Ritalin has a long history as a treatment medication for conditions like narcolepsy, depression and fatigue syndrome. According to the University of Utah, as of 1961, Ritalin received FDA approval as a treatment for hyperactivity disorder. Since that time, Ritalin has become the most commonly prescribed drug for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
While no doubt an effective treatment medication, Ritalin is nonetheless a stimulant class drug that carries a high risk for abuse and addiction. When taken as prescribed, there’s little risk involved. The risk increases considerably for those who choose to ingest Ritalin for recreational purposes. Much like cocaine’s effects as a stimulant drug, Ritalin can damage brain and body functions when abused on a regular basis.
Not surprisingly, treatment for Ritalin addiction is really no different than the treatment approaches used for cocaine addiction. Psychotherapy and ongoing support group work make up the bulk of the Ritalin addiction treatment process.
Ritalin, also known as methylphenidate, works by stimulating the body’s central nervous system functions. It does this by binding to specialized brain cell receptor sites, which cause dopamine chemicals to be released. Dopamine, a primary neurotransmitter, plays a central role in regulating impulse-control mechanisms within the brain’s motor inhibitory system.
High levels of dopamine can also produce feelings of euphoria and unusually high energy levels in people who don’t suffer from hyperactivity disorders. These effects account for Ritalin’s highly addictive properties.
As a central nervous system stimulant, Ritalin speeds up major systems throughout the body. Ritalin’s effects on central nervous system functions incude:
- Increased blood pressure rates
- Respiratory pathways open up
- Increased heart rates
- Blood vessel constriction
- Elevated blood-glucose levels
With ongoing use, these effects start to take a toll on the body’s structures as well as weakening brain cell receptor functions.
Ritalin is classified as a Schedule II narcotic drug because of its high potential for addiction. The drug has a diminishing effect on dopamine brain cell receptor sites causing the brain’s tolerance level for Ritalin to increase on a continual basis. With increased tolerance levels, a person requires larger doses of the drug to obtain the same desired euphoric effects. In the process, brain cell receptors grow progressively weaker and eventually become unable to secrete dopamine under normal conditions.
According to the New York State Office of Alcoholism & Substance Abuse Services, when used for recreational purposes, Ritalin goes by a number of “street names,” some of which include:
- Poor Man’s Cocaine
- Vitamin R
- The Smart Drug
Teenagers and college students can “illegally” purchase Ritalin for anywhere from $1 to $15 per tablet. Users typically crush up tablets and inhale or smoke the drug.
As with any other type of narcotic stimulant drug, even in cases where a person doesn’t have hyperactivity disorder, Ritalin enhances the brain’s ability to focus and concentrate; at least during the beginning stages of addiction. For this reason, many high school and college students abuse Ritalin as a way to improve their academic performance.
Ritalin’s effect on central nervous system functions enables a wide array of negative effects to develop with long-term abuse. As the brain acts as the hub for the central nervous system, drug effects impair psychological functions as well.
Physical signs of Ritalin effects typically take the form of:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or feeling “burned out”
- Shallow breathing
Psychological signs of Ritalin effects include:
- Bouts of anger
- Inflated ideas of self-importance
- Auditory hallucinations
- Visual hallucinations
- Aggressive tendencies
- High levels of anxiety
- Overall feelings of discontent
Signs of Addiction
As with any addiction, the body’s ongoing demand for larger doses of Ritalin becomes the top priority in a person’s life. Eventually, users come to believe they need the drug in order to function normally in everyday life. Once users start believing they need the drug, they’ve crossed over from physical dependence to full-fledge addiction.
In this state, everything a person thinks and does centers on getting and using Ritalin. Inevitably, these effects start to show up in a person’s everyday behaviors.
Ritalin addiction effects include:
- Damaged relationships
- Distanced relations with family
- Financial problems
- Isolative tendencies
- Problems at work
- Loss of interest in fun activities
In the absence of needed doses of Ritalin, users experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms that, in effect, keep the addiction cycle moving. Ritalin withdrawal symptoms include:
- Bouts of nausea
- Abdominal cramping
- Hair loss
- Chest pains
- Excess sweating
- Fast heart rates
- Decreased sex drive
After so many years of Ritalin addiction, the drug loses its ability to induce feelings of euphoria. At this point, a person keeps using in order to ward off withdrawal symptoms.
With stimulant-based addictions, long-term users often engage in a practice known as “binging.” Binging involves ingesting multiple doses of stimulants, one right after the other.
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, binging eventually becomes the only way users can get “high” once tolerance levels reach a certain point. This practice places users at significant risk of life-threatening effects.
Possible effects from binging behaviors include:
- Cardiac arrest
- Psychotic break
- Violent behaviors
Ritalin injections offer the strongest, most intense “high” effects and so pose the greatest danger in terms of overdose deaths.
Ritalin addiction drug treatment uses behavioral therapy approaches to help addicts unlearn addictive behaviors and develop ways to manage persistent drug cravings. In order for behavioral treatments to be effective, users must first go through a detox period to prevent Ritalin effects from warping a person’s recovery progress. For people coming off chronic Ritalin addictions, detox may require a tapering schedule that’s designed to gradually ease addicts off Ritalin effects.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, contingency management, cognitive-behavioral therapy and the Matrix Model offer the most effective behavioral treatment therapies for managing Ritalin addictions. The contingency management approach provides recovering addicts with motivational tools to maintain abstinence. Cognitive-behavioral therapy helps participants uncover underlying motivations that may be fueling addictive behaviors. The Matrix Model approach combines cognitive-behavioral therapy, contingency management and support group work to provide a long-term treatment solution for Ritalin addictions.