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Article Summary

A Guide To Ritalin Addiction

Sadly, many Ritalin addicts started using this drug during their childhood. This is because doctors typically prescribe the methylphenidate to children with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) or those who are considered abnormally active. In other cases, doctors might prescribe it to help patients suffering from narcolepsy.

According to NIDA (the National Institute on Drug Abuse), ADHD diagnoses affect 8% of children aged between 4 and 17 while 2.9 to 4.4% of adults get these diagnoses in the United States.

More particularly, Ritalin is effective in the sense that it works like amphetamines (also known as uppers or speed) to increase concentration and alertness. However, athletes, students, and professionals typically abuse it to increase their productivity. This is why the DEA (the Drug Enforcement Authority) classifies it as a Schedule II Controlled Substance due to their high potential for tolerance, dependence, and abuse.

Further, the consumption of methylphenidates like Ritalin is quite high in the US, more so than in other countries. In part, this may be due to the ease of access and wide availability of the substance.

In fact, Ritalin abuse is so widespread that most students who get a prescription for this drug tend to give or sell their medication to others in a bid to help them in their studies. However, some users take the drug just to feel its euphoric effects.

Those who use Ritalin exactly as the doctor prescribed find that it is quite safe. This could be why doctors typically prescribe the drug for children. Still, this substance is like other stimulants in the sense that it will increase the levels of dopamine in the system (brain). As a result, controlled dosage can prevent such chemical changes from inducing euphoric effects from an illegal stimulant.

Read on to learn more about Ritalin uses, addiction, effects, and symptoms, among others:

Understanding Ritalin

Ritalin is the given trade name used in place of methylphenidate. This drug works by stimulating the central nervous system. As a result, it is effective at treating ADHD and ADD (attention deficit disorder).

However, if you abuse the drug or take it through alternate methods (such as by snorting or injection), Ritalin may prove to be quite addictive. Since it has a high potential for addiction and abuse, it is classified as a Schedule II drug.

When you take this substance in ways other than your doctor prescribed, you may experience a high that does not arise if you take it as indicated. For instance, if you snort Ritalin, you are likely to experience the same effects of using cocaine in the sense that you will feel euphoric.

In many cases, the pattern of Ritalin abuse is quite similar to that of cocaine addiction. On the other hand, taking this drug intravenously is likely to spike its adverse effects significantly. With time, this kind of use may eventually lead to a pattern of tolerance, dependence, and addiction.

Ritalin Uses

According to NIDA, the total number of prescriptions for stimulants like Ritalin issued by doctors has been increasing dramatically. More specifically, these prescriptions went from around 5 million (in 1991) to over 35 million by 2007.

In many instances, these prescriptions are written out to help people with real mental health issues. Those who have ADHD, for example, experience difficulties with brain wiring. This makes it impossible or difficult for them to communicate in a calm and reasoned manner.

In this case, those affected may have difficulty paying attention, concentrating on the tasks at hand, conducting reasonable conversations, and holding onto a job. Further, ADHD tends to inundate brain cells with additional signals that the patient can have a hard time ignoring.

Since Ritalin is a stimulant drug, it should make such a hyperactivity problem worse in theory. However, research suggests that anyone who has ADHD will feel more collected and calmer when they take this substance. Here, the drug works by allowing the patient to improve their focus, eliminate distractions, and focus.

However, doctors hardly ever prescribe Ritalin in a vacuum. In a NICE (National Institute for Clinical Excellence) report, it appears that children who take this drug also require comprehensive therapy and ongoing monitoring. During treatment, these child patients get the opportunity to learn how to activate their brain power to curb and control their impulses.

As such, although Ritalin helps with ADD and ADHD, it is not designed as a standalone medication. Rather, it is part of a larger spectrum of medical care. With time, the patient gets smaller doses of the drug as they become more adept at controlling their condition. With time, they might even do without the drug.

However, Ritalin contains the active ingredient methylphenidate, a central nervous system stimulant that will alter the levels of certain brain chemicals, mostly the neurotransmitter dopamine.

As such, some people might abuse the drug to experience its stimulant effects. Ritalin is commonly used non-medically:

  • As a party drug to keep the user feeling euphoric and staying awake longer
  • As a weight loss mechanism because it is a stimulant that can decrease your appetite while increasing your energy levels
  • In college to enable students cram and study for their exams because the drug increases focus and keeps them awake
  • To assist people to manage heavy workloads
  • To get high
  • To improve concentration
  • To improve mental aptitude and sharpness

Ritalin Effects

Abusing Ritalin, however, produces stimulant-like effects. While high on the drug, you may experience euphoria, increased awareness and focus, and wakefulness. The intensity of this high tends to depend on how the drug was administered.

When you take it orally, the euphoric effect may be little unless you increase the dosage. Injecting or snorting the drug will heighten this experience and cause the following effects:

  • Chest pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Hallucinations
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Increase in body temperature
  • Increase in heart rate
  • Itching
  • Nervousness
  • Rashes
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting

However, abusing Ritalin over the long term can eventually cause a stroke or heart disease. This is because the drug may block your small blood vessels, especially if you take it intravenously. This method of administration can also expose you to such blood-borne viruses as HIV, and hepatitis B and C.

Ritalin Side Effects

Frequent and sustained abuse can also cause adverse side effects, such as:

  • Grandiosity
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Anxiety
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Delirium
  • Depression during withdrawal
  • Disorientation
  • Emotional instability
  • Extreme anger
  • Hallucinations
  • Headache
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Loose association of ideas
  • Loss of impulse control
  • Nausea
  • Overdose
  • Panic states
  • Paranoia
  • Repetitive actions (including OCD-like behavior)
  • Seizures
  • Suppressed appetite
  • Toxic psychosis
  • Vomiting

If you have a co-occurring disorder - such as bipolar disorder or mood disorders, abusing Ritalin can worsen these side effects. This is because the drug interacts with the synergistic effect of these kinds of disorders.

