Concurrent Alcohol and Ritalin Abuse
Over the years, there has been an increase in the misuse of alcohol and certain prescription drugs, such as Ritalin. Ritalin—which is the trade name for methylphenidate—is a stimulant often used as a treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The Problem of Alcohol and Ritalin Abuse
Alcohol use is quite prevalent among adolescents and adults. The abuse of prescription and illicit drugs is also a common problem among these two age groups. When alcohol is combined with prescription stimulants like Ritalin, the dangers of each are increased, along with the risk of overdose.
Ritalin decreases a person’s ability to feel the effects of alcohol. In other words, the mental stimulation that occurs can make people feel more alert and less likely to realize when they have had too much alcohol to drink. This also means that a person may drink more than usual in order to experience a sense of euphoria. Physical cues that would otherwise signal a drinker to slow down may be diminished, resulting in increased risk of drinking to excess—this could give rise to alcohol poisoning or overdose and eventually lead to death.
Another concern when combining alcohol with Ritalin is that the effects may be unpredictable based on the amounts of each that are taken, as well as differences between individual users. For instance, in some people, mixing Ritalin and alcohol raises blood pressure, while in others it may not.
Someone regularly abusing these substances alone or in combination will likely benefit from some form of treatment. Combined substance abuse treatment may include:
- Inpatient or residential rehabilitation.
- Outpatient treatment or intensive hospitalization.
- Individual and/or group therapy.
- Attendance of Alcoholics Anonymous/other recovery support groups.
Signs and Symptoms
Signs of Alcohol Abuse
Common physical side effects of drinking alcohol include:
- Feeling slightly euphoric.
- Reduced muscle coordination and movement.
- Impaired judgment.
- Self-destructive behavior and deterioration of health, relationships and work/school performance.
Signs of Ritalin Abuse
Signs and symptoms of stimulant (Ritalin) abuse include:
- A hyperactive or euphoric mental state.
- Decreased appetite and weight loss.
- Increased blood pressure.
- Rapid heart rate.
Signs of Concurrent Abuse
The most common indications that an individual is co-abusing alcohol and Ritalin are dramatic changes in:
- Eating habits and weight.
- Overall health.
Effects of Alcohol and Ritalin Abuse
Consuming alcohol frequently can lead to:
- Memory problems.
- Impaired judgment.
- Dramatic changes to diet.
- Damage to major organ systems including the heart and liver.
Taking Ritalin for extended periods of time during adolescence is associated with long-term structural changes in the brain that may lead to problems with mental functions, especially those that are necessary for planning, flexibility, and adaptation skills. Learn more about the effects of Ritalin use.
Recent research also indicates that certain conditions such as depression during adulthood and reduced alcohol sensitivity also tend to occur due to prolonged use of Ritalin. Reduced alcohol sensitivity means that higher amounts of alcohol may be consumed before an individual experiences the full range of typical cognitive effects—this can prove especially dangerous because it may cause a person to drink excessively, which can lead to alcohol poisoning and death.
In addition, mixing drugs and alcohol can compound the individual risks that are inherent to each substance, which include:
- Breathing problems.
- Syncope (fainting).
- Abnormal or dangerous behavior.
These types of health problems may be reversed or avoided altogether if effective substance abuse treatment is received in a timely manner.
Alcohol and Ritalin Abuse Treatment
Treatment for a combined case of alcohol and stimulant abuse will typically consist of an initial detox period, followed by ongoing substance abuse therapy, support groups, skills training, and more.
Clinical treatment for drug abuse often involves detoxification. Treatment that includes supervised detox is extremely important for someone abusing alcohol because acute alcohol withdrawal can sometimes result in dangerous, potentially life-threatening symptoms.
Once the patient has successfully detoxed from alcohol and Ritalin, treatment will focus on the psychological aspects of the abuse and addiction. Whether treatment includes inpatient or outpatient treatment, it should include therapy and relapse prevention training.
One form of therapy which may be used is cognitive behavioral therapy. This approach focuses on helping people improve their:
- Emotion regulation.
- Impulse control.
- Distress tolerance.
In addition, there are sessions in which stressful scenarios are presented to patients who are then provided with psychological education techniques that help them work through these real-life scenarios. The multi-faceted components of cognitive behavioral therapy have repeatedly demonstrated the ability to effectively reduce stress and anxiety, which are factors that can influence the onset and progression of substance abuse.
Additional treatment approaches include:
- Inpatient or residential rehabilitation, in which clients remain at a facility for a certain period of time (e.g. 4-6 weeks or more) in order to receive 24-hour supervised care and support.
- Outpatient treatment, intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization, where clients go to a treatment center during the day, sometimes up to 5 days a week, in order to receive therapy and/or therapeutic medication, but are allowed to return home.
- Individual therapy, during which the client and therapist discuss treatment progression, ways to stay motivated and remain abstinent, and how to apply life skills to challenges.
- Group therapy, where one or more therapists meet with a group of individuals (e.g. 3 to 12 people or more) who are being treated for the same health issue, in order to allow members to share their experiences and support one another.
- Alcoholics Anonymous or other recovery support groups, which are large, usually international organizations that offer open membership to individuals suffering from different forms of mental and substance abuse disorders. Alcoholics Anonymous is a 12-Step program.
Ritalin has been described as an effective medication for ADHD for many years, but the non-medical use of Ritalin has recently increased, particularly among college students . For instance:
- A survey which involved asking more than 2,000 college students about whether they had misused Ritalin showed that about 5.3% admitted to using this medication non-medically at least one time for recreational purposes or to boost academic performance.
- The majority of students also reported that they received the pills free of charge from a family member, acquaintance, or friend.
- Ritalin abuse was found to occur 4 times more often than that of Concerta, and intranasal (through the nose) use of Ritalin was also reported more than oral use.
Finally, research indicates that co-abuse of Ritalin with alcohol tends to be more prevalent among college students who have been prescribed stimulants such as Ritalin in the past.
Teen Ritalin Abuse
According to a 2014 survey that was conducted by the University of Michigan and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 9% of 8th graders, 23.5% of 10th graders, and 37.4% of 12th graders had consumed alcohol on a monthly basis.
According to this same report, use among teens has remained fairly steady over the years, with about 1.8% of high school seniors reporting the regular use of Ritalin.
Although this medication is often prescribed to adolescents who have ADHD, the survey indicates that there is a persistent pattern in which teens report obtaining Ritalin from their relatives or friends, while a smaller percentage abuse or misuse the pills that have been prescribed for them.
Unfortunately, there has also been a decline in teens’ perceptions that misusing prescription stimulants such as Ritalin is risky behavior, further contributing to the steady incidence of abuse.
Substance abuse prevention for teens involves several aspects, such as:
- Positive parental and peer support.
- Parental monitoring.
- Focus on skills such as self-control, social problem-solving, emotional awareness, and assertiveness.
Reinforce the dangers of prescription drugs and emphasize that abusing Ritalin and/or alcohol can be just as harmful as abusing illicit drugs.
Resources, Articles, and More Information
For more information, see the following articles:
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