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The Effects of Ritalin Use: Short-Term, Long-Term, Side Effects, and Treatment

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What Is Ritalin Used For?

Ritalin (generic name: methylphenidate) is a stimulant prescribed to reduce the effects of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). It is also sometimes prescribed for the treatment of narcolepsy.

Is Ritalin Bad for You?

When taken as intended, and under the supervision of the prescribing physician, Ritalin is generally viewed as safe. However, not everyone takes this stimulant as prescribed. Ground up into powder form to facilitate unintended routes of administration—including inhalation and intravenous injection—Ritalin can be absorbed into the body in a speedier manner. When taken in these ways, it becomes a far more powerful (not to mention, dangerous) drug, providing effects similar to those of cocaine.

On a broad potency scale of nervous system stimulants, Ritalin falls somewhere between caffeine and amphetamines. Taking high doses of Ritalin and/or taking it via alternate methods such as snorting can:

  • Give rise to a number of negative physical effects.
  • Result in mood and personality changes.
  • Quickly lead to a pattern of abuse, tolerance, and addiction.

If you’ve gotten caught in the spiral of Ritalin addiction, you can come back from it. Call American Addiction Centers (AAC) free at to speak to someone about addiction treatment centers that will specifically address your stimulant dependency issue.

Short-Term Effects of Ritalin Use

At least initially, like other stimulants, Ritalin can produce the following “desired” effects:

  • Increased alertness and activity.
  • Feelings of euphoria.
  • Suppressed appetite.
  • Talkativeness.

Ritalin is often referred to as a “smart drug” by users who take it recreationally to improve their performance in school. However, it has not been proven that it actually lives up to this moniker for those who don’t have ADD or ADHD. Over the course of time, as tolerance and dependency grow with persistent Ritalin use, academic performance is sure to suffer. It is certainly not the performance enhancer that users may bet on.

Ritalin Side Effects

The severity of Ritalin’s effects will depend on how the drug is administered (i.e. in pill form, intranasally, or intravenously) and how much is taken. Also, like with any prescription drug, the effects will typically be stronger for those inappropriately taking Ritalin without a condition that merits its use. Side effects of Ritalin abuse can include:

Man with heart attack

  • Confusion.
  • Agitation.
  • Anxiety.
  • Insomnia.
  • Paranoia.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue.
  • Altered heart rate.
  • Nausea.
  • Headaches.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Chest pain.
  • Raised or lowered blood pressure.

Long-Term Effects of Ritalin Use

drugabuse_istock-43797340-man-head-in-hands-lamp-in-backgroundThe long-term effects of methylphenidate use may include:

  • Disorientation and apathy.
  • Delusions, hallucinations, and other signs of a psychotic disorder.
  • Frequent seizure activity.
  • Anorexia and marked weight loss.
  • Alternating bouts of mania and depression.
  • Thoughts of suicide.

Additionally, Ritalin addiction can result in a number of social and personal changes that can significantly diminish the user’s quality of life, as well as that of his family and friends. You may notice the following types of changes in someone suffering from a dependency on Ritalin and/or other substances:

  • Profound mood changes.
  • Financial hardship due to paying for Ritalin consistently.
  • Compulsion to seek drugs, such as by seeing multiple doctors.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends.
  • Decreased performance at work or school.
  • Impaired judgment and changes in priorities.

Ritalin Dependency

Again, Ritalin dependency is minimized when the drug is taken in proper dosages. However, when it is abused and large quantities are ingested in a variety of ways, Ritalin can be highly addictive.

As with other stimulants, users become tolerant as time goes by and they need higher and higher doses to achieve the same high. This can create strong cravings and panic attacks if the user is not able to easily obtain the drug.

Users with a significant Ritalin addiction often engage in a “binge-crash” cycle, with continual use and no sleep for days, followed by heavy sleeping that can be akin to a coma. This pattern of use—along with the tolerance and dependency dangers that accompany it—is almost identical to that of cocaine.

The potential for abuse and dependency is great due to the fact that diagnoses of ADD and ADHD are increasing, along with Ritalin and other methylphenidate-based prescriptions. In fact, in 2011 alone, 11% of children in the U.S. were given an ADHD diagnosis.

Ritalin Withdrawal and Addiction Treatment

Ritalin withdrawal can be extremely difficult. Individuals seeking to kick this habit can experience feelings that are so intense that, in attempts to stave off the onset of drug withdrawal, they effectively drive their compulsions to continue abusing the drug. Symptoms of withdrawal can include:

  • Fatigue.
  • Nightmares.
  • Bouts of insomnia alternating with long periods of heavy sleep.
  • Weight gain/increased appetite.
  • Muscle twitching.
  • Drug cravings.

Inpatient rehab facilities include clinical supervision and observation to ensure safe withdrawal from Ritalin and to better manage the patient’s comfort. Additionally, after detox is complete, the treatment will shift to focus on therapy and skills training to increase the likelihood of successful recovery and long-term sobriety. Other treatment options include outpatient treatment, sober living facilities, and participation in support programs, such as 12-step programs like AA or NA.

Rehab facilities are located throughout the U.S., and many offer specialized treatment that can cater to individual needs. American Addiction Centers (AAC) is a leading provider of addiction treatment programs and has trusted rehab facilities across the country. To get the help of a team committed to you overcoming your Ritalin habit, or to helping someone you love end his/her abuse of this drug, please call us free at to discuss your Ritalin recovery options with an addiction treatment support specialist.

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