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Edited & clinically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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Advancement in medical science has provided human beings an easy escape from different ailments. Almost every condition possesses an appropriate treatment method and drugs that aid in the regression or recovery from that particular disease. Apart from the useful benefits of the drugs, some individuals, especially youngsters, start taking some drugs to get their desired effects or feelings without a prescription from a professional. Or they misuse the prescribed drugs. Ritalin is also one of those prescription drugs that are misused or abused by many individuals in today’s time which can cause addiction.

Ritalin, the generic name Methylphenidate, is a central nervous stimulant drug widely used for the treatment of Attention Deficient Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Sometimes, it is also prescribed for the treatment of narcolepsy (A chronic sleep disorder).

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Ritalin, when used, imparts a calming effect to the body. Moreover, the use of this drug helps the user to focus on his tasks. The stimulant nature of this drug increases the ability to pay more attention as well as helps in controlling behavioral problems. Improved listening skills are also observed because of the use of Ritalin. 

Ritalin, when used, modifies the dopamine and norepinephrine activity in the brain. Ritalin blocks the reabsorption of these neurotransmitters into the brain neurons. Like other stimulants, such as amphetamine and cocaine, Ritalin increases the level of dopamine that is a crucial neurotransmitter for the activation of the reward system of the brain. What actions reward system of the brain do?

  • The Reward system of the brain triggers the production of dopamine.
  • Increased production affects attention span, movement, and pleasure.
  • That also induces alertness, concentration, and wakefulness.
  • At higher doses, Ritalin switches on the feelings of euphoria and increases energy level in the body.
  • On the other hand, norepinephrine imparts a stimulant effect.

The active ingredient of Ritalin is methylphenidate that has stimulatory effects. This drug works by increasing neurotransmitters level by:

  • Actively blocking reabsorption of norepinephrine and dopamine into the neurons of the brain
  • Blocking their production by the dopamine transporter (DAT) and norepinephrine transporter (NAT)
  • Increasing the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the synaptic cleft

Although Ritalin is considered a safe medicine to use. But if you take more than the recommended dose or without a prescription, you can experience some side effects. These side effects may include:

  • Anxiety
  • Loss of appetite
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Palpitations
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness
  • Headache
  • Vision problems
  • Sweating
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Tingling
  • Stomach pain
  • Psychosis

Ritalin is generally used to treat problems in adults and children having ADHD. By activating the reward system, this drug improves the intensity of happiness and makes them more attentive towards their tasks.

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Taking it in a higher dose is associated with euphoria and increased energy level. Individuals can achieve a specific ‘high’ after taking a high dose of Ritalin. This characteristic makes it susceptible to addiction. Moreover, Ritalin also mimics the function of cocaine that makes it an addictive substance.  Also, this can deal with food addiction and eating disorders. It helps them in suppression of appetite and decreases the unusual food intake. That makes it more favorite pill for the obese or for the people who want to cut off their hunger.

Ritalin is also known as a ‘smart drug’ because of its phenomenal effects on the body. This drug is also included in ‘uppers’ that help in getting a desired high. Professionals, students, and commoners abuse Ritalin that leads to addiction to this drug. Why do they need to use a higher dose to get their required effects? The reason is Ritalin at therapeutic doses does not impart euphoria. Therefore, they need a higher dose to get feelings of euphoria. The question is still unanswered: why do they abuse Ritalin?

Reasons of abuse:

 The simple and authentic reason is energy and an escape from their worries in the form of euphoria that makes people abuse Ritalin. Other reasons are:

  • To Increase Productivity: Professionals use it to increase the productivity of the mind at the workplace. On the other hand, students do it to get excellent results in their studies
  • To manage workload: Increased workload always seems hectic. To manage workload efficiently individuals use a high dose of Ritalin
  • To get a high: Many people abuse Ritalin just to get a required high without knowing the consequences of this abuse
  • For weight loss: Ritalin suppresses appetite and is a drug of choice for obese and many others who want to lose weight or cut off their unwanted hunger
  • To get the sharpness of mind: As a drug that imparts energy, Ritalin sharpens the mind of an individual. That helps him to focus on his doings. That also led to the abuse of Ritalin to get the sharpness.
  • To get concentration: Ritalin improves concentration that helps to focus on work or tasks easily.

