Ritalin Addiction: Side Effects, Signs of Withdrawal & Overdose

4 min read · 9 sections
Evidence-Based Care
Expert Staff

What is Ritalin Addiction Treatment?

Ritalin is a prescription stimulant prescribed for conditions such as ADHD, but it is abused by teens and adults seeking a high. Physical, psychological, and behavioral signs of Ritalin addiction include:

  • Low appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dehydration
  • Suspiciousness
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Asking other people for their Ritalin pills
  • Crushing and snorting Ritalin
  • Stealing, lying, and/or doctor shopping to get extra Ritalin pills

After recognizing signs of Ritalin abuse, a concerned parent or loved one may want to recommend treatment to the affected individual. Though Ritalin addiction can cause significant damage to a person’s life, most of its effects can be effectively reversed with comprehensive treatment.

Much of the literature about Ritalin addiction focuses on teen abuse, but there is also abuse among adult Americans. As Foundation for a Drug-Free World explains, Ritalin is the trade name for the generic drug methylphenidate, which has a Schedule II narcotic classification per the US Drug Enforcement Administration; this is the same classification as morphine, amphetamines, and cocaine. This classification means that Ritalin has a medically recognized therapeutic purpose, but it is susceptible to abuse.

What is Ritalin Used For?

Ritalin, a central nervous stimulant, is often prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). According to Healthline, 9.5 percent of US children in the 3-17 age group have a diagnosis of ADHD. While medications, such as Ritalin or Adderall, can be helpful to those who may need them, these drugs have been diverted into the hands of individuals with no medical necessity for them. Ritalin comes in the form of small pills that bear the imprint of its pharmaceutical manufacturer, Ciba. The milligram dosage is color coded: 5 mg pills are yellow, 10 mg pills are green, and 20 mg pills are white and yellow.

Is Ritalin Addictive?

Ritalin is a drug of abuse among some because they believe or have experienced that it:

  • Promotes improved concentration
  • Increases mental sharpness
  • Helps a person manage a heavy workload
  • Stimulates weight loss
  • Gets a person high

The drugs Adderall and Ritalin may be so intertwined in the public mind that it bears briefly discussing their similarities and differences. According to Healthline, research suggests that one is not better than the other in terms of ADHD treatment. A doctor may prescribe one over the other because of certain patient specific issues, such as reactions. From an abuse standpoint, Healthline reports that Adderall is generally preferred over Ritalin.

Getting the necessary therapy to recover.

Adderall and Ritalin both keep the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain longer. But Adderall, unlike Ritalin, causes the brain to release more dopamine and norepinephrine. From an abuse standpoint, Ritalin may be more desirable to some because its effects set in and peak sooner than those associated with Adderall.

Physical Signs of Ritalin Abuse

A doctor developing a plan for treatment.There is an important different between signs and symptoms, although the two terms are often used interchangeably. A person who abuses a drug will physically experience a symptom. A person who observes the effect of the symptom understands it to be a sign. A discussion of the physical signs of Ritalin abuse necessarily focuses on what’s visibly apparent when a person is abusing Ritalin. From a clinical standpoint, in order for individuals to be diagnosed with a substance use disorder, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5), must be consulted. The DSM-5 no longer uses the separate terms abuse, physical dependence, and addiction. Rather, the DSM-5 created one category — substance use disorder — as a continuum from mild to moderate to severe. The DSM-5 has provided sub-classifications of substance use disorders, including stimulant use disorder, which is where Ritalin abuse or addiction would fall.

In order for a mental health expert to diagnosis a person with a stimulant use disorder, at least two of a possible 11 symptoms must be present within the same one-year period. The following is a list of the 11 criteria/symptoms (paraphrased and adapted to Ritalin):

  • Taking more Ritalin than was initially planned or intended
  • Feeling like one should cut down on Ritalin use but not being able to do so
  • Dedicating a lot of time to using, procuring, or getting over Ritalin use
  • Experiencing urges or cravings to use Ritalin
  • Not being able to fully or properly perform the needed tasks associated with family, school, or work due to Ritalin use
  • Continuing to take Ritalin even though it is causing problems in relationships
  • No longer engaging in activities related to work, family, hobbies, or social events due to substance use
  • Continuing to use Ritalin even when one uses this drug in dangerous situations
  • Even though Ritalin is exasperating an existing health problem, or creating new ones, continuing to use it
  • Building a tolerance to the drug (i.e., needing more of a drug over time in order to get the familiar effects)
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when Ritalin use stops or the familiar dosage is significantly reduced

Take Our Substance Abuse Self-Assessment

Take our free, 5-minute substance abuse self-assessment below if you think you or someone you love might be struggling with substance abuse. The evaluation consists of 11 yes or no questions that are intended to be used as an informational tool to assess the severity and probability of a substance use disorder. The test is free, confidential, and no personal information is needed to receive the result.

