Seem to Matter for Some. from https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/childhood-adhd/news/19990101/ritalin-being-used-recreationally#1

Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). (2019 November Retreived) General Prevalence of ADHD. from https://chadd.org/about-adhd/general-prevalence/

PBS.org. Frontline. (2014) Statistics on Stimulant Use. from https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/medicating/drugs/stats.html

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