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Ritalin Addiction: Signs, Effects, and Treatment

Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a prescription central nervous system (CNS) stimulant.1 Medical professionals prescribe Ritalin to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, but the drug may also be illegally obtained and used for non-medical purposes.1

While Ritalin can be beneficial when taken as prescribed by a doctor, prescription stimulants can expose users to the risks of misuse, including physiological dependence and addiction.1

If you or a loved one uses Ritalin, knowing the signs of addiction can help you make an informed decision about your health. This page will help you learn more about:

  • Why people misuse prescription stimulants like Ritalin.
  • Signs of Ritalin addiction.
  • Health effects and risks of Ritalin misuse.
  • Treatment options for stimulant addiction.

Why Do People Misuse Prescription Stimulants?

Prescription stimulants like Ritalin can be misused in several ways, including:1, 2

  • Taking a prescription medication in a dosage or way other than prescribed.
  • Using someone else’s prescription medication, even if for a legitimate medical complaint.
  • Taking a prescription medication only for its subjective effects (e.g., to get high).

Some people misuse prescription stimulants like Ritalin by swallowing the pill in its normal capsule or tablet form.2 Others may open the capsules or crush the tablets to create a powder that can be smoked, snorted, or dissolved in water and injected.2

People misuse prescription stimulants like Ritalin for various reasons, such as to improve mental performance and increase productivity.2, 3 The most common group of people to misuse prescription stimulants are young adults between 18 and 25 years old.3 Of the 468,000 people who misused methylphenidate products like Ritalin in 2021, 201,000 were between 18 and 25 years old, according to the 2021 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH).4

Prescription stimulant misuse is more common in young adults in college than young adults who aren’t in college. Studies show that up to 35% of college students misuse prescription stimulants at some point during their academic careers.3

Signs of Ritalin Addiction

In clinical settings, Ritalin addiction is formally diagnosed as a stimulant use disorder by qualified mental health and medical professionals using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).5 To receive a diagnosis, a person must display at least 2 of the following signs within a 12-month period:5

  • Using the stimulant in larger amounts or for longer than intended.
  • Being unable to cut back or stop using the stimulant despite wanting to do so.
  • Spending a significant amount of time obtaining, using, or recovering from the effects of the stimulant.
  • Experiencing cravings to use the stimulant.
  • Being unable to fulfill obligations at home, school, or work due to stimulant use.
  • Continuing to use the stimulant despite having interpersonal or social problems that are caused or worsened by use.
  • Giving up important occupational, recreational, or social activities to use the stimulant.
  • Using the stimulant in situations in which it is hazardous to do so (e.g., driving).
  • Continuing to use the stimulant despite knowledge of a persistent or recurrent physical or psychological problem likely to have been caused or exacerbated by use.
  • Developing tolerance, meaning you need more of the stimulant to achieve previous effects.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you stop using the stimulant.

Note: For people who take Ritalin under medical supervision, experiencing tolerance and withdrawal do not count as meeting diagnostic criteria.5

Health Effects and Risks of Ritalin Use, Misuse, and Addiction

The use of Ritalin, like other prescription stimulants, can impact a person’s cardiovascular health by increasing blood pressure and heart rate.1 Ritalin can have several other side effects, the most common of which include heart palpitations, headache, and decreased appetite, among others.1 Ritalin can have more serious side effects as well, including seizures and a potentially life-threatening condition called serotonin syndrome, although these are rare.1 Sudden death, stroke, and myocardial infarction have been reported in adults with CNS stimulant treatment at therapeutic doses. It is generally not recommended in patients with heart issues.1Misusing prescription stimulants like Ritalin, especially in high doses, poses additional risks. Signs and symptoms of Ritalin misuse may include:1

  • Increased blood pressure, breath rate, and heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Restlessness.
  • Hyperactivity.
  • Insomnia.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Impaired coordination.
  • Tremors.
  • Abdominal pain and/or vomiting.
  • Anxiety.
  • Psychosis.
  • Aggression or hostility.
  • Suicidal behavior or ideation.

With regular use, and particularly at higher doses, a person can become physiologically dependent on Ritalin and may experience withdrawal symptoms when they significantly reduce their dose or stop taking the drug.1 Withdrawal symptoms from Ritalin use may include dysphoria, fatigue, unpleasant dreams, difficulty sleeping, increased appetite, and trouble with movement and thinking.1

Chronic Ritalin abuse can lead to the development of a stimulant use disorder, which is characterized by drug seeking and continuing to use despite experiencing negative health, occupational, or social consequences.1 A person struggling with addiction is more likely to experience mental and physical health problems, motor vehicle accidents, and relationship trouble.6

Ritalin Overdose

A Ritalin overdose can occur when a person takes enough of the drug to cause life-threatening symptoms or death. Taking prescription stimulants like Ritalin with other substances can be unpredictable and can mask the effects of one of both substances, which may make it easier to overdose.7 A Ritalin overdose may be characterized by:1

  • Diarrhea, nausea, and/or vomiting.
  • Restlessness.
  • Anxiety.
  • Agitation.
  • Tremors.
  • High or low blood pressure.
  • Dangerously fast heart rate and breathing.
  • Mental confusion.
  • Hallucinations.
  • Sweating or flushed skin.
  • Headache.
  • Convulsions.

Ritalin Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one are struggling with Ritalin addiction, stimulant misuse treatment is available.2 Treatment may begin with a period of drug detoxification, which can help keep patients comfortable, address complications if they arise, and ease the transition to continued treatment in an inpatient or outpatient rehab.8

Detox can take place in an inpatient or outpatient setting. Intensive outpatient detox can help patients stop using stimulants long enough for withdrawal symptoms to subside. However, patients who present with significant medical risks (e.g., co-occurring disorders, polysubstance use, suicidal behavior/ideation) may be better suited for an inpatient detox program.8

Continued treatment in an inpatient or outpatient rehab following detox can help patients address the underlying issues that may have contributed to their addiction.9 Because there are no FDA-approved medications for stimulant use disorder, treatment may focus on various behavioral therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and contingency management, which helps patients set short- and long-term goals and emphasizes positive behavioral changes.2, 10 Contingency management, in particular, is shown to help patients stay in treatment, reduce high-risk sexual behavior, and increase positive affect, among other benefits.10

These therapies can help patients learn to effectively manage stress and triggers.2 Treatment may also include evaluation and treatment for co-occurring disorders, such as anxiety or depression.2, 10

If you are unsure about where to start when it comes to choosing a local or out-of-state rehab, contact one of our admission navigators at and they can help you figure out which program will be the right fit for you. You can also look at some of the facilities listed below to see if they provide the program you are looking for:

Find Out If Your Insurance Plan Covers Ritalin Rehab

If you or someone you care about may be struggling with Ritalin misuse or are addicted to Ritalin, American Addiction Centers (AAC) can help. AAC is a leading provider of evidence-based addiction treatment throughout the U.S. American Addiction Centers rehabs can help people recover from substance misuse and substance use disorders (SUDs). To find out if your insurance covers treatment and rehab, for you or your loved one at an American Addiction Centers facility, click here, or fill out the form below. Your information is kept 100% confidential. You can also learn more about alternative payment options for treatment, and you can click here to find a local rehab treatment center near me.

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