People with ADHD take Ritalin once a day on the prescription of a professional. On getting good vibes and energy, they start taking more than one pill in a day and eventually end up on addiction. They rely on Ritalin and develop a tolerance that means they require more dose to get their desired effects.

At the start, they take Ritalin in the form of pills. But, over time, they start taking it in powder form by crushing them or directly injected into the body. Also, some students sell their prescriptions to others to help them in their studies and make them addicted to Ritalin.

Signs and symptoms of drug abuse are two totally different terms in their context. Some people confuse these two terms. And, when they get to know about the negative consequences, the symptoms of abuse, it has been too late to prevent these symptoms at a stroke. People should know the signs of drug abuse that will assist them in rehab as early as possible. The signs of Ritalin abuse are:

Physical signs of Ritalin Abuse

If a person is abusing Ritalin, he will experience some visible changes that will be marked as physical signs of abuse. These signs may vary from person to person but, the most commonly observed signs may include:

  • Intake of Ritalin more than the prescribed dose
  • Cravings of Ritalin abuse
  • No proper performance of tasks or work related to office or study
  • Use of Ritalin even after troublesome experiences
  • No interest in activities related to hobbies, work or study due to drug effects
  • Continuous intake of Ritalin even in dangerous situations
  • Taking drugs even after the worse health condition
  • Development of tolerance due to prolonged use of Ritalin
  • Increased urge of higher dose intake than usual to get desired effects
  • Experience of withdrawal symptoms when trying to cut off or even reduction of Ritalin dose

Behavioral signs of Ritalin Abuse

Abuse of Ritalin substantially affects the behavior of a person. His behavior will markedly change which shows he is abusing this drug instead of taking it according to the prescription. The signs of behavioral changes are:

  • Change in the company (addition of those people in the circle that are also abusing this drug or are using any other type of drugs)
  • Use of street names for Ritalin so that no one can know about it(kiddie coke, vitamin R, Diet coke, Smarties, Skittles)
  • Unusual food bingeing other than the normal foods
  • Sudden and severe mood swings
  • No heed towards personal hygiene or self-grooming
  • Use of the internet to find more about Ritalin
  • Having money than usual because of selling of drugs or stealing
  • Untypically taking loans and most of the time not paying it back
  • Manipulative and Deceitful change in the behavior
  • No eye contact with anyone

Ritalin abuse by ADHD patients manifests different symptoms than the symptoms in non-ADHD individuals. These symptoms may vary in both situations but can be worse in individuals abusing Ritalin without prescription. The most common symptoms may cover:

  • Anxiety
  • Hallucinations
  • OCD-like syndrome
  • Chest pain
  • Agitation
  • Abnormal movements
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Sweating
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dilated pupil
  • General nervousness
  • Social withdrawal
  • Altered sexual desire
  • Fatigue and depression
  • Impaired vision

Many people observe symptoms of abuse but they do not pay heed. The main reason behind that ignorant behavior is the energy and euphoric feelings. Because of that, they also seem normal and no one can judge whether they are abusing the Ritalin or are naturally happy and full of lively emotions and energy.

Continuous abuse of Ritalin will exhibit side effects of the drug. These side effects will vary in an ADHD and a non-ADHD person. They can be either short-term side effects that will vanish over time. Or,  they can be long-term and will take great efforts to disappear. Long-term side effects may also last forever.

Short-term side effects:

Short-term side effects of Ritalin abuse may include:

  • Facial Flushing
  • Excitation
  • Formication (Feelings of a bug crawling under the skin)
  • Stomach ache
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Heart palpitations
  • Convulsions

Long-term side effects:

Long-term side effects of Ritalin abuse may cover:

  • Delusions
  • Mania
  • Grandiosity
  • Increased GABA level in the brain
  • Paranoia
  • Increased heart rate
  • Hypertension
  • Panic attacks
  • Respiratory depression
  • Seizures
  • Suppressed appetite

A person suffering from a psychotic disease like bipolar disorder experiences more severe side effects than a normal person. A professional should ask about the history of the patient before prescribing the drug to avoid undesired and fatal side effects.

