Is Ritalin Addictive? The Hidden Dangers of Taking Concerta

Last Updated: July 9, 2021

Authored by Isaak Stotts, LP

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

Ritalin is a drug that’s commonly prescribed to patients as part of their treatment if they have the mental disorder ADHD. Although this drug is widely used, it is supposed to be used with caution because of a high probability of Ritalin abuse. Even though this drug can help manage the symptoms of ADHD, there are dangers to health and side effects that the patient needs to watch out for. Patients who don’t take caution may end up experiencing an overdose, especially if they mix the drug with alcohol.

Learn what to do in case of abuse, how to identify it and how to deal with Concerta crash once you stop the medication.

What is Ritalin?

Ritalin, also known as Concerta, is a nervous system stimulant, Methylphenidate. It increases the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, making it easier for the patient to focus and remember things. Concerta for ADHD is one of the most common drugs prescribed to counter the symptoms of the disorder. This drug is available under many different names, listed below. It is considered to be 70-80% effective in helping in the treatment of ADHD patients.

Other Methylphenidate Brand Names Include:

  • Concerta
  • Aptensio XR
  • Methylin
  • QuilliChew
  • Metadate

What Is Ritalin Used For?

Concerta for ADHD can help patients with the disorder manage their symptoms. Using it, the patients can retain focus a lot longer than they would without it. It is also used to manage the symptoms of narcolepsy, the neurological disorder that affects the patient’s ability to regulate their sleeping habits. Methylphenidate is one of the go-to drugs prescribed for this disorder and ADHD, and considering 9.4% of children in the US are diagnosed with ADHD, prescribing this medication is very common.

Mother trying to explain something to her daughter.

Among off-label uses, the drug has also been used in cancer treatments, depression treatments, selective Alzheimer’s treatments, and for patients having trouble with their cognitive function. However, since Methylphenidate isn’t meant to be prescribed in these treatments, using it off-label without a doctor’s advice can be very dangerous.

Is Ritalin Addictive?

Even though Concerta for ADHD is commonly prescribed, it’s not a drug that should be used carelessly. The question of Ritalin addiction pops up frequently because it seems harmless.

So, is Ritalin addictive? The DEA has classified it as a Schedule II drug because it has a high potential for abuse. The immediate effects of the drug are improved concentration, increased mental sharpness, and sometimes even stimulating weight loss. Unfortunately, the effects are pleasant, putting users in a vicious cycle of Ritalin abuse.

An example of Ritalin abuse can be seen when students use the drug to “focus better” on their studies. In a 2016 survey done with Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais students, it was found that from the 378 students who participated in the survey, 5.8% had used this drug for studying better in the last four weeks.

Another cross-sectional study was done in 2017 with undergraduate medical students at the University of the Free State. Out of 541 students, 11% were taking this drug to enhance their academic performance. Abuse like this can quickly turn into an addiction.

Signs and Symptoms of Methylphenidate Addiction

How to know if a loved one has become an addict of Methylphenidate? Like with many other drugs, one can tell.

Therefore, Here Are the Signs to Look Out For:

  • Decreased performance at school or work. Although college students use Methylphenidates to enhance concentration, in the long run, addiction will reduce performance.
  • Changes in priorities and impaired judgment. Addicts might decide that getting more Methylphenidate is the most important.
  • Withdrawal from family and friends, not wanting to stay in contact. As a result, this drug becomes the number one thing in their life. It might also be an attempt to hide the addiction.
  • The compulsion to seek the drug. Abusers might consult many different doctors to get prescriptions.
  • Financial hardship. Drugs cost money. Therefore, to sustain a habit, a Methylphenidate abuser might fall into financial hardship.
  • Profound mood changes. When the dopamine levels change, so does the mood. Another reason for these mood changes is the side effects and withdrawal.

Can One Mix Ritalin and Alcohol?

Because of the nature of Ritalin and alcohol, it can be hazardous to mix the two. Ritalin stimulates the central nervous system, making it more active. On the other hand, alcohol works the opposite way by depressing the central nervous system instead.

Sad depressed man sitting in the corner.

Contrary to what it may seem, each substance doesn’t end up canceling out the effect of the other when they come in contact. The user will still experience both the impacts of Ritalin and alcohol anyway, and the mix can intensify the Ritalin side effects and be detrimental to their health.

Dangerous Drug Interactions

In addition to alcohol, according to the FDA, Methylphenidate is not to be taken with any of the following classes of drugs:

These drugs can affect blood pressure, heart rate, cause strokes, eclampsia, or even death. Therefore, it is advised that before mixing any substance with Ritalin, the patient informs their physician and gets a confirmation of safety.

Methylphenidate Overdose

It’s easy to accidentally develop a stimulant use disorder with a substance like this, one that is readily available and “seemingly harmless but addictive.” Addiction and abuse can easily lead to an overdose.

It’s not necessary that only the users that are using the drug without prescription end up abusing or overdosing on the drug. Even the prescribed patients can overdose if they take a more potent dose than they have been prescribed or fail to report serious side effects and don’t get the dosage adjusted to a safer level.