Ritalin Addictive Qualities

When taken orally and within the right dosage, Ritalin might not be addictive. However, it is highly addictive when abused, used in a way that differs from what the doctors prescribed or administered intravenously or any other way.

In these instances, the drug can cause severe physical and psychological dependence. Many abusers seek the drug as a substitute for cocaine, and it eventually creates the same addictive dangers.

Apart from using Ritalin excessively, the abuser might also crush the pills to create a powder. They would then snort this powder or mix it with water and take it intravenously. When this happens, the drug tends to generate effects that are quite similar to those arising from cocaine use.

That said, those who use the drug to stay awake will only use it orally while those who are more interested in getting high will inject or snort the crushed tablets. Both classes of abusers, however, are highly likely to become psychologically dependent on Ritalin.

If you abuse the drug, you may develop a physical tolerance to it and have to increase the dosage to achieve the same effects. Dependence eventually causes you to crave the drug and suffer panic attacks when you are out of stock. These panic attacks may cause heart problems and psychotic episodes.

However, when you take Ritalin as prescribed, it should not create the same impact, and you should not become addicted. This is because oral dosages have been designed to release dopamine in the brain at a slower rate, thereby reducing the drug's effects.

Ritalin Overdose

If you take Ritalin without a prescription (or use more than your doctor recommended), the drug can become habit forming. Such abuse is likely to lead to overdose eventually.

The symptoms of an overdose range from the moderate to the severe. This depends on how much of the drug you ingested and whether you use it with other substances or alcohol.

These symptoms include but are not limited to:

  • Agitation
  • Blurred vision
  • Confusion
  • Dry nose and mouth
  • Fainting
  • Hallucinations
  • Increased heartbeat
  • Irritability
  • Muscle twitching
  • Palpitations
  • Seizure
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Vomiting

Acute overdose symptoms are likely to be greater if you take a larger dose. However, the symptoms listed above tend to occur in progression - starting with irritability, agitation, and restlessness before slowly leading to convulsions and rapid heart rate.

As always, seek medical attention when you suspect that you or someone close to you is suffering a Ritalin overdose. Failure to do this can cause the overdose to turn fatal, especially among people with underlying heart conditions.

Ritalin Withdrawal

Withdrawing from Ritalin sometimes changes your behavior in ways you might not be able to handle on your own. Most of the withdrawal symptoms are psychological. Therefore, when you stop using this substance, you are likely to suffer:

  • Aggression
  • Depression
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Panic
  • Poor sleep patterns
  • Psychotic behavior
  • Suicidal tendencies

Ritalin Dangers

Abusing prescription stimulants like Ritalin carries certain risks. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Paranoia
  • Seizures
  • Sleep deprivation

Even a single large dose can cause a significant hit to your heart that may eventually result in sudden death. This is because Ritalin is quite powerful and those who continue abusing it will be pushed closer to the edge by their addiction.

Although this is not common, overdosing on the drug can cause death. Fatalities usually occur when you ingest large doses, especially if you have a history of heart problems or defects.

However, just because such fatal overdoses are not common does not necessarily mean that it is safe for you to abuse stimulants like Ritalin. In some instances, the drug can cause you to become suicidal or paranoid, and lead to sudden death by suicide or through engaging in dangerous behavior under the influence of the drug.

Signs And Symptoms Of Ritalin Abuse

The following signs and symptoms point to a case of regular/frequent Ritalin abuse:

1. Physical Symptoms
  • Being unable to properly or adequately perform necessary tasks at work, school, or home
  • Building a tolerance to Ritalin and using more to achieve the same familiar effects
  • Continuing to use the drug even when it clearly causes relationship problems
  • Dedicating excess time, energy, and resources to procuring, using, and getting over Ritalin abuse
  • Experiencing cravings or urges to use Ritalin
  • Feeling like you should cut down on drug use but being unable to do so
  • Taking more of the drug than you originally intended
  • Using the drug in dangerous situations
2. Behavioral Symptoms
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Changing the company one keeps
  • Doctor shopping to get more Ritalin
  • Having extra cash (this points to the addict selling or stealing the drugs)
  • Lying about your money, how you spend your time, and your whereabouts
  • Sudden changes in appetite, including the uncharacteristic bingeing outside of ordinary meal times
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Uncharacteristically poor hygiene and self-grooming habits
  • Uncharacteristically taking loans
  • Unusually low performance at work, school, or home
  • Using the drug's street names, including skittles, diet coke, kiddie cocaine, vitamin R, rids, and R-ball
  • Using the Internet to learn more about the drug, such as how to maximize your high from abusing Ritalin
3. Psychological Symptoms
  • Being unable to cut down, control, or quit Ritalin use
  • Reducing your participation in activities you used to enjoy
  • Severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the drug
  • Spending excessive energy and amounts of time to obtain Ritalin
  • Suffering significant impairment or distress for 3 or more months
  • Taking Ritalin in larger doses or for longer than you intended
  • Tolerance to the drug

Treatment For Ritalin Addiction

Overall, Ritalin abuse and addiction is not a death sentence. With the right treatment, you should soon be over the drug and back to your regular old self. Treatment usually takes the form of 12 step programs, SMART recovery, and inpatient or outpatient treatment. After detoxification, you will undergo rehabilitation and therapy to wean you off the drug. Over time, you may eventually stop using the drug entirely.

Find a treatment program as soon as you suspect Ritalin tolerance, dependence, abuse, and addiction. The earlier you do this, the easier it will be to beat your addiction.

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