Ritalin Addiction and Recovery Facts

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Overview of Ritalin Use and Abuse

  • Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that is prescribed to treat symptoms of ADHD and narcolepsy.
  • People commonly abuse it to get high, stay up and study, or lose weight.
  • Those who abuse it will take the pills orally, crush them up and snort them, or inject them.
  • Signs of Ritalin addiction include taking more Ritalin than planned, repeated failure to cut down on use, strong cravings to use and spending lots of time getting Ritalin, and using it and recovering from effects.
  • Withdrawal symptoms include insomnia, increased appetite, fatigue, hypersomnia and vivid, horrific dreams.



What Is Ritalin?

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Ritalin is a brand name for the prescription drug methylphenidate. It is typically prescribed to treat symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, adolescents and adults. An extended release form of the drug, which is also used to treat ADHD, may also be prescribed to treat narcolepsy.

Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant, which means it speeds up brain activity as well as heart rate and blood pressure. Though not fully understood, Ritalin’s effect on ADHD symptoms and narcolepsy is believed to be through its influence on the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. 1, 2

Ritalin may be taken recreationally for euphoria, alertness and improved sense of well-being. Like many stimulant drugs, misuse of Ritalin places users at risk for developing a drug dependency. The yearly Ritalin abuse rate is estimated to be about 4%, and those most likely to abuse Ritalin are white males who abuse other drugs and are affiliated with a fraternity. 6

Street Names

  • Rids.
  • Vitamin R.
  • Smarties.
  • Uppers.
  • Skittles.
  • Kiddie Cocaine.
  • Pineapple.

How to Pay for Recovery and Treatment Options

The cost of a Ritalin recovery program will be based on what type of program it is (inpatient or outpatient), as well as:

  • Your insurance coverage.
  • How long your program is.
  • Where the rehab center is located.
  • Whether it has luxury features such as tennis courts, beach views or chef-prepared meals.

Insurance Options

Treatment for Ritalin Abuse

If you find yourself unable to control your use of Ritalin, you may want to seek substance abuse treatment at an outpatient or inpatient rehabilitation center. Some people also find the support of 12-step programs helpful.

Choosing a Ritalin Recovery Program

It may take some time to figure out which treatment option is right for you.

Think about which factors you want a recovery center to have and learn more about how substance abuse treatment works.

How Is It Used?

Most people either take the pills, crush them up and snort them or inject them.

People typically abuse Ritalin to help them stay up and focus or to experience a euphoric high. People may also use it to lose weight or to enhance performance and attention. Ritalin is commonly abused by high school and college students to improve academic performance but also to get high. It is often taken orally. But it can be abused via alternate routes—including crushing the pills and inhaling the powder or dissolving it into solution to be injected into the bloodstream.

Ritalin Effects

If taken orally

The effects of the drug will peak approximately 1 to 2 hours after administration.2 These effects can last between 4 to 6 hours for the immediate-release form of the drug and between 3 to 9 hours for the extended-release form.

If injected

Ritalin can also be dissolved into a fluid and administered subcutaneously, intramuscularly or intravenously. When injected directly into a vein, the drug’s effects peak around 1 to 3 minutes after administration.

Short-Term Effects

The short-term effects of Ritalin include:

  • Increased alertness.
  • Reduction in fatigue.
  • Elevated mood.
  • Improved sense of well-being.
  • Increased energy.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Reduced sleep duration.

Side Effects

  • High blood pressure.
  • Irregular heartbeat. 4
  • Chest pain. 4
  • Shortness of breath. 4
  • Skin color change in fingers or toes.
  • Vomiting. 4
  • Diarrhea.
  • Fever.
  • Fainting. 4
  • Dizziness. 4
  • Blurred vision. 4
  • Motor or verbal tics.
  • Decreased sexual desire. 4
  • Anxiety.
  • Depression. 4
  • Aggression.
  • Memory problems.
  • Hallucinations. 5
  • Psychosis.5
  • Delirium. 5
  • Seizures.


Long-Term Effects

Abuse and misuse of Ritalin can lead to tolerance and addiction, as well as a number of other serious problems. These include:

  • Insomnia.
  • Depression.
  • Muscle tics.
  • Muscle aches.
  • Rhabdomyolysis (breakdown of muscle tissue).
  • Body temperature dysregulation.
  • Excessive weight loss.
  • Work or school absenteeism.
  • Financial problems.
  • Marital, family and personal difficulties.

Withdrawal Symptoms

According to the DSM-5, withdrawal symptoms can vary in onset. Depending on length of addiction and amount of dose, symptoms can begin from a few hours to a few days after use of Ritalin has stopped.