Side Effects of Ritalin

Individuals who abuse Ritalin reportedly experience a high feeling, followed by a crash. During the crash, the person may feel mentally dull, depressed, and/or fatigued. These feelings may be observable as the person not being able to hold or follow a conversation, looking down, and/or complaining of tiredness. The most common side effects associated with Ritalin use may be more extreme when abuse occurs.

The following is a partial list of some of the most common side effects:

  • Addiction or onset of a stimulant use disorder
  • Diminished appetite
  • Stomach ache
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety, irritability, and agitation
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations

Some of the more serious side effects associated with Ritalin abuse include but are not limited to:

  • Seizures
  • Blurred vision
  • Eyesight changes
  • Rapid pulse rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Paranoia
  • Suspicion
  • Depression
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Skin infection
  • Viral infection
  • Urinary tract infection

Signs of Ritalin Overdose

Signs of a Ritalin overdose include but are not limited to:

  • Sweating
  • Dehydration
  • Vomiting
  • Tremors
  • Restlessness
  • Hallucinations
  • Panic
  • Twitching or spasms
  • Aggression
  • Hallucinations
  • Changes to personality
  • Depression
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • High blood pressure
  • Swelling or numbing of the feet, hands, or ankles
  • Muscle pain
  • Delusions
  • Kidney damage
  • Lower abdominal pain
  • Psychosis with symptoms that look like those of schizophrenia
  • Sudden heart attack (even without a history of heart disease)

Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms associated with Ritalin abuse include but are not limited to:

  • Tiredness
  • Heavy sleeping
  • Crankiness
  • Exceptional hunger
  • Panic attacks
  • Nightmares
  • Depression

One of the most common side effects of Ritalin abuse is developing a stimulant use disorder. No one is immune from developing a substance use disorder. Addictive drugs, such as Ritalin, are used therapeutically, but patients seldom develop a use disorder, provided they follow the doctor’s treatment plan. When individuals start to abuse Ritalin, they stray into dangerous and unfamiliar territory. As a result of tolerance, a natural process, a person will need to take increasing doses of Ritalin to get the wanted high. The problem is, as the dose increases, so too do the potential side effects and risk of harm. Although the body is engineered for survival, if it gets used to drugs, it will depend on those drugs to live, even if doing so entirely undermines wellbeing.

If a person takes a large dose of Ritalin, there is risk of death. Even in children who do not abuse Ritalin, this drug has caused fatal heart attacks. The overdose symptoms above can tip off a person to the need to get immediate help before an acute situation, like a seizure or convulsions, sets in.

A bunch of pills spilled onto a surface.

Behavioral Signs of Ritalin Abuse

As Ritalin is a prescription drug, a person may visit different doctors in order to get a large enough supply. These individuals will have to fill their prescriptions at pharmacies around town and beyond. Doing this can leave its mark; a person will typically collect numerous prescription bottles that show different doctors’ names and pharmacies and reflect an overlap in time between prescriptions. While adults may engage in this behavior, it is not likely teens will do so. Among teens and young adults, the more likely scenario is that that they borrow or even steal Ritalin from friends, family, and/or neighbors. According to the Foundation for a Drug-Free World, Ritalin can be reformatted for abuse. One way is for a person to crush and snort the Ritalin. Individuals who abuse Ritalin this way will typically own a hammer-like device that can grind the Ritalin into a snortable powder. This may include the heel of a shoe, an espresso tamper, or a hammer. These individuals may also use a straight-edged object, such as a credit card, to make the powdered Ritalin into lines for snorting. A loved one may find such objects with powder residue on them.

Ritalin can also be crushed and liquefied for injection. A person who uses this method of administration is sure to have paraphernalia. Called a kit, a person who uses injectable drugs will, at a minimum, need a syringe, spoon (for cooking), lighter or candle, and a rope or belt (to tighten around a limb to make it easier to find a vein). If paraphernalia is found, and it shows residue (such as burn marks on a spoon) it is exceedingly likely that Ritalin abuse by injection is occurring. Of course, a person may not know that the injectable drug is Ritalin; there will need to be a tipoff, such as hearing slang for Ritalin (listed below) or finding Ritalin prescription bottles.

The following behavioral changes may emerge around Ritalin abuse:

  • Sudden mood changes
  • An extreme change in the company one keeps
  • Using drug use slang or street names for Ritalin, including R-ball, rids, vitamin R, kiddie cocaine, smarties, diet coke, and skittles
  • A change in appetite, such as uncharacteristic food bingeing outside of normal meals
  • Uncharacteristically poor self-grooming and hygiene habits
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Being manipulative, deceitful, or telling lies about one’s whereabouts, whom one is spending time with, or where money is going
  • Unusually low performance in important areas of life, such as at home, work, or school
  • Uncharacteristically taking loans (and very likely not paying them back)
  • Having extra cash, more than normal, which could mean the person is stealing or selling drugs
  • Using the Internet to find out information about Ritalin, including how to maximize a high from the drug

While addiction can be difficult to overcome, recovery is always possible. The first step to the recovery process is reaching out for help. Thousands of addiction treatment centers across the US can offer that assistance to those in need. Reach out for that help today.


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