Concerta is a prescription stimulant that doctors use to treat symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. It is made from methylphenidate, the same active ingredient contained in Ritalin, an older quick-acting stimulant. Concerta is a long-acting drug that is usually taken once per day.
Ritalin was one of the most popular prescription stimulants from the time it was introduced in the 1950s until the introduction of Adderall in the ‘90s. Today, extended-release and long-acting stimulants, such as Concerta, are growing in popularity. In total, prescriptions for drugs containing methylphenidate grew from 15.7 million in 2011 to 16.3 million in 2012.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration classifies methylphenidate as a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning it has a very high potential for psychological and physical dependence. When people with ADHD use Concerta, it usually helps them concentrate and succeed in school or at work. When people without ADHD abuse it, Concerta can have dangerous side effects and can lead to prescription drug addiction.
Concerta is usually abused by individuals who want to feel more alert or focused. It’s also commonly abused in combination with other substances. For example, people might take Concerta while drinking alcohol to stay awake longer.
College students who abuse Concerta hope the drug will help them study or increase their learning ability. However, studies indicate that people who abuse ADHD medications possess lower GPAs than those who don’t.
Abusing Concerta can be extremely dangerous. More than 4,700 people were sent to the emergency department after abusing the drug in 2010. That number grew to 6,395 in 2011. Some individuals crush Concerta and snort it or inject it with water to feel its effects more rapidly. But doing so drastically increases a person’s risk for overdose and addiction.
People who take Concerta for extended periods of time eventually become physically dependent on it. The brain gets used to the drug’s presence and goes into withdrawal when a person stops taking it. Abusing Concerta disrupts communication in the brain even more drastically, increasing the risk for addiction — a chronic disease in which people make compulsive, harmful decisions to consume the drug.
However, people with ADHD who take Concerta do not usually suffer from addiction. People who take Concerta without a prescription, in higher doses than prescribed or in ways other than their doctor prescribed are more likely to develop an addiction.
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People who take Concerta to manage ADHD rarely experience major side effects. The drug can cause minor side effects in the first days or weeks of use while a person’s body gets used to it.
Common side effects include:
People who take high doses of Concerta or who snort or inject it are more likely to suffer severe side effects. The drug can block blood vessels when injected, damaging the eyes and lungs.
Other side effects of Concerta abuse include:
Methylphenidate — the active ingredient in Concerta — is chemically similar to cocaine. It can cause death by overdose if it is abused. Signs of overdose include extreme confusion, dry mouth, vomiting and hallucination.
Quitting Concerta abruptly after long-term use can cause a range of withdrawal symptoms. The duration and severity of withdrawal people experience depend on the extent of the addiction, the dose they are used to taking and the length of time they have been taking the drug.
Concerta withdrawal symptoms include:
No medication can effectively ease withdrawal symptoms from prescription stimulants, but health professionals at addiction treatment centers can help people recovering from Concerta addiction feel more comfortable during detox.
Therapists use a variety of behavioral therapies, such as contingency management and cognitive behavioral therapy, that have proven to be effective in treating addiction to other stimulants. People recovering from Concerta addiction should seek support from friends and family to limit their exposure to risk factors that could lead to relapse.
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