Ritalin is sold as both an immediate-release and extended-release medication 2. Extended-release Ritalin is designed to gradually release methylphenidate into the bloodstream throughout the day, rather than all at once.
Ritalin is classified as a Schedule II drug by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) because of its high potential for abuse 1. Prescription stimulants like Ritalin may be misused by those attempting to increase energy, improve academic performance, and to lose weight. Ritalin misuse can involve 3:
- Taking the drug without a prescription.
- Taking the drug in a way other than prescribed.
- Using Ritalin specifically to get high.
Misusing Ritalin, such as by crushing and snorting it, is dangerous because at high doses it can lead to fever, irregular heart rate, heart failure, and seizures 1. Over time, snorting Ritalin can also result in serious cardiovascular issues, anger, psychotic symptoms such as paranoia, and if abruptly discontinued, is associated with withdrawal symptoms like depression, fatigue, and sleep disturbances 1,3. Snorting Ritalin can also lead to a more intensely realized high—a phenomenon that may increase the risk that a user will become addicted 3.
Crushing and snorting an extended-release version is especially dangerous because it tampers with the intended, slow-release mechanisms built in to the tablet. This could potentially result in the instantaneous ingestion of a dose of stimulant intended to be released over hours, which would dramatically increase the risk of overdose.
Why Is Snorting Ritalin Dangerous?
Ritalin is a prescription drug that carries minimal risks when taken exactly as prescribed. However, when abused, it can place users at risk of experiencing numerous health problems. Ritalin users who snort the drug may also accidentally take more than intended, increasing their risk of overdose. In some cases, high doses of Ritalin can lead to seizures, heart failure, and even death 3.
High doses of Ritalin can lead to seizures, heart failure, and even death.
Snorting Ritalin can be more dangerous than consuming it orally because of the potential to amplify the drug’s effects in the brain, which may in turn increase the drug’s addictive potential. In the brain, chemicals called neurotransmitters influence the way people feel. Stimulants like Ritalin affect two specific neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine, in the brain 3 to produce a euphoric stimulant high. This powerful high and the underlying biochemical mechanisms of stimulant intoxication can quickly lead to continued, compulsive drug use—it keeps the user coming back time and again in spite of the negative physical or mental consequences that may occur over time 3.
Ritalin users may abuse the drug hoping to enhance its pleasurable effects. However, in doing so, they also subject themselves to a long list of side effects that include 2:
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Abdominal discomfort.
- Dry mouth.
- Poor appetite.
- Muscle pain.
- Problems falling and staying asleep.
- Uncontrollable bodily movements.
- Numbness, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet.
- Decreased libido.
- High body temperature.
- Irregular heart rate.
Repeatedly misusing Ritalin by snorting it can also lead to problems such as 4, 5:
- Nasal damage.
- Nose bleeds.
- Dental issues.
While some of its side effects may be reversible, others may have lasting consequences.
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Can Snorting Ritalin Cause an Overdose?
Yes, misusing Ritalin in any way—including snorting the drug—can lead to an overdose. An overdose can occur if a person uses more Ritalin than his or her body can handle. A person may experience an overdose after using the drug once or using it over a long period of time.
Signs of an overdose may include 2:
- Reddening of the face.
- Dry mouth or nose.
- Widened pupils.
- Rapid, pounding heartbeat.
- Involuntary muscle twitching.
- Inappropriate euphoria.
- Severe confusion.
- Loss of consciousness.
In some cases, a Ritalin overdose may result in death 3. Symptoms that could be fatal include dangerously high body temperature or blood pressure, irregular heart rate, heart failure, and seizures 3.
Signs That Someone is Snorting Ritalin
Loved ones of people addicted to Ritalin may notice signs that a person is snorting the drug such as:
- White powder on the person’s body, clothes, or other objects in their possession.
- Empty medication bottles.
- Paraphernalia used to crush up and snort Ritalin, such as straws.
