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What Are the Short-Term and Long-Term Effects of Focalin Use?

Focalin is a stimulant that is often prescribed to treat ADHD.

It can cause various short-term and long-term side effects, such as sleep abnormalities, fever, stomach upset, coordination issues, and mood swings.

Generally, the side effects of Focalin will subside once use is stopped.

What Is Focalin?

Prescribed to treat symptoms of ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), Focalin contains the stimulant dexmethylphenidate.

Stimulant drugs work to increase focus, attention, and concentration in people suffering from ADHD, and they also help to manage hyperactivity and impulse control.

Focalin is distributed as both an immediate- and extended-release formulation (Focalin XR) in capsule form. It is intended to be taken orally by mouth and swallowed.

Misuse and Abuse

Stimulant drugs like Focalin do have a high potential for misuse and abuse. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) reports that there were more than 1.5 million people in the United States misusing a stimulant medication at the time of the 2016 survey.

Focalin has several mental health and physical side effects that are exacerbated by recreational use. While the drug is effective in treating symptoms of ADHD, Focalin can be hazardous in a person who does not suffer from the condition.

Focalin is also considered to be habit-forming, leading to drug tolerance, dependence, and possible addiction with long-term use.

Focalin is classified as a Schedule II Controlled Substance which means that it has a high potential for diversion, abuse, dependence, and addiction. It is a medication that should be used with caution under the direct supervision and guidance of a trained medical professional.

Possible Physical Side Effects 

The Medication Guide for Focalin XR warns that methylphenidate use can cause serious heart problems, including sudden death in people with underlying heart defects or conditions, heightened blood pressure and heart rate, and raised risk for heart attack and stroke in adults.

People with a history of high blood pressure or heart problems need to be extremely cautious when taking Focalin. Blood pressure and heart rate should be checked regularly to ensure safety. Stimulant drugs increase blood pressure and heart rate naturally.

Focalin use may cause circulation problems in the toes and fingers, causing them to be cold, hurt, sensitive, or go numb. ADDitude magazine reports that the following are the most common side effects of Focalin:

  • Fever
  • Stomach upset
  • Nausea
  • Decreased appetite

Other possible physical side effects of Focalin are sleep difficulties, slowed growth in children, vision disturbances and blurred vision, shortness of breath, chest pain, seizures, and priapism.

Long-term use of Focalin can cause severe weight loss due to chronic appetite suppression as well as malnutrition and possible stunted growth in developmental ages.

Overdose

Misuse of Focalin can increase the possible side effects and their significance, and it can potentially lead to a toxic overdose.

A stimulant overdose can be fatal. It is signified by agitation, confusion, hostility, irregular blood pressure and heart rate, breathing difficulties, convulsions, hallucinations, psychosis, and high body temperature.

Mixing Focalin with other drugs or alcohol amplifies the potential dangers and odds for fatal overdose.

The way Focalin is used can increase the risk for overdose and negative side effects. For example, if Focalin XR is crushed or cut and then snorted, injected, or smoked, the entire dosage enters the bloodstream at once instead of in a time-release fashion, which can be extremely dangerous.

Potential Mental Effects

In the short term, Focalin can cause changes to moods and behavior. It can result in aggression, hostility, and possible violent outbursts. Focalin may also cause the following:

  • Mania
  • Worsened or new bipolar symptoms
  • Psychosis, including hallucinations and paranoia
  • Anxiety
  • Possible suicidal thoughts

Focalin may be misused as a “smart drug” or “study drug.” Taking the medication without a medical need for it can increase the possible risk factors.

Focalin intoxication can impair thinking and decision-making abilities, reduce impulse control, lower inhibitions, and cause a person to act in ways that are out of character.

The  U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warns that long-term use of Focalin or stimulant drugs may cause depression, auditory and visual hallucinations, compulsive actions like itching or skin picking, depression, psychosis mimicking that of schizophrenia, and violent and unpredictable behaviors.

The Long-Term Impact of Focalin on the Brain

Focalin is also habit-forming, which means that chronic use can cause physical drug dependence.

Stimulant drugs interact with the brain’s chemical makeup and have a mind-altering impact. The longer and more of the drug that is taken, the more significant dependence will be.

The prescribing information for Focalin XR warns that the drug has a high risk of dependence. The following difficult withdrawal symptoms can occur once the drug wears off:

  • Mood swings and low mood
  • Fatigue 
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares and vivid dreams
  • Agitation
  • Increased appetite
  • Coordination and motor control issues

Stimulant drugs can also be neurotoxic, causing lasting damage to the brain.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that chronic methamphetamine (another stimulant drug) use can cause lasting damage to the dopamine system in the brain — the part involved with thinking, memory, and movement. As a result, heavy and chronic stimulant use may lead to the onset of the movement and nerve disorder Parkinson’s disease or the memory disorder Alzheimer’s disease.

Long-term stimulant use at high doses can impact working memory, coordination, and cognitive functions

Overturning Adverse Effects 

If Focalin is used medically for a short time, the effects are likely to be reversed by just stopping usage of the drug.

When Focalin is used regularly for a length of time, it is not a drug that should be stopped suddenly, as the withdrawal effects and cravings can be significant. Instead, Focalin will need to be tapered off and slowly weaned out of the body.

When Focalin has been used for a long time and in large amounts, especially if it has been used recreationally, the effects on the brain and body are likely to be more extensive.

NIDA publishes that many of the negative and neurotoxic effects of the similar stimulant drug methamphetamine can be reversed with complete abstinence from the drug for a year or more. Some of the cognitive effects and damage to the brain’s structure and function may not entirely return, however.

When attempting to overturn the effects of Focalin abuse, a comprehensive addiction treatment program, that includes medical detox, is the best approach.

Sources

(September 2017). Key Substance Use and Mental Health Indicators in the United States: Results from the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/NSDUH-FFR1-2016/NSDUH-FFR1-2016.htm

(January 2019). Medication Guide Focalin XR. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/sites/www.pharma.us.novartis.com/files/focalinXR_PPI.pdf

(2019). What is Focalin? ADDitude. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.additudemag.com/medication/focalin/

(2017). Drugs of Abuse a DEA Resource Guide. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/sites/getsmartaboutdrugs.com/files/publications/DoA_2017Ed_Updated_6.16.17.pdf#page=50

(January 2019). Highlights of Prescribing Information Focalin XR. Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.pharma.us.novartis.com/sites/www.pharma.us.novartis.com/files/focalinXR.pdf

(June 2018). What is Methamphetamine? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/methamphetamine

(September 2013). What are the Long-Term Effects of Methamphetamine Abuse? National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/methamphetamine/what-are-long-term-effects-methamphetamine-abuse

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