What is Ritalin?

Ritalin is a synthetic drug that works as a central nervous system stimulant. It is also known by the names Concerta and Methylphenidate hydrochloride. The commonly used drug Ritalin treats attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Other treatments for adults include narcolepsy and terminal cancer. Ritalin can be taken orally or used as a patch (absorption through the skin). For those who have ADHD, Ritalin helps them focus and improves day-to-day functioning, and reduces restlessness; for those suffering from narcolepsy, the drug helps them stay awake.

Ritalin and the Brain

Ritalin increases the action of certain neurotransmitters by blocking their reabsorption.

This drug alters both dopamine and norepinephrine functions in the brain. Norepinephrine helps regulate arousal, attention, cognitive function, and stress reactions.

Many erroneously believe that Ritalin increases the ability to focus and improves cognitive ability. While the drug acts upon the neurotransmitters that increase focus, it does not increase the learning capacity. Ritalin increases the amount of dopamine in the area of the brain known as the striatum. This area is related to motivation, action, and cognition. In a joint study with Brown University and Radboud University Medical Center, increasing cognitive ability was tested using stimulants such as Ritalin. The study found that those with low levels of dopamine, to begin with, did not pursue the more difficult tasks that were also associated with monetary rewards. Those with higher dopamine levels to start (before taking any drug) were more inclined to complete the more complex tasks. However, there was no correlation between the drug and motivation. Indeed, the study found a risk of poorer decision-making in those starting with higher dopamine levels and the cure because everything seemed like a benefit. Another way of stating this question is, do the drugs increase cognitive ability or motivation?

Ritalin and methylphenidate reach the brain more slowly than other stimulants and do not produce the immediate high of other drugs. Some people take Adderall to help them focus. However, they are all considered Schedule II substances under the Controlled Substances Act. Some people will crush the pills and snort the powder or inject it. This method of ingestion leads more quickly to abuse and addiction.

In general, Ritalin can be abused, leading to psychological and physical dependence. Studies in rats have shown that Ritalin taken by adolescent rats altered brain development and behavioral patterns. The concern for college students who believe this drug increases cognitive abilities is significant. Additionally, taking Ritalin that has not been prescribed can block any action of anti-depression and anti-seizure medications.

Many studies about changes in behaviors of adult abusers of Ritalin have not been conducted. Researchers have seen that people who abuse Ritalin experience similar effects as cocaine, especially when snorted. Absorption, when taken orally, reaches peak concentration in 1-2 hours through the intestinal tract. The drug’s half-life ranges from 2-7 hours. Researchers found that the methylphenidate and cocaine administered intravenously were similar in their uptake into the brain.

“When abused, methylphenidate produces toxicity similar to other CNS stimulant overdoses. The clinical picture of stimulant intoxication produces many symptoms, including schizophrenic symptoms, manic-like states, psychoses, depression (especially during withdrawal), and various anxiety conditions, including panic. Motor and behavioral overdose symptoms may include bruxism, repeated touching or stereotypic confusion, disoriented behavior, punding (obsessive-compulsive tendencies), aggressiveness, and repetitive behaviors.” 

Mild Side Effects of Ritalin

  • Agitation
  • An energized feeling
  • A headache
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Moodiness
  • Nausea
  • Reduced appetite
  • Anxiety

Moderate Side Effects of Ritalin

  • Circulation issues such as reddish skin tones, cold fingers and toes
  • Prolonged breathing issues; rapid breathing
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Blurred vision
  • Mood changes: irritability, hostility, nervousness, depression

Serious Side Effects of Ritalin

  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss, malnutrition
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Heart failure
  • Seizure
  • High body temperature
  • Muscular and joint pain and weakness
  • Twitching muscles
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Pain and prolonged erection lasting more than 4 hours

The number of adults taking Ritalin without a prescription has not been fully quantified. Still, according to a 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than a million adults were taking and misusing stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall. As of 2020, there were 2,441,634 adults prescribed Ritalin. It is known that adults, who are not prescribed Ritalin, get their Ritalin from family and friends. Sadly, though the drug is not to be named for children under six, data shows that children 2-5 are taking the medication. A 2017 study “suggest that some adults who took Ritalin as a child may have lower GABA levels in their brain. Gaba is a naturally occurring amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter. The GABA attaches to a protein called the GABA receptor, which helps regulate feelings of anxiety, stress, and fear.” Lower levels of GABA neurotransmitters can cause anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Ritalin Addiction Treatment

Stimulants like Cocaine, Ritalin, Adderall, and others are habit-forming. If you find yourself looking for more drugs to get a high sensation, if you have turned to combine medications to help you sleep and stay awake, you may suffer from co-occurring drug addiction (addiction to more than one drug). If you are agitated, losing weight, paranoid, aggressive, or depressed, you may suffer from addiction.

There are options for people suffering from stimulant abuse, choices that can lead you to become a productive member of your community. But, as with any disease, an accurate diagnosis is required. The first step is a medically monitored detox (a managed withdrawal from all drugs) which allows for a thorough psycho-social evaluation of your history, mental status, and physical and emotional status. This evaluation may change as your body is detoxified from drugs. Mental health issues that may be underlying or have been caused by a combination of drugs can be diagnosed and treated. After successful completion of detox, best practices (medical recommendations) that you move immediately to substance abuse treatment. Sometimes this means treatment away from family and friends, and sometimes it requires outpatient treatment (3-5 days a week).

Whatever your needs, and your family’s needs, the appropriate treatment plan can be created. Call today and have all your questions answered. You can break free of the bondage of addiction and find a stable path to recovery.