- Frequent sniffling, runny nose, or rubbing the nose.
If you or someone you love is snorting Ritalin, you may also be wondering about the signs of addiction. Ritalin addiction involves repeatedly using this drug despite its negative impact on your health and well-being 3. Other signs include 6:
- Craving Ritalin strongly when not using it.
- Inability to control your use of Ritalin.
- Continuing to use Ritalin despite problems upholding obligations and responsibilities.
- Using ever-increasing amounts of Ritalin over time.
- Developing an increased tolerance for Ritalin, meaning you need more of it over time to achieve the same effects.
- Spending an excessive amount of time obtaining and/or using the drug.
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping or reducing Ritalin (see below).
People abusing Ritalin prescriptions may run out of pills more frequently or seek out multiple doctors. Being aware of the signs of addiction and the treatments available can help people make educated decisions about their recovery.
Whether a person just began abusing or is heavily addicted, getting help for Ritalin addiction can prevent future physical and mental health issues. The first step to recovery from Ritalin dependence is often detox to manage withdrawal and prevent early relapse. Ritalin withdrawal symptoms may include 3:
- Suicidal thoughts.
- Irritability and agitation.
- Changes in sleep.
- Strong cravings.
Detox provides a safe environment in which drugs can be removed from the body in a controlled manner. Because Ritalin users may develop a range of withdrawal symptoms when trying to stop, detox programs monitor these symptoms to ensure the safety and comfort of patients. Detox programs may also begin to introduce people to the recovery process by exposing them to therapy and support groups.
Once detox is complete, recovering individuals have the best chances of success if they continue addiction treatment. Further treatment may include inpatient or outpatient options:
- Inpatient treatment — Offers daily intensive therapy while those in recovery reside on-site. People in inpatient treatment participate in group, individual, and family therapy, where they learn tools for living a sober life. After completing treatment, recovering individuals are encouraged to use the tools they have learned when they transition back to life outside of treatment.
- Outpatient treatment — People enrolled in some form of outpatient treatment attend regularly scheduled treatment sessions yet continue to live at home or a sober living facility outside of treatment hours. They may attend outpatient treatment once or more per week depending on the program and their personal needs.
Treatments proven to be effective for cocaine and methamphetamine addiction are also effective for treating prescription stimulant addiction 3. People addicted to Ritalin may benefit from the following treatment approaches 7:
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) — Focuses on helping people identify and change negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. CBT therapists teach coping strategies to increase self-control, manage cravings, and avoid risky situations that could lead to a relapse.
- Twelve-step facilitation therapy — Helps familiarize people with the philosophy of 12-step self-help groups like Narcotics Anonymous. This form of therapy focuses on accepting addiction as a chronic disease, surrendering to a higher power, and becoming actively engaged in 12-step meetings.
- Contingency management — Assumes people will continue behaviors that are rewarded. The goal of contingency management is to reinforce abstinence from drugs and alcohol by providing prizes or vouchers.
- The matrix model — Encourages abstinence from stimulants by teaching about addiction and relapse, providing support, monitoring abstinence through the use of urine testing, and familiarizing people with self-help groups. This treatment approach also focuses on developing a positive and authentic relationship between therapist and client.
While treatment programs may vary in their specific approaches, they all aim to help those in recovery from addiction eliminate their drug use and develop healthier coping skills. Seeking treatment can reduce the risk of relapse and future health issues that can occur with Ritalin addiction. For help locating a Ritalin addiction treatment center, call our helpline at 1-888-744-0069 .
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Commonly abused drugs chart.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. (2016). MedlinePlus, Methylphenidate.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse for Teens. (2016). Prescription Stimulant Medications (Amphetamines).
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2016). Research report series: Misuse of prescription drugs.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (1999). Treatment for stimulant use disorders.
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. (2015). Substance use disorders.
- National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2012). Principles of drug addiction treatment: A research-based guide.