Ritalin (Methylphenidate) Addiction and Treatment Options

The United States produces and consumes as much as 85 percent of the world’s production of Ritalin, according to The United Nations.

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What Is Ritalin?

Ritalin (Methylphenidate) is an amphetamine-like central nervous system stimulant, used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, adolescents, and adults. Ritalin is the most common brand name for methylphenidate, however, it is also sold as sustained or extended release form under the names:

  • Aptensio XR
  • Concerta
  • Cotempla
  • Metadate CD
  • Methylin ER
  • Quillichew ER
  • Qulillivant

Ritalin was first synthesized in 1944, and in 1957 was marketed as being able to treat chronic fatigue, depression, psychosis, narcolepsy, and offset the sedating effects of other medications. Further research on Ritalin’s therapeutic value was done throughout the 1950’s and by the 1960’s Ritalin was being used to treat “hyperkinetic syndrome,” now known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The production of methylphenidate in the United States experienced a 6-fold increase in production from 1990 to 1995, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). And the number of children diagnosed with ADHD has increased 2.5-fold in this same time period. Currently, methylphenidate has a schedule II status, meaning that the DEA has claimed it to have a high potential for abuse and may lead to severe psychological and physical dependence.

Ritalin helps people with ADHD by looping the dopamine back to the neuron that sent it. This feedback-loop allows the person to focus for longer periods of time. In fact, when taken orally, Ritalin slowly raises dopamine levels after an hour or so. In comparison, when inhaled or injected, cocaine reacts with the brain mere seconds, to produce an instant “high.”

Intended for oral digestion, Ritalin comes in 5, 10, and 20 mg water-soluble tablets. People abusing Ritalin will usually crush the tablets, in order to snort or inject the powder intravenously, to increase the amphetamine-like effects.

When injected or snorted Ritalin may produce euphoric effects, this is why it is considered to have high abuse potential. Similar to other stimulants like cocaine or amphetamine, Ritalin increases dopamine activity within the reward center of the brain.

Signs And Symptoms Of Ritalin Addiction And Abuse

Abuse vs. Addiction

Drug abuse, as defined by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is when a person uses illegally or legally obtained drugs in an inappropriate manner. This includes repeated drug use in an attempt to avoid or alter one’s reality, relieve stress, or to have fun.

Addiction, as defined by the NIDA only occurs when a person can’t control the psychological urge to use drugs even when there is a high possibility of self-harm and death. They will do anything, spend any amount of money, to obtain the drug of choice they have become addicted to.

Therapeutic dosages of Ritalin usually start between 5-10 mg a few times a day, not to exceed 60 mg daily. While people addicted to Ritalin may take upwards of hundreds of milligrams a day, quickly increasing the rate to which they build a tolerance to the drug and its desired effects.

When taken intravenously, Ritalin produces similar effects to that of cocaine. Releasing an instant rush of dopamine to the brain and flooding the system with an intense feeling of happiness and well being.

Some short-term effects, in low doses of Ritalin, include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Increased alertness
  • Euphoria
  • A headache
  • Skin rash
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea & vomiting

Some short-term effects, in high doses of Ritalin, include:

  • Exhilaration and flushing of the skin
  • Easily agitated
  • Involuntary muscle twitching
  • Hallucinations or paranoia
  • Increased pulse
  • Fever & sweating
  • Overwhelming anxiety
  • Delerium
  • Formication (the sensation of bugs crawling under the skin)

Another potential sign of Ritalin abuse includes lesions at the injection sites for the drug (usually the bend in the arm). These lesions are caused by the talcum filler from the crushed tablets that are not fully dissolved in water.

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The Dangers Of Ritalin Addiction

Long-term effects of therapeutic doses of Ritalin are not clearly known at this time, however, it has been shown, in some studies, to potentially suppress growth and weight gain in children. When more than the recommended dose of Ritalin is consumed the outcome can be volatile.

Ritalin may cause sudden death, heart attack or stroke, especially in people who have heart defects or other serious heart issues. You should inform your doctor right away if you start to feel chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting.

People with preexisting mood disorders like bipolar disorder may also experience negative side effects when taking Ritalin. Working together to increase and heighten the mood swings that are already being experienced due to the disorder.

The long-term effects of consuming abusive doses of Ritalin include anxiety and sleeplessness. It has also been shown that taking high doses of Ritalin, on a daily basis, can result in a toxic state that resembles acute paranoia. Chronic, heavy use of Ritalin can also lead to physical dependence, which can lead to unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms.

Signs And Symptoms Of Ritalin Withdrawal

Withdrawal symptoms of Ritalin include exhaustion and severe emotional depression. Ritalin abusers who become psychologically dependent may experience cravings for the drug and feelings of panic if the drug becomes temporarily unavailable.

Directly after stopping to take Ritalin, a person may feel sad, anxious, and experience intense cravings for the drug. After the initial detox if over, the mental and physical exhaustion kicks in and the depression tends to worsen.

Medically-Supervised Detoxification From Ritalin

Depending on the length of the addictive behavior, and the dose tolerance of the person, some people may feel the effects of withdrawal anywhere from twelve hours to multiple weeks. One of the largest risks during withdrawal is an increased depressed state accompanied by suicidal tendencies.

This is why it is considered best, to begin with a medically-supervised, or inpatient Ritalin detox program. So that if the person going through the detox stages of increased depression does become suicidal they will have a support system in place to assist them. Instead of facing the addiction on their own, which almost never works.

After completing an inpatient detox it is possible that an outpatient treatment could be beneficial in the treatment of Ritalin addiction because the remainder of the physical complications is not considered to be life-threatening. In most people, these symptoms are limited to general loss of energy and fatigue.

Treatment For Ritalin Addiction

The Matrix Model has shown to be successful in treating stimulant addiction, such as Ritalin. This model provides the participant with knowledge of issues surrounding addiction and relapse, while also providing support from a trained therapist. Participants in a Matrix Model often are monitored for drug use through urine testing.

Treatment length will vary by person, depending on when they began taking Ritalin, whether as a child or an adult. The longer the course of time this stimulant is taken the more it impacts the structure of the brain and the harder it can be to break the physical dependence on the drug.

Want To Find Out More About Ritalin Addiction And Treatment?

Addiction is nearly impossible to overcome by yourself. If you would like to find out more information about Ritalin Addiction and treatment options available contact us at InpatientDrugRehab.net. One of our specialists can assist you in finding the information you need to help yourself or a loved one today.

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Center for Substance Abuse Research – Ritalin
National Institute on Drug Abuse – Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines, The Matrix Model (Stimulants)
U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health – Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects

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