Ritalin addiction is part of the overall prescription pill abuse epidemic in America today. There are three main categories of abused prescription medications: opioids (pain relievers such as Vicodin), sedatives (includes the benzodiazepine group of medications, which are sedatives like Xanax), and stimulants (e.g. Ritalin and Adderall). Within the stimulant abuse category, Adderall and Ritalin are the main drugs of focus, though the former tends to get more attention in writings on this topic. When Ritalin abuse is discussed, the literature tends to be geared toward parents, as it is well observed that adolescents and young adults are the most likely demographic to abuse this drug. However, adults do also abuse Ritalin.
Anyone can become addicted to Ritalin, although there are different paths that can be taken. Since Ritalin stimulates the central nervous system, it has proven effective in the treatment of various disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children, adolescents, and adults. ADHD now includes attention deficit disorder (ADD), so talking about ADHD implicitly covers ADD as well. Individuals who abuse Ritalin can be lawful prescription holders or recreational users (who may abuse Ritalin as a singular drug of abuse or as part of polydrug abuse).
Lawful prescription holders who do not observe the doctor’s instructions for use and take too much of this drug are abusing the medication. To get more Ritalin than one doctor will prescribe, such individuals may engage in “doctor shopping.” When a person doctor shops, they go to more than one doctor and convey the symptoms of a disorder for which Ritalin is indicated in order to get a prescription. The individual then has to go to different pharmacies in order to fill the prescriptions.
If a person follows a prescribing doctor’s instructions, there is only a minimal risk of addiction. However, since Ritalin is addiction-forming, ongoing use of this drug can lead to the natural biological state of physical dependence.
Symptoms and Signs of Ritalin Addiction and Abuse
Irrespective of how a person comes to develop a Ritalin addiction, a host of possible symptoms and signs may emerge. Symptoms are side effects that the person who takes Ritalin experiences. Symptoms can emerge during different times and phases, as follows:
- Immediately after the Ritalin use
- Due to chronic, long-term abuse
- As a result of long-term effects (for example, symptoms associated with liver damage)
- During an overdose
- When a person is in withdrawal
The symptoms associated with any of the above phases can be different or overlap. Often, the information that the public has about the symptoms associated with Ritalin comes from clinical trials (which do not usually focus on drug abuse), reports from hospital emergency rooms, research in the specific area of abuse of the drug or the drug class, and reports from rehab centers that participate in private or government research efforts in this area.
Signs are different from symptoms. Signs are observable to third parties. For example, a person who just took a high volume of Ritalin may feel abdominal pains (a symptom) and an onlooker may see the person bend at the waste in discomfort (a sign). Signs and symptoms occur in the following main areas: physical, psychological, and behavioral. For this reason, it is important to know the signs and symptoms across these different areas.
Physical and Psychological
It may be difficult for a person to self-diagnose Ritalin addiction. The same holds for a concerned person who does not have a background in medicine, addiction, or mental health. It is also challenging to gauge whether a side effect is manifesting due to recent Ritalin abuse, chronic abuse, an overdose, or as part of withdrawal. As a result, it is a good idea to get a general overview of the types of symptoms and signs associated with Ritalin use as well as Ritalin abuse.
Common side effects:
- Physical dependence
- Addiction (the onset of a stimulant use disorder)
- Heart palpitations
- Loss of appetite
- Heart problems, including rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Drug cravings
- Paranoia or suspicion
- Infected skin
- Urinary tract infection
- Viral infection
- General infection
- An elevated level of ALT enzymes in the blood (a symptom of liver damage)
- In children, slower than expected growth in height and weight
- Blurred vision or other changes in eyesight
- Changes in personality
- Spasms or twitching
- Rapid heartbeat
- Swelling in the ankles, feet, or hands
- High blood pressure
- Lower abdominal pain
- Muscle pain
- Kidney damage
- Psychosis (similar symptoms as schizophrenia)
Any of the above symptoms can occur during withdrawal from Ritalin. Withdrawal is a natural process that occurs if, after forming a physical dependence on an addiction-forming drug, a person stops taking the drug or significantly reduces the familiar intake amount. Typically, the more severe the abuse, the more severe the withdrawal symptoms. The following are some known withdrawal symptoms associated with Ritalin use:
- Extreme sleepiness
- Spending long periods asleep
- Feeling dissatisfied with life
In addition, as Healthline explains, taking alcohol in combination with Ritalin can increase the drug’s side effects. As a general matter, drug interactions are varied, never entirely knowable, and most often dangerous. For this reason, if a person is currently experiencing symptoms or signs of Ritalin abuse, it can be especially helpful to find out if the person also recently consumed alcohol or any other drugs.
