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Ritalin Addiction and Treatment

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Ritalin misuse and addiction has been a longstanding issue in America.1,2 A 2020 survey showed that 5.1 million Americans aged 12 or older had misused prescription stimulants (a category that includes Ritalin) within the last year.1 People aged 18 to 25 are most likely to misuse prescription stimulants.1

This article will explore what Ritalin is, its side effects, the signs and symptoms of Ritalin addiction, and how to get help.

What Is Ritalin?

Ritalin is a trade name for methylphenidate, a prescription stimulant that is approved to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.3,4 It is a Schedule II controlled substance, which means that it has a high risk of misuse and addiction.3,5 Similar stimulant medicines also used in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy include Concerta (methylphenidate), Adderall (dextroamphetamine/amphetamine), Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine), and Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine).2,6

Ritalin increases the activity of dopamine in the brain, which activates the brain’s reward system.5,7 Dopamine is a chemical that is involved in reward and reinforcement of thoughts and behaviors, as well as brain processes that control impulse, motivation, and focus levels.5,7 This makes Ritalin very effective for managing ADHD symptoms, but it also leads some people without a prescription to misuse it. Ritalin and other prescription stimulants are misused for many reasons, including as study aids or to improve memory, to feel less drunk, to get high, to lose weight, or to ease withdrawal symptoms from other stimulants.3,6

What Are the Side Effects of Ritalin?

Even when you take stimulants like Ritalin exactly as your doctor tells you to, they can cause unwanted side effects.4 Some common side effects of Ritalin and other prescription stimulants include:4,6,8

  • Increased blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. If your doctor prescribed Ritalin, they will check these regularly to ensure your safety.
  • Headache.
  • Sleep troubles.
  • Anxiety.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Stomach pain.
  • Nausea.
  • Feeling dizzy.

Call your doctor right away if you have any of the following serious Ritalin side effects:4

  • Chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting.
  • Fingers or toes are numb, painful, or change color.
  • Painful erection that won’t go away.
  • Seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations).
  • Believing things that aren’t real (psychosis).
  • Feeling suspicious of others (paranoia).

Health Risks of Ritalin Misuse

There is no evidence to suggest that using prescription stimulants like Ritalin as your doctor prescribed (this is called “therapeutic use”) increases (or decreases) the likelihood of developing a stimulant use disorder.6,8 Therapeutic use of Ritalin also does not increase the risk of serious negative health events, although data is limited.12 Misusing prescription stimulants like Ritalin, however, does increase your risk of negative health effects, which may include: 4–6,8

  • Tolerance, dependence, and addiction, which we’ll discuss more below.
  • Stroke and heart attack (this risk increases with higher doses).
  • Hostile, paranoid, or aggressive behavior.
  • Severe weight loss and poor nutrition.
  • If pills are crushed and injected: damage to veins and blood vessels from fillers in the tablets and increased risk of diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.

Long-term misuse of prescription stimulants like Ritalin is also associated with new or worsening mental health complications such as:4,5

Ritalin Tolerance, Dependence, and Addiction

Regular Ritalin use, either misuse or even therapeutic use, can lead to tolerance and dependence.6,9,11 Tolerance means that you need higher doses of a drug to get the same effects.6,9 Dependence means that your brain and body have adapted to the regular presence of the drug and that you will have withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking the drug or suddenly reduce your dose.11

Tolerance and dependence can lead to addiction. Addiction, or substance use disorder (SUD), is a chronic disease that affects how you think and behave and involves uncontrollable drug use, no matter the harms it causes in your life.9,11 Symptoms of addiction can include:9

  • Taking Ritalin in higher doses or for longer than intended.
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about or using Ritalin or recovering from its effects.
  • Cravings to use Ritalin.

That said, only a qualified professional can diagnose you with a stimulant use disorder.

Ritalin Withdrawal

As stated, if you regularly misuse Ritalin or other stimulants and greatly reduce your dose or suddenly stop taking it, you may develop withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms may include:6,9,10

  • Fatigue.
  • Depressed mood, or depression. In some cases, depression may be severe and include suicidal thoughts or behaviors.
  • Increased hunger.
  • Moving and thinking more slowly.
  • Nightmares or vivid dreams.
  • Sleeping more or less than usual.
  • Drug cravings.

Which symptoms you have and how bad they are depends on how much Ritalin you use, how long you’ve been taking it, your overall health, and whether you also use alcohol or other drugs.10 Note that if you are taking Ritalin under a doctor’s care, they will help you taper your doses to reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms.

How to Treat Ritalin Addiction and Withdrawal

The good news is that Ritalin addiction can be treated in a number of different settings. Which treatment setting is right for you depends on your unique needs.12 Some common treatment settings include:10,11

  • Professional medical detox, which will help you safely manage your withdrawal symptoms. Detox can happen in both inpatient and outpatient settings.
  • Inpatient rehab, which involves living at a treatment facility 24/7 and getting structured support, group and individual therapy, and other care as needed.
  • Outpatient rehab often offers the same resources and tools as inpatient treatment, but you live at home and can still take care of your daily responsibilities.

Most treatment settings will likely involve a range of behavioral therapy techniques that have been proven effective at treating stimulant addiction, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management.11 Therapy can help you learn the skills you need to stop misusing stimulants, build relapse prevention skills, learn effective coping strategies, and improve communication and relationships.11

Finding Treatment for Ritalin Abuse

If you are ready to stop using Ritalin or other prescription stimulants and take back control of your life, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. AAC is one of the leading providers of Ritalin addiction treatment in Nevada and across the nation. We offer tailored treatment plans and support through every step of recovery, from medical detox to outpatient treatment to aftercare services. To learn more about how AAC can help you begin your recovery journey, call our free, confidential helpline 24/7 at or you can text us.

Does your insurance cover ritalin treatment in Las Vegas? 

Check your insurance coverage or text us your questions to learn more about treatment by American Addiction Centers (AAC).