Ritalin is the brand name for the medication methylphenidate. Acting as a central nervous system stimulant, Ritalin was designed to interact with certain chemicals in the brain as well as various nerves that correlate to hyperactivity and impulse control.
It is often prescribed to individuals suffering from different attention disorders such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention-deficit/ hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is even listed as a medication to treat the sleep disorder narcolepsy.
While Ritalin possesses real medical uses, it is very often abused because of its stimulant-like effects on the body. It can create feelings of euphoria like cocaine and other stimulants, while simultaneously increasing mental performance for many people.
But like cocaine, Ritalin can build tolerance, develop chemical dependence, and cause addiction. Developing a physical and mental dependence on the drug is common among its users. Quitting the drug can be difficult, and it will most likely lead to some uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms.
When people abuse Ritalin, they often take higher doses than prescribed. They may also resort to snorting the drug to obtain a more intense, quicker high. Over time, a habit develops, and the individual may find themselves dependant on Ritalin.
When stopping the use of Ritalin, someone who is addicted to it will undergo various withdrawal symptoms as a result of the drug interfering with the brain’s dopamine (feel-good chemical) production. By flooding the brain with dopamine, it depletes the natural stores of the chemical, and the brain relies on the drug to supplement the missing dopamine.
When you remove the drug, it takes time for the brain to acclimate to normal dopamine levels and production. In the interim, you may experience Ritalin withdrawal symptoms such as:
These symptoms can be mild to severe depending on the duration of Ritalin abuse as well as the amounts of Ritalin taken. Users can often experience a crash after stopping the drug, which entails more intense withdrawal symptoms.
Ritalin withdrawals can begin as soon as a few hours after the final dose is administered. The onset of withdrawal symptoms will begin, starting with feelings of agitation, anxiety, and depression. It is during this stage the cravings for the drug will be strongest to combat these symptoms.
The emotional and mental Ritalin withdrawal symptoms can be daunting. Much like its stimulant counterparts, the primary source of discomfort throughout the withdrawal process is centered on the mind. Anxiety and agitation are the most commonly cited mental withdrawal symptoms of Ritalin. It is the feeling of “crawling out of your skin” that may entice people who use the drug to return to using once more.
The restlessness of coming down from a Ritalin high can be debilitating. Also known as a “crash,” it is the physical and mental symptoms Ritalin users encounter as the high from the medication fades, and they settle back into normalcy.
As the brain fights to regain its internal balance and regulate itself once more, thoughts and feelings are often racing and can lead to insomnia.
The first 24 to 72 hours: People experience the most discomfort during this time. Intense fatigue, nausea, agitation, and even uncontrollable shaking may be present. Throughout the first few days, these symptoms will begin to lessen, and eventually, the worst physical symptoms will fade.
The first week: The physical symptoms die down, intense cravings and lingering insomnia may be experienced. Since Ritalin is a stimulant, it directly impacts the sleep schedule of its users. It may take several days to a week to regain some sort of normalcy when it comes to sleeping patterns. Psychological symptoms will peak, such as depression and anxiety as the brain attempts to level itself out.
The second week: The user may still experience difficulties sleeping and continued anxiety and depression. The cravings for the drug will return in waves throughout this time.
Weeks three to four: Difficulties with sleeping and cravings for Ritalin will continue. Fleeting feelings of nervousness and depression may also still be present.
The withdrawal process from Ritalin may continue up to several months after stopping the drug, with the severity of symptoms decreasing over time. Mood swings, insomnia, and cravings are common occurrences throughout the following months, which vary in severity based on how long you used the drug and how much.
If you took Ritalin more often at higher doses, expect to experience a longer withdrawal process than that of a person who used less for a shorter time.
While Ritalin withdrawals are not necessarily life-threatening, they do produce a high level of discomfort for many people addicted to it. Stopping cold turkey will create an almost immediate onset of withdrawal symptoms that may be too intense for you, leading to a relapse.”
The severe depression experienced as a result of stopping Ritalin can be dangerous. Users in full-blown Ritalin withdrawals experience severe mood swings and mental instability due to the chemical imbalance the addiction has caused.
As the brain attempts to regulate itself once more, these racing thoughts and vast shifts in mood can cause various psychological issues. Suicidal ideations are often encountered during the Ritalin withdrawal process, and having psychological support is crucial during this time.
At a medical detox facility, you’ll be given access to an entire staff of medical and mental health professionals. The support staff can help you navigate the emotionally challenging first few days and assist in analyzing your emotions in a healthy manner.
This can be the difference between relapse and recovery since the first few days of Ritalin withdrawal is when most people succumb to relapse and return to using the drug in an attempt to stave off the withdrawal symptoms.
If you are ready to stop taking Ritalin, it’s important to undergo the full continuum of treatment for a better chance at success in recovery.
The first step is to enter a medical detox facility. Staffed by a full medical team as well as psychological support staff, you’ll be assessed upon arrival and provided various withdrawal medications that will ease the symptoms you’ll encounter during detox.
While at detox, your physical well-being will be monitored 24/7 as round the clock medical support staff will ensure your comfort and safety during the detox process. You’ll also have access to counselors and case managers who can help you take the first steps in the therapy aspect of treatment, providing emotional support during the difficult time in detox.
Following a successful detox, you’ll head off to a residential treatment facility. Here, you’ll stay an average of 30 to 45 days (sometimes shorter, sometimes longer) which varies on a case-by-case basis. With the withdrawal process behind you, you can more intently focus on the therapy aspect of treatment.
You’ll encounter full-time intensive therapy using a variety of proven methods designed to help treat the underlying causes of your addiction. Addressing these issues can help you better understand why you struggle with addiction, as well as understanding the disease of addiction as a whole.
After completing residential treatment, it is recommended to follow up your treatment with attending an IOP (intensive outpatient) program. Part-time therapy is expected, which is usually in a group setting that helps help act as a buffer before the return to home and living.
Acclimating to life in recovery can be challenging, and by undergoing IOP, you are provided addiction support during the difficult transition time. You will also be kept accountable to your sobriety with drug testing.
By completing the full continuum of addiction treatment, your likelihood of success in sobriety and maintaining long-term recovery is far more likely. Each step prepares you for the next phase in your addiction treatment.
Uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms are a barrier between people who are addicted and recovery, sometimes. However, continued use can lead to dangerous consequences, such as insomnia, toxic psychosis, delirium, depression, panic disorders, and impaired cognitive function.
Stimulant abuse has also been linked to states of delusion, severe agitation, violence, and suicide, though these extreme complications are rare for Ritalin. Abuse can also lead to overdose, which can be life-threatening.
A Ritalin overdose can cause the following symptoms:
A severe Ritalin overdose can cause convulsions and heart complications that can lead to death without immediate medical treatment.
If you are struggling with a substance use disorder that’s related to Ritalin or any other stimulant, it’s imperative to seek help as soon as possible. Treating addiction early can help you avoid some of the most severe consequences of addiction like relationship problems, mental and physical health issues, and financial instability.
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National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, December). Summary of Misuse of Prescription Drugs. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/misuse-prescription-drugs/overview
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, July). The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics
RxList. (n.d.). Ritalin (Methylphenidate Hcl): Side Effects, Interactions, Warning, Dosage & Uses. from https://www.rxlist.com/ritalin-drug.htm