Concurrent Alcohol and Methylphenidate Abuse

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Man with pills on table and alcohol

Many people use methylphenidate to improve their lives and help manage certain mental health symptoms. However, many abuse this drug in an attempt to achieve a high or even to alleviate their symptoms more than the prescribed dose will.

Further, when mixed with drinking behavior, the combination of methylphenidate and alcohol can become very dangerous as each drug can dull the effects of the other – markedly increasing the risk of overdose.

The Problem of Alcohol and Methylphenidate Abuse

In 2012, more than 16 million prescriptions for methylphenidate were distributed, half a million more than the previous year.

When you consider the increasing availability of methylphenidate and also take into account the fact that alcohol is a major substance of abuse, the risk of concurrent alcohol and methylphenidate abuse is undeniably high.

Methylphenidate is an effective central nervous system (CNS) stimulant medication that treats symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which include hyperactivity and poor focus in both children and adults.

The medication is marketed as the short-acting Ritalin and the longer-acting Concerta. Other trade names include: Metadate, Methylin, and Focalin. While considered safe for medical use, methylphenidate is often abused for its euphoric high and feelings of wakefulness and alertness.

When substances are combined, dangers involving overdosing and alcohol poisoning exist, since methylphenidate can decrease the user’s perception of drunkenness.

Signs and Symptoms


  • Increased blood pressure.
  • Irregular or quickened heart rate.
  • Poor appetite.
  • Decreased quality and quantity of sleep.
  • Irritability.
  • Anxiety / Suspiciousness.
  • Seizures.
  • Stroke.


  • Erratic mood.
  • Decreased coordination.
  • Poor memory and focus.
  • Slurring speech.
  • Poor decision-making skills.

Intensified Symptoms/Increased Dangers

As mentioned above, alcohol and methylphenidate are commonly taken together to create a more euphoric high that decreases some of the potentially less desirable side effects of each drug (like sluggishness or jitters, at opposite extremes).

This is what makes the combination so dangerous – the user feels immune to the dangers of each substance and may take more and more, risking an overdose.

Here’s how it works: the stimulation from methylphenidate mixes with the depressant qualities of alcohol so the user feels less agitated and less drunk but the body still experiences the effects of each. This results in issues such as:
  • Cardiac problems including heart failure.
  • Extreme nausea and vomiting.
  • Respiratory problems.

Effects of Alcohol and Methylphenidate Abuse

When used long-term, methylphenidate and alcohol are each drugs of dependence. This means that your body will build a tolerance to the substances requiring higher amounts to achieve the same results. This makes overdose more likely.

Additionally, long-term abuse of these substances can lead to:

  • Poor nutrition.
  • Liver disease.
  • Cardiac disease.
  • Depression and irritability.
  • Poor energy.
  • Change in sleep patterns.

Abuse of Prescription Stimulants Increasingly Common

Prescription stimulants are increasingly abused by students and adults alike. Some may take the drug to ensure a positive performance on a test or a major professional project and find months down the road they’re still abusing the substance.

To learn more, visit our blog, More Working Class Americans Hooked on Cognitive-Boosting Drugs. If you know of or suspect a loved one of combining alcohol with methylphenidate or abusing either substance alone, treatment may be necessary. Call 1-888-708-0796 to talk to someone how to find the best care.

Alcohol and Methylphenidate Abuse Treatment

Treatment for psychological addiction and physical dependence varies widely between patients. Because of this, consider these generalities when seeking substance abuse treatment:

  • Professional evaluation to accurately assess level of abuse and risk is critical.
  • Successful treatment will target both physical and mental health needs of the individual.
  • Consistency in treatment is essential to obtain desirable results.
  • Therapy, in the form of individual and group counseling, is the most frequently used treatment.
  • A number of treatment modalities are available, including inpatient treatment, outpatient care, residential rehab facilities, 12-step programs, and more.
  • Medications can be helpful in assisting detoxification, aiding withdrawal, and encouraging abstinence.
    • Supervised medical detox is especially important for someone abusing alcohol, as withdrawal can produce severe and sometimes life-threatening symptoms.
  • Aftercare planning and relapse prevention should be an ongoing process to help identify triggers and learn new coping skills.

Alcohol and methylphenidate abuse is complicated, but it can be treated when appropriate action is taken. Call 1-888-708-0796 to talk to someone about how to find the treatment options best for the situation.

Key Statistics

Alone, methylphenidate is responsible for many calls to poison control and emergency room visits. In fact, the Drug Enforcement Administration reports that:

  • Almost 10,000 calls to poison control in 2011 involved methylphenidate.
  • More than 6,000 visits to emergency rooms in 2011 involved methylphenidate, a significant increase from the year before.

In addition, the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimates that:

  • In 2009, there were over 650,000 ER visits due to alcohol only or alcohol combined with another drug.
  • Of those visits, almost 230,000 were because of alcohol combined with other agents including stimulants like methylphenidate.

Alcohol and Methylphenidate Abuse in Teens

Both prescription drug use and alcohol use is up among teens and young adults. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) found that:

  • The number of students abusing prescription stimulants shot up 93% from 1993 to 2005.
  • More than 1,700 student fatalities had resulted from alcohol poisoning and injuries related to alcohol.

How are teens abusing methylphenidate?


Prescriptions stimulants are increasingly misused by young people. Teens often abuse the drug by:

  • Taking more than the prescribed amount. Some teens with ADD/ADHD will take more than prescribed amount in an attempt to better alleviate their symptoms.
  • Taking the medication for a reason other than ADHD symptoms. Beyond symptom management, teens will take higher or more frequent doses to achieve a high or to improve their school performance.
    • Ritalin and Concerta are commonly referred to as “study drugs,” since they are stimulants that help the user stay awake and feel focused.
  • Taking a prescription that is not meant for them. Teens will sometimes trade medications with friends to abuse the drug.

As is the case with many drugs, teens will often take methylphenidate in combination with alcohol to create a more “pleasurable” high and temper the severe side effects of each (see below).


Preventing teen alcohol and methylphenidate abuse means staying vigilant, especially if your teen has a Ritalin or Concerta prescription. Make sure to monitor any prescriptions and to educate your child on the dangers of both substances and the risks incurred when combining these drugs.

Resources, Articles and More Information

See the following articles for additional information on alcohol and methylphenidate abuse, addiction, and treatment:

Also, visit our Forum to join the conversation about addition to alcohol and methylphenidate.

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Amanda Lautieri is a Senior Web Content Editor at American Addiction Centers and an addiction content expert for She holds a bachelor's degree and has reviewed thousands of medical articles on substance abuse and addiction.
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