This discussion is geared toward individuals who suspect that someone whom they care about is abusing Ritalin. In many cases, a concerned person suspects drug abuse generally and then learns about the specific drug that is being abused. In the case of Ritalin, like other prescription drugs, there are some specific tipoffs. First, a concerned person may already know that the individual has a prescription for Ritalin. In this case, it can be helpful to learn if there are prescription bottles around that have overlapping date ranges, if different medical practices or doctors’ names are involved, and whether different pharmacies are filling the prescriptions. Again, doctor shopping is a sign of Ritalin abuse.
However, many individuals who abuse Ritalin do not have a lawful prescription, and they can get pills from friends, family, colleagues, classmates, or street dealers (including people who sell their lawful prescription for Ritalin). Ritalin is formulated as a small pill with the imprint Ciba, the pharmaceutical company that makes it. Each dosage is color-coded, with yellow being 5 mg pills, green being 10 mg pills, and white and yellow being 20 mg pills.
Changes in a person’s core behaviors, attitudes, or temperament are general behavioral signs of drug abuse. In addition, the following behavioral signs can indicate that Ritalin abuse is occurring:
- The person exhibits uncharacteristically poor performance at work, school, home, on sports teams, and in other major areas of life.
- Financial problems or a need for money that seems to have no discernable origin are present. Items of value may go missing; the person may borrow and not repay loan; or the person may begin stealing.
- Individuals who are abusing Ritalin or other drugs may become secretive about their whereabouts and activities.
- There may be a sudden change in a person’s friend groups, hangout spots, and manner of speaking. Individuals who use drugs may speak in slang about drugs and drug use. The following are some street names for Ritalin: kiddie coke, kiddie cocaine, poor man’s cocaine, smarties, skittles, vitamin R, R-ball, and diet coke.
- Seemingly out of nowhere, the affected person may start getting into trouble at work, school, or with law enforcement.
Treatment for Ritalin Abuse in Rehab Centers
Individuals who are unfamiliar with the drug treatment landscape may find it helpful to keep in mind that rehab centers do not treat addiction to a specific drug as much as they treat addiction in general. The specific drug of abuse is relevant, especially in the medical detox process, but recovery treatment is geared toward healing the person’s addictive thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. Speaking broadly, treatment occurs in two main phases in rehab centers: medical detox and primary care for the addiction.
At present, there are no medications indicated for the stimulant detoxification process. This means that during medical detox, a team of addiction treatment specialists will ensure that the person withdrawing from Ritalin is safe. This may involve tapering the person off Ritalin, especially if the abuse was long-term and severe. To ensure that the recovering person is comfortable during withdrawal, the addiction treatment team may provide simple prescription medications, such as muscle relaxers, to ease symptoms. They may also offer over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen. The goal during medical detox is to keep the person from experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms, to keep the detox process on track, and provide psychological comfort so the person remains in the detox program. Immediately after medical detox is complete, the person begins the second phase of treatment. During this time, therapy is the main form of treatment.
When it comes to drug addiction treatment, there may be some confusion between therapy and support groups, such as Narcotics Anonymous. Mutual aid groups, such as Alcoholics Anonymous and all its sister groups, are not therapist-led, and research-based therapies are not used. Support groups are member-led and directed. They are always considered to be an instrumental part of the recovery process both during and after treatment in a rehab center. Depending on the rehab program, group recovery meetings may occur onsite or transportation may be provided to a local meeting venue (especially when it’s an inpatient program). Outpatient programs often have recovery meetings onsite, but if the facility is not able to do so, the counselors on staff and program director typically encourage recovering clients to go to local meetings.
Ritalin abuse and addiction are treatable conditions. In many cases, the side effects will lessen and disappear over time. In the case of chronic Ritalin abuse, negative impact on the body and brain is often reversible.
Treatment in a drug rehab center is the most recommended course of action to stop a Ritalin addiction. In addition to detoxifying a recovering person, rehab services can help a person develop a new blueprint for living through individual and group counseling.