Dependence and addiction hold a vast difference. Talking about the dependence, it is referred to as physical reliance on Ritalin. That may include the development of tolerance against Ritalin use. You also experience withdrawal symptoms when you stop using Ritalin. Dependence can occur without the addiction of Ritalin or we can say that dependence is just an early prediction of addiction of the drug.

However, addiction to Ritalin is something totally different. Addiction manifests behavioral changes due to biochemical alterations in the brain. Use of substance (Ritalin) becomes the only priority of the addict without considering the harms of the drug to the body. Addiction can cause the individual to behave irrationally with the persons around him when he does not get the addiction substance.

Taking Ritalin more than the recommended dose can be habitual. This habit of yours can cause you to take more than the usual dose leading to tolerance. Development of tolerance will reinforce you to take a higher dose of the drug to get desired effects pushing you towards the overdose of Ritalin. Overdose can be dangerous for many vital organs of the body including the heart putting you in a fatal condition.

Causes of Ritalin overdose

The main point of overdose originates because of these situations:

  • Gradual dependence of the person on Ritalin
  • Taking Ritalin along with alcohol or other narcotic drugs
  • Frequent use of the drug at small intervals of time in a day
  • Addiction of Ritalin
  • To avoid withdrawal symptoms while cutting off the drug

Signs of Ritalin overdose

Overdosing of Ritalin will exhibit some signs that will indicate a person is abusing the drug. These signs can be moderate to severe depending upon how much dose of Ritalin a person is taking. Some of the signs of overdose are:

  • Agitation
  • Muscle twitching
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Seizures
  • Blurred vision
  • Delirium
  • Aggression
  • Diarrhea
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Muscle weakness and pain
  • Hyperactive reflexes
  • Tachycardia
  • Restlessness
  • Fainting
  • Irritability
  • Tremors
  • Paranoia
  • Excessive sweating

How much Ritalin to overdose?

The recommended daily dose of Ritalin is 60 mg per day. Some people also take one milligram per kg of their weight to get more happy results. The Ritalin overdose amount is much more than the recommended dose. That makes it surpassing the title from higher dose to overdose that can be fatal. But, the amount of overdose varies from person to person. For some individuals, only a small dose can be an overdose. While for others, who are dependent on it, an extremely large dose is considered an overdose.

Ritalin overdose side effects

Experiencing side effects while taking an overdose of the Ritalin is quite a common notion. These are rather an assurance of overdose that will help you to save yourself or your loved ones from hazardous conditions. That will indicate that they need your help. These side effects include:

  • Increased sweating and shakiness
  • Irregular and rapid heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Anger issues and aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Vomiting
  • Pneumonia due to material inhaled
  • Dehydration and diarrhea
  • Seizures leading to the seizure disorder
  • Delusions and Imaginative thinking
  • Cardiac problems

As a stimulant drug, Ritalin should not be taken with other stimulant drugs. Taking them together will cause severe overreaction of the CNS. Also, Ritalin should not be taken with alcohol. As, this can lead to increased blood pressure, anxiety, depression, rapid heart rate, and sleep problems.

Drugs that Interact with Ritalin:

The over the counter drugs that can interact with Ritalin may include:

  • Blood thinners
  • Cold and cough medications
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  • Decongestants
  • Antidepressants
  • Seizure medications
  • High blood pressure medications

Although Ritalin is not considered too fatal to use during pregnancy, still it is not safe to use during pregnancy. Because of its use, pregnant women can be at the risk of preeclampsia, a condition comprising complicated pregnancy with increased blood pressure, swollen hands and feet, and secretion of protein in the urine. Also, intake of Ritalin during the first trimester of pregnancy can affect the fetus resulting in risks of defective heart.

Is Ritalin safe to use during Breastfeeding?

Yes, Ritalin is safe to use during breastfeeding. Ritalin has the tendency to enter breast milk because of its greater solubility and smile size. But, only a low amount of Ritalin passes into the breastmilk that is why it cannot harm the nursing infant. The mothers can take their prescribed dose of Ritalin while breastfeeding their babies.