Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common problem that affects children and young adults. ADHD can make focusing difficult, which can hinder your efforts at work or in school. It’s estimated that ADHD affects nearly 51 million people in the United States. Luckily, various options can treat ADHD, especially stimulant medications like Ritalin.
Methylphenidate, which is sold under the brand name Ritalin, is a central nervous system stimulant that’s been proven to increase focus and decrease hyperactivity in people with ADHD. It’s also used to help treat narcolepsy and hypersomnia. The idea of using stimulants to treat hyperactivity may seem counterproductive, but they are effective for a specific reason.
ADHD often causes a problem in which central your nervous system is chronically underaroused, which means there is low activity in certain parts of the brain. ADHD often causes a lack of dopamine release in the brain, which is a chemical that’s related to motivation and reward. Because people with ADHD have less dopamine released into their central nervous systems, they constantly seek more efficient dopamine sources through stimulation in their environment.
For instance, with low levels of dopamine, writing a research paper may not provide a satisfying amount of reward and motivation. When you hear people talking about a show you like in the hallway, your brain finds that potential stimulation irresistible.
Ritalin and other stimulant medications are sometimes abused by people looking for a euphoric high or people looking for a cognitive boost. ADHD medications are commonly used by students to help improve study and test-taking ability. However, stimulants might not work as effectively in people without ADHD.
Still, people who use the drug will feel psychoactive effects, and abuse could lead to dependence and addiction. If you stop taking the drug after a period of dependence, you might feel uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. Learn more about Ritalin withdrawal and how it can be treated.
Ritalin, like other stimulants, often causes psychological symptoms during withdrawal. Since Ritalin primarily works by influencing dopamine in the brain, withdrawal symptoms will be related to reward, emotion, and energy levels. You may feel apathetic, depressed, anxious, irritable, and tired.
You may also feel rebounding symptoms if you took the drug as a prescription to treat narcolepsy or ADHD. In that case, you might experience hypersomnia or difficulty concentrating. The severity of your symptoms will depend on the length of time you were dependent on the drug and the size of your normal dose. Symptoms are generally worse if you quit suddenly in “cold turkey” fashion.
In some cases, depression can be severe and lead to a condition called anhedonia, which is the inability to feel pleasure. This is usually temporary, but it can lead to suicidal thoughts or actions. If you start to experience extreme depression symptoms or suicidal thoughts, it’s important to recognize that a severe chemical imbalance could cause it. Seeking professional help for addiction treatment can help.
Ritalin isn’t usually life-threatening during withdrawal like other drugs can be. Instead, it’s more likely to cause uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms.
Detox is a high level of care in addiction treatment that’s used to treat people that could go through severe withdrawal symptoms. However, it may also be used to treat people who have other health conditions that need to be addressed or monitored alongside withdrawal.
For instance, stimulants like Ritalin can cause changes in heart rate and blood pressure that can be risky for people with heart conditions. Detox involves 24-hour medically managed services that usually lasts for about a week to 10 days, depending on your needs.
Whether you complete detox, or if it’s determined that you don’t need it, you may still need additional levels of care in addiction treatment. Detox is an important part of treatment, but it may not be all you need to treat addiction effectively.
If you have significant medical or psychological needs that make living independently potentially dangerous, you may go through an inpatient or residential program. If you can live at home, you may go through an outpatient program. Through treatment, your plan will be personalized, and you’ll meet regularly with a therapist. You may go through individual, family, and group therapy sessions depending on your plan.
Ritalin withdrawal may not be as life-threatening as other drugs like central nervous system dependence. However, substance use disorders are chronic and progressive diseases. That means they may last a long time, and they will likely get worse over time, especially without the right treatment.
Addiction is pervasive, and it can start to take over different aspects of your life as it progresses, including your health, relationships, and finances. Addiction treatment can help to address substance abuse problems and any underlying issues like mental health problems. To take a step toward recovery today, learn more about addiction and how it can be effectively treated.
The Lancet. (2016, October 8). Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 310 diseases and injuries, 1990-2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27733282
National Institute of Mental Health. (2016). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd-the-basics/index.shtml
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016, February). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification
RxList. (2019, January 22). Ritalin (Methylphenidate Hcl): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. Retrieved from https://www.rxlist.com/ritalin-drug.htm
Smith, M. E., & Farah, M. J. (2011, September). Are prescription stimulants "smart pills"? The epidemiology and cognitive neuroscience of prescription stimulant use by normal healthy individuals. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21859174