Ritalin Overdose Symptoms May Vary Depending In Intensity, but in Most Cases, They Include:

  • Severe muscle twitching
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath and crushing chest pain
  • Tremors
  • Dilated pupils that are unresponsive to light
  • Convulsions followed by a coma
  • Dryness of the mouth and nose
  • Hallucination, confusion, delirium
  • Extreme headache
  • Sweating and flushing
  • Loss of consciousness

Ritalin Withdrawal

When the person stops taking Methylphenidate, they can begin to experience Ritalin withdrawal symptoms as soon as the drug starts to leave their system. It varies from children to adults. The drug’s half-life for children is around 2.5 hours, and for adults, 3.5 hours, so the Ritalin withdrawal symptoms can begin as soon as that. The level of Ritalin withdrawal symptoms depends on how long the patient was using the drug and how dependent they were on it. Meaning, even the people taking the substance through prescription can experience withdrawal symptoms. The severity depends on the drug tolerance.

Woman experiencing Ritalin withdrawal at home.

That is why the patient must recognize the signs of withdrawal and overdose, so they’re able to tell them apart. Then, whenever they experience discomfort, they should contact their physician in charge of the treatment or a rehab center with appropriate resources for immediate help to ensure a quick recovery.

Concerta Crash

Concerta alters how the patient’s brain functions and doesn’t let it absorb dopamine as it usually would. When the drug is suddenly stopped, the brain has to figure out how to process the chemicals, and sometimes, it’s unable to do so. It results in rebound symptoms of ADHD or narcolepsy. The symptoms it was intended to treat come back with more severity. That is called a “Concerta Crash.” The patient going through the crash should contact their physician in charge of treatment to provide the proper treatment and resources to help the patient’s recovery. If the user has developed an addiction and doesn’t feel comfortable going to a doctor, they can get help at a rehab center instead. They will have the resources to help in recovery too.

Treatment Options For Ritalin Abuse

Since Concerta is easy to acquire, people who don’t have a mental disorder or a disorder that the drug is usually prescribed end up abusing the substance. Falling into the trap of stimulant abuse is very easy, but getting out of the addiction can be just as difficult if they’re left on their own without any resources to help.

Doctor holding a patient's hand, supporting in Ritalin treatment.

Every drug addiction treatment is tailored according to an individual’s health and needs. Although all the active ingredients of Ritalin excrete in less than 24 hours, a cold turkey withdrawal might be very harmful. Most people will need some help on their road to recovery. This help can come from a physician or a rehab or recovery center. They can choose to work on outpatient rehab treatment or inpatient rehab treatment, but that choice depends on their level of addiction and how much help they need to overcome the addiction. A rehab center will handle it all and protect their mental and physical health.

The patient will be given a detox program in the center or to follow at home to ease the withdrawal process. That can be a simple taper-off or a 12-step-addiction-recovery-program. They will be monitored through a detox and withdrawal program in person, or they’ll stay in contact with the center from home. The professionals at the center have the necessary resources to help and will be able to make sure their health is taken care of throughout and that they get through the recovery process safely.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Ritalin a Stimulant?

Yes, Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant that works by increasing the amount of dopamine in the user’s system. It also hinders the body from absorbing dopamine, so the supply increases. Drugs like Concerta for ADHD are usually prescribed to patients to help them focus better and improve their overall performance.

Is Ritalin an Amphetamine?

It is commonly thought that Ritalin and Adderall are interchangeable drugs when that is not the case. Although both of them are stimulant medications, they aren’t the same. Adderall is an amphetamine, while Ritalin is Methylphenidate. Adderall tends to stay in the body for longer, while Ritalin works faster.

Is Ritalin a Controlled Substance?

Yes, Ritalin is a federally controlled substance. Even though the drug is prescribed to most ADHD patients, it has a high probability of dependence. It is illegal to sell or give away the medication to anyone illegally. It is only to be acquired through a prescription.

Hope Without Commitment

Find the best treatment options. Call our free and confidential helpline

Most private insurances accepted

Marketing fee may apply

Page Sources

  1. Blum, K., Chen, A. L., Braverman, E. R., Comings, D. E., Chen, T. J., Arcuri, V., Blum, S. H., Downs, B. W., Waite, R. L., Notaro, A., Lubar, J., Williams, L., Prihoda, T. J., Palomo, T., & Oscar-Berman, M. (2008). Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 4(5), 893–918. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2626918/
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Data and Statistics About ADHD, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
  3. Verghese, C., & Abdijadid, S. (2020). Methylphenidate. StatPearls [Internet].https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482451/
  4. Cândido, R., Perini, E., Pádua, C. M., & Junqueira, D. R. (2019). Prevalence of and factors associated with the use of methylphenidate for cognitive enhancement among university students. Einstein (Sao Paulo, Brazil), 18, eAO4745. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6896602/
  5. Jain, R., Chang, C. C., Koto, M., Geldenhuys, A., Nichol, R., & Joubert, G. (2017). Non-medical use of methylphenidate among medical students of the University of the Free State. The South African journal of psychiatry : SAJP : the journal of the Society of Psychiatrists of South Africa, 23, 1006. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6138185/
  6. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Highlights of Prescribing Information. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2019/010187s071s082,018029s041s051lbl.pdf
  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Ritalin Prescribing Information. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2010/021284s010lbl.pdf
  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Medication Guide Ritalin® . https://www.fda.gov/media/72922/download

Published on: April 12th, 2017

Updated on: July 9th, 2021

About Author

Isaak Stotts, LP

Isaak Stotts is an in-house medical writer in AddictionResource. Isaak learned addiction psychology at Aspen University and got a Master's Degree in Arts in Psychology and Addiction Counseling. After graduation, he became a substance abuse counselor, providing individual, group, and family counseling for those who strive to achieve and maintain sobriety and recovery goals.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.