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Ritalin, popularized as a medication for children with ADHD, is now prescribed to thousands of people a year unnecessarily. Patterns of abuse and addiction are common, but help is available for those in need.

  • Drug Name Ritalin
  • Addiction Liability High
  • Scientific Name Methylphenidate
  • Street Names Kiddie Cocaine, Diet Coke, Rids, Skittles, Smarties, Vitamin R
  • How It's Used Swallowed, Snorted
  • Side Effects Irregular Heartbeat, Fever, Confusion, Anxiety, Twitching, Psychosis
  • Psychological Dependence Very High
  • Physical Dependence Very High

Is Ritalin Addictive?

Ritalin — brand name of the drug methylphenidate — invaded the drug market much like Adderall and Oxycontin, two other massively notorious prescription drugs. Although popularized in the pharmaceutical world as an effective treatment for ADHD, doctors began to misdiagnose patients and overprescribe the drug. Soon the drug was in homes around the country, and being resold illegally as a recreational stimulant.

Patient taking prescription from Doctor

Ritalin is one of the most prescribed drugs in the country, and one of the most freely consumed as well.

One liberal arts college reported that half the students knew someone who took the drug for fun, and 16 percent had used it themselves — most of whom had tried snorting it. What was designed as a medication to help people has quickly devolved into a casual substance, and a gateway to abuse, addiction and in some cases, death.

You may hear about the drug whispered about in your classroom or study group. Much like Adderall, Ritalin helps students gain on an edge when taking exams and writing papers. Students also take the pill because of the buzz it renders, which in high doses can be similar to the effects of some narcotics.

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Ritalin, a so-called “psychostimulant,” increases focus in users with ADHD, and used properly and in low doses can be very helpful in controlling the disorder. But for people without ADHD who take the medication — either getting it off the black market of through a misdiagnosis of ADHD by a doctor — this potent drug can be addictive and severely harmful to the brain.

Studies to date suggest that prescribed use of methylphenidate in patients with ADHD does not increase their risk for subsequent addiction. However non-medical use of methylphenidate and other stimulant medications, can lead to addiction as well as a variety of other health consequences.

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)

Dr. Yong Kim, lead author of a Ritalin study by NIDA, called its effects on some part of the brain as “greater than those of cocaine.”

Taking Ritalin

Like cocaine, people often snort Ritalin to get a sudden burst of energy. (Users crush pills into a powder.) High school and college students flock to these pills, seeing them as a study aid and general stimulant. While students may think they’re taking a relatively harmless drug, they’re actually establishing a hazardous relationship with a serious medication.

In one recent study, at least 16 percent of children who were prescribed Ritalin or similar drugs were asked to sell, give or trade the pills by their peers.

Dr. John Kulli filed a petition to the FDA in 2006 to reformulate drugs like methylphenidate (Ritalin) into a non-pill form to make them not crushable and removing any ability to short or inject it. Kulli theorized that this would drastically cut down on recreational use, abuse and addiction. His petition was rejected.

Meanwhile, doctors continue to hand out Ritalin, and it’s impossible to track prescriptions as they leave the office, potentially being resold among friends or coworkers of the patient.

It is also impossible by current standards to ensure every patient prescribed Ritalin actually has ADHD. With every misdiagnosis, doctors put patients — and whomever patients decide to share the pills with — in harm’s way.

There is no question that the modern student is smart, and smart enough to go to a doctor and to tell them exactly what the symptoms are of attention-deficit disorder, to get stimulants. There’s a group of people getting the prescription not to use it themselves, but to sell it.

Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, medical director of the Florida Recovery Center at the University of Florida.

Risks of Ritalin Abuse

Many cases of heavy Ritalin abuse result in strokes and heart problems. Like other intense stimulants, the medication overstimulates the heart rate and blood pressure and then weakens heart muscles. Over time, this can leave the heart vulnerable to failure.

Irregular heartbeat from Ritalin use is responsible for multiple reported deaths in children over the years.

Ritalin also stunts growth In children and teens. One study showed that average monthly weight gain was reduced by 25 percent in children taking the drug. In addition to suppressing appetite, Ritalin abuse causes notable dysfunction in the production of vital growth hormones. This can impede growth processes in the brain, heart and lungs — not just the physical body.

Dependency is an inherent risk in users diagnosed with ADHD; not just those taking the medication recreationally. Withdrawal symptoms can kick in mere hours after each dose, which causes children to have erratic behavior. Kids also experience cravings.

The most dangerous effects appear quickly and unexpectedly. You may not realize you have developed a dependency until the harshest effects transpire.

Side Effects of Ritalin Abuse

Side effects of non-medical methylphenidate use are many and varied, ranging from skin rash to seizures. Severity is relative to the size of a user’s doses and how often they consume the drug.

A feeling of euphoria, alertness and wakefulness are the expected benefits of a methylphenidate dose. These can swiftly be overcome, though, by the negative effects. These can include, but are not limited to:

Treatment

Stepping away from this medication is the first step in getting clean. This is easier said than done, as some addictions to Ritalin can be as serious as dependencies to cocaine or other hard drugs; exhaustion, severe depression and potential panic attacks are regular withdrawal symptoms.

Treatment centers and support groups welcome people suffering from Ritalin abuse or addiction each day. A multifaceted approach to treatment is the most proven course of action. This can include behavioral therapy with licensed therapists — who specialize in teaching addicts how to cope without and avoid the drug — and combative medications that help the patients work through withdrawal.

Recovering addicts also have access to 12-step programs, such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous. These communities offer a safe, welcoming social network where addicts can meet people with similar stories, tell their own without being judged and find encouragement in their journey to stay clean.

Pharmaceutical stimulants like Ritalin can be beneficial in the right hands, but our society has an unfortunate tendency to misuse such things and endanger their health. You may know a friend or colleague who takes Ritalin without a prescription. Speak up and help them curb the habit before it’s too late.

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