Ritalin Abuse, Addiction and Treatment

Ritalin Abuse, Addiction and Treatment

Methylphenidate (MPH) which is better known as Ritalin is the prescription drug most commonly utilized to treat Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or attention deficit disorder (ADHD). It is also utilized for treatment of narcolepsy and chronic fatigue syndrome. MPH works by stimulating the central nervous system.

Inpiduals with ADHD state that this medication has a calming effect on them, even allowing better concentration and focus. It is not understood how this stimulant works. Researchers have theorized that ADHD is caused by a deficiency of dopamine and Ritalin assists in correcting that imbalance.

Unbeknownst to many, Ritalin is actually considered a schedule II controlled substance which means that the drug has a high potential for becoming addictive. Ritalin has been used by students illegally in order to assist with concentration on exams and work. There has often been criticism of the use of Ritalin for children because many of the symptoms, such as restlessness and lack of concentration, associated with ADHD are characteristic of young children. The other major criticism is the allegation that using this medication can lead to a life of substance abuse.

In one study which looked at adult cocaine users, it was found that those inpiduals who used Ritalin between one and ten years of age had a percentage of cocaine abuse twice that of those who had been diagnoses with ADHD but had not utilized Ritalin. Though use of Ritalin may not explain all reasons someone may begin to utilize drugs, there is a correlation between length of use of Ritalin and later drug use.

Illicit use of Ritalin usually takes place by crushing the tablets and snorting them causing a rush by entering the blood stream that much faster. When Ritalin enters the system so quick it simulates the feeling that users get when they abuse cocaine and amphetamines. For this reason Ritalin use can lead to addiction. If Ritalin is taken the way it is prescribed, orally in low doses, it doesn’t produce an illicit effect. However, because ADHD diagnoses are on the rise, Ritalin is easy for adolescents to obtain from fellow classmates without prescription. This can and has led to an increased abuse of Ritalin among youngsters. In addition, the Drug Enforcement Administration has expressed concern about the ease with which prescribed Ritalin is entering the illicit drug community.

It was found that the slow clearance of Ritalin from the brain might discourage the possibility of repeated use which occurs in other types of drugs. Having said this, there are many dangers associated with converting the prescribed dose of Ritalin into another form. In some areas, where use of amphetamines is not as prevalent it is common to take Ritalin and turn it into a fluid in order to use it via the IV (intravenous) route. Though not all tablets can be easily turned into fluid, Ritalin can be easily dissolved. However, doing so can be quite dangerous as these tablets include much talc as filler. The introduction of talc into the blood stream can result in many serious health problems, such as pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension. Both of these problems can lead to breathing difficulty which can lead to, in some cases, death.

In one survey study which included interviews from over ten thousand college students at the University of Michigan, up to twenty five percent of the students stated that they had utilized Ritalin non-medically. These students also admitted to being more likely to smoke cigarettes and marijuana as well as utilizing ecstasy and other drugs as well.

The side effects of Ritalin include the following:
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Stomach aches
  • Headaches
  • Lack of hunger (leading to weight loss)
  • Dry mouth

Less common side effects include:
  • Palpitations
  • High blood pressure and pulse changes.
  • Withdrawal and depression
  • Cardiovascular issues- even cardiac arrest

There have been some indications that utilization of Ritalin can lead to decrease in height acceleration. It was also indicated in one research study that the use of Ritalin may in fact be carcinogenic. It may also cause chromosomal aberrations. The more pressing issue of this scenario is the possibility of hypertension which can lead to problems regarding cardiovascular health later on in life.

By 2006 at least nineteen cases of cardiac arrest in children taking Ritalin had been reported. For this reason, the use of Ritalin by children must be carefully watched by parents and healthcare providers. Like most prescribed drugs, using them in moderation as detailed by healthcare providers, will most likely not result in any harm. However, illicit use of this prescription drug is being abused more often and as mentioned prior, can be a gateway to use of more dangerous drugs. If symptoms such as those listed above are noted by caretakers or providers, it is reasonable to suggest that use of Ritalin should be tapered and monitored. Otherwise, it is quite possible that treatment of attention deficit disorder can lead to a lifelong addiction problem which will need more than a little white pill to remedy.


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  2. Barbaresi, W.J., et al. (2006). "Long-Term Stimulant Medication Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Results from a Population-Based Study". J Dev Behavioral Pediatric. 2006 Feb;27(1):1-10.
  3. Volkow N., et al. (1998). "Dopamine Transporter Occupancies in the Human Brain Induced by Therapeutic Doses of Oral Methylphenidate". American Journal of Psychiatry 155:1325-1331, October 1998.
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  5. Wilens, T., et al. (2005). ADHD treatment with once-daily OROS methylphenidate: final results from a long-term open-label study". J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2005 Oct;44(10):1015-23.
  6. Grund T., et al. "Influence of methylphenidate on brain development - an update of recent animal experiments", Behavioral Brain Function. 2006 Jan 10;2:2.
  7. Wilens, T.E.., et al. (2003). "Does Stimulant Therapy of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Beget Later Substance Abuse? A Meta-analytic Review of the Literature". PEDIATRICS. 2003 Vol. 111 No. 1:pp. 179-185
  8. Russell A. Barkley, PhD,et al. (2003). "Does the Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder With Stimulants Contribute to Drug Use/Abuse? A 13-Year Prospective Study". PEDIATRICS. 2003 Vol. 111 No. 1: pp. 97-109

Topic Discussion

  1. Addict

    The medication is a power central nervous system stimulant derived from amphetamines and exerts itself by enhancing dopamine levels in the brain.

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