Ritalin® is the trade name for Methyphenidate, a stimulant type of drug related to amphetamines. The neurological effects are also similar to cocaine. It is used primarily to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
Ritalin is dispensed in 5, 10 and 20 mg tablets and it is habit-forming. In the US, the FDA lists it as a Schedule II controlled substance, meaning physicians must use a special prescription, one that does not permit refills. Its abuse leads to thousands of emergency department visits each year, whether through non-medical use, adverse reactions or even suicide attempts, with the majority of those patients being between ages 12 and 17.
When properly used, Ritalin helps increase focus and maintain concentration in ADHD patients. As a drug of abuse, users are seeking a high similar to cocaine or amphetamine. Ritalin addiction is less likely in those suffering from ADHD because the pleasurable effects of the drug are less likely. Physical addiction may occur, however, in any person who uses the drug long-term or in high doses.
Ritalin addiction on the rise
There are two reasons Ritalin abuse seems to be on the increase. The first is that it is manufactured as a pharmaceutical and those unwilling to try street drugs might think it is safer. The second is the rise in legitimate prescriptions for the drug. As the number of patients receiving the drug goes up, more is available for diversion into the illegal supply. This is one of the many drugs purchased through Internet pharmacies for illegitimate reasons.
Some may abuse Ritalin for purposes other than entertainment. Often it is used to stay awake (for study or a job) or to lose weight. Ritalin, because it has stimulant effects, does work in the short term for these conditions.
Another path to Ritalin addiction comes when users take the drug in order to alter their response to alcohol. A teen or young adult who wants to drink heavily may use Ritalin to stay awake and avoid passing out. This is a particularly dangerous practice that can lead to fatal alcohol poisoning.
Brand names containing methylphenidate include:
- Regular tablets: Ritalin, Methylin
- Regular or chewable tablets, or solution: Methylin
- Intermediate-acting extended release tablets: Ritalin SR, Metadate ER, Methylin ER
- Long-acting extended release: Concerta (tablet), Metadate, Ritalin LA (capsules)
Evidence of Ritalin addiction parallels addiction to other types of stimulants, including binge use and crashing – extended periods of sleep to recover from the effects.