Major depression is one of the more critical withdrawal symptoms and may require medical attention due to suicidal ideation.

Symptoms of Ritalin Withdrawal
  • Vivid, horrific dreams.
  • Bradycardia.
  • Insomnia.
  • Dysphoria (unease).
  • Fatigue.
  • Hypersomnia.
  • Increased appetite.
  • Major depressive symptoms.
  • Suicidal ideation. 3

Signs and Symptoms of Addiction

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An addiction to Ritalin is a recognized psychiatric condition, diagnosed as a stimulant use disorder. A person must have significant impairment in his or her life, and at least 2 of the following symptoms must be present within a 12-month period for someone to be diagnosed with a stimulant use disorder:3

  • More Ritalin is taken than planned or over a longer period of time.
  • Repeated failure to quit or cut down on using Ritalin.
  • A disproportionate amount of time is spent acquiring Ritalin, using it and recovering from its effects.
  • Extremely strong cravings to use Ritalin.
  • Repeated use despite negative consequences at work, school or home caused by Ritalin use.
  • Continued use despite social and interpersonal problems caused or worsened by Ritalin use.
  • Pleasurable activities and hobbies are given up in favor of Ritalin use.
  • Repeated Ritalin use in physically dangerous situations such as driving or operating machinery.
  • Continued Ritalin use regardless of physical or psychological problems caused or aggravated by drug abuse.
  • Tolerance: needing more Ritalin get the same desired effect or “high” or experiencing less effects over time when taking the same amount of Ritalin.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms specific to Ritalin or taking Ritalin to avoid or relieve symptoms.

How Addictive Is Ritalin?

Ritalin is classified as a Schedule II drug. This means that it is tightly controlled due to the high potential for abuse and psychological and/or physical dependence.

Due to the effects Ritalin has on the reward system of the brain, misusing Ritalin can lead to an addiction as rapidly as 1 week after exposure. 3

Extended-release forms of the drug deliver the medication to the body over time, rather than all at once, making it more difficult to get high.

Overdose Symptoms

Overdose can occur with Ritalin, resulting from an overstimulation of the central nervous system. Overdoses of stimulant medication can lead to very serious heart problems or even death.

If you or someone you know may be suffering from an overdose of Ritalin, call 911 or visit the local emergency room immediately.

Symptoms of Ritalin Overdose
  • Headache.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Vomiting.
  • Wild muscle twitches.
  • Seizures.
  • Convulsions.
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat.
  • Chest pain.
  • Cardiac arrhythmia.
  • Agitation.
  • Confusion.
  • Visual or auditory hallucinations.
  • Delusions. 5
  • Paranoia. 5
  • Obsessive-compulsive behaviors. 5
  • Depersonalization. 5

Teen Ritalin Abuse

About 2.4 million teens a year are prescribed Ritalin. Studies show that stimulant misuse is a growing problem among teens, but there is some suggestion that this risk is slightly lower with Ritalin. Given that Ritalin has been approved for use with children and adolescents, close monitoring for potential abuse is critical among this vulnerable population.1

ADHD Medication Misuse

A high number of young people acquire stimulant medications without a doctor’s prescription, which can result in widespread abuse. But where do people in their 20s get their prescription drugs?

A 2016 Recovery Brands survey revealed that 63% of people between the ages of 18 and 28 get their ADHD medications from friends. More than 20% get access to them via their family members, less than 20% through other students, and more than 14% through a drug dealer.

People with a prescription can help prevent substance misuse by keeping tabs on their stimulant medications.

Where Young People Get Their Prescription ADHD Stimulant Medications

Find Treatment for Addiction

Many recovery options are available for Ritalin addiction. If you or someone you love is struggling with Ritalin, call to speak with one of our treatment support specialists.


[1]. Morton WA and Stockton GG. (2000). Methylphenidate abuse and psychiatric side effects. Primary Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2:159-164.

[2]. Volkow ND, Ding YS, Fowler JS, et al. (1995). Is methylphenidate like cocaine? Studies on their pharmacokinetics and distribution in the human brain. Arch Gen Psychiatry 52:456-463.

[3]. American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed. Arlington, VA, American Psychiatric Publishing.

[4]. National Institutes of Health, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Methylphenidate: MedlinePlus Drug Information. Retrieved October 13, 2015, from https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a682188.html

[5]. Morton, W., & Stockton, G. (2000). Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects. J Clin Psychiatry 2(5): 159-164. Retrieved October 13, 2015, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181133/

[6]. Bogle, K., & Smith, B. (2009). Illicit Methylphenidate Use: A Review of Prevalence, Availability, Pharmacology, and Consequences. Current Drug Abuse Reviewse CDAR, 157-176.

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