Ritalin is among the most popular medications for the treatment of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and it’s arguably the most widely known. The drug is a stimulant that’s effective in improving focus, concentration, and alertness. However, it’s also abused, especially on college campuses. But Ritalin is unique in that when it’s abused, it’s not necessarily for recreation.
While college students may drink alcohol or use drugs in party settings, Ritalin is used to get ahead. A student may take it during an all-night cram session to stay awake and focused during long study hours. Still, Ritalin and other stimulants can be dangerous when used outside of a prescription.
Ritalin is mild compared to illicit stimulants of abuse like cocaine and meth, but it’s not without its potential health risks. It can cause insomnia, stomach problems, headache, and anorexia. It’s not as addictive as some other psychoactive drugs, but it can cause psychological addiction, especially when a student believes they need the drug to succeed.
If you or someone you know has been using Ritalin, it may be helpful to learn the signs of abuse and addiction. Knowing the signs might help you seek help and address the issues sooner, avoiding more serious consequences.
What is Ritalin?
Ritalin is the brand name for a drug called methylphenidate, which is a medicinal stimulant that’s used to treat disorders like ADHD and narcolepsy. The medication can be taken in the form of a patch, tablet, capsule, or a liquid. People with ADHD often have issues that cause a lack of excitatory activity in the central nervous system. Ritalin can help by affecting the excitatory neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine. The result is an increase in focus that allows people to concentrate on a single task. It also helps to combat fatigue and keep users alert.
Ritalin indirectly affects dopamine and, to a lesser extent, serotonin by blocking a process known as reuptake. This is the process that allows neurotransmitters to be reabsorbed into the nerve cell that sent it and recycled. When reuptake is blocked, dopamine and serotonin are left to bind to more receptors, causing a more intense effect. In people with disorders that affect attention and energy levels, it can correct a lack of focus and sleepiness.
As with other stimulants, however, some adverse effects that come with Ritalin use, including anxiety, irritability, lethargy, dizziness, nausea, dry mouth, and loss of appetite. Ritalin also can cause a slight feeling of a euphoric high when it is first taken. The quick release of the dopamine reuptake inhibiting drug can cause feelings of excitement and a lifted mood. This feature gives it a moderate addiction liability.
What are the Signs of Ritalin Addiction?
Though Ritalin has a very low risk of physical dependence and only a moderate risk for psychological dependence, it is recognized to have a significant risk of abuse. Even though the risk for addiction is very small, the drug has seen widespread use outside of prescribed medication, especially on college campuses. However, it’s not typically used as a recreational drug, even in a college setting. Instead, it’s used as a performance-enhancing drug, specifically for the purpose of boosting study ability and test scores.
The pressures of academic life can be overwhelming, especially for a young college student. The allure of a drug that can improve your focus, help maintain concentration for longer periods, and keep you awake and alert for late night cram sessions is clear. Everything it takes to get to the top of your class may seem like fair game, especially when it comes to highly competitive fields like law and medicine. Even students who hadn’t considered using Ritalin to get ahead might change their minds when other students start using it and gain an advantage.
Even though Ritalin use disorders are largely caused by psychological and social factors, it can be a dangerous drug to abuse. It can cause weight loss, appetite suppression, sleeplessness, anxiety, irritability, lethargy, and dizziness. These symptoms coupled with the stress of academic life can have adverse effects on your overall health.
Even though it’s not chemically addictive, Ritalin abuse can manifest in clear symptoms, some of them physical. Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms of a substance use disorder involving Ritalin:
- Loss of appetite
- Stomach pain
- Heart palpitations
- Strange sleep schedule
- Weight loss
More serious side effects can occur in rare circumstances, including seizures, blurred vision, changes in eyesight, hypertension, paranoia, and depression. If you or someone you know might be exhibiting these symptoms, they may have a substance use disorder involving Ritalin or another stimulant. If you try and fail to stop using Ritalin because you feel like you need it, or you have strong compulsions to continue, you may be psychologically addicted. However, there is help available.
How Does Ritalin Addiction Recovery Work?
Addiction treatment is a process that seeks to address the medical, psychological, and social issues that come with a substance use disorder. It may also address underlying issues that aren’t directly related to your addiction. Treatment often starts with medical detoxification. Addiction can cause a variety of medical concerns, especially withdrawal symptoms. Ritalin withdrawal symptoms are typically mild compared to other drugs of abuse. However, it can cause fatigue, depression, insomnia, and heart complications in some people. Excessive Ritalin abuse can lead to other health concerns like malnutrition because the drug suppresses your appetite.
When you enter treatment, clinicians and medical professionals will help determine whether medical detox is the right first step for your needs. The intake and assessment process is an important step in treatment. Along with your therapist, you may complete a biopsychosocial assessment, which is a questionnaire that’s designed to pinpoint some of your most pressing needs and concerns to be addressed in treatment.
Besides Detox, there are Three Other Levels of Care in Addiction Treatment Including:
- Inpatient services. This can include residential treatment. Inpatient is ideal for people with a high level of need because of medical, psychological, or social factors.
- Intensive outpatient services. This is the highest level of care for people who are able to live independently. It involves at least more than nine hours of clinical services every week and maybe as many hours as a typical work week.
- Outpatient services. This involves less than nine hours of clinical services every week. Outpatient is an ideal step between more intensive treatment options and complete independence.
After treatment, your facility may connect you to more community resources through an aftercare program. Continuing your commitment to recovery after treatment is the best way to bolster your relapse prevention plan.
Ritalin Abuse Stats
- 20% of students take Ritalin on a regular basis, though more unreported use is likely.
- Ritalin is used to treat ADHD which affects 3% to 5% of children.
In 2014, there were Ritalin 922,200 prescriptions.