Ritalin is a brand-name prescription medication that’s used to treat ADHD. It’s often used in kids and young adults, but it may also be prescribed to adults that have attention problems. Ritalin is a brand name for methylphenidate, which is in a class of drugs called amphetamines. These stimulants are often used to increase focus and attention in people with ADHD. It works by increasing the amount of dopamine in your system. A lack of serotonin is thought to contribute to attention problems. Dopamine is closely tied to motivation, and a lack of it could cause your mind to seek stimulation while you’re trying to focus on everyday tasks.
Ritalin is a useful medication but like most prescription substances, it may cause some side effects. Ritalin is a psychoactive drug that can cause changes in your brain that lead to chemical dependency and even to addiction. If you experience chemical dependence and then decide to stop taking the medication or to cut back, you may have to go through uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms. What is the nature of Ritalin withdrawal, and how can you get through it safely? Learn more about the symptoms and treatment for Ritalin withdrawal?
Ritalin withdrawal symptoms occur after a period of consistent use and the development of chemical dependence. Dependence involves chemical changes in the brain that are caused by consistent Ritalin use. Your brain adapts to the presence of the chemical and adjusts its own chemistry to balance around Ritalin. When you stop taking the drug, your brain chemistry will become temporarily unbalanced. It takes time for your brain to readapt to life without the drug. When you stop suddenly, your brain chemistry is quickly thrown out of balance, which causes withdrawal.
As chemical dependence develops, you’ll start to feel a growing tolerance. Tolerance describes diminishing effects that a psychoactive substance has on your brain and body. As you get used to it, it may take high doses to achieve the same effects that you felt when you first started. If you increase the dose, it may deepen your dependence on the drug. Other signs of dependence include:
Ritalin is a central nervous system stimulant, which means it works to increase activity in the nervous system. It does this by manipulating dopamine, a chemical that’s tied to motivation, excitement, and pleasure. In many cases with prescription drugs, some of the most common symptoms are caused by something called rebounding. Rebounding is characterized by the return of symptoms that a medication is used to treat. Ritalin is used to increase focus in people with ADHD, so rebound withdrawal symptoms may include loss of focus, foggy-headedness, and a loss of energy.
Other symptoms are related to the sudden loss of a stimulant you became used to. A common symptom is fatigue. As your body gets used to increased alertness and energy levels that are provided by Ritalin, you might feel tired and lethargic during the withdrawal period. Your fatigue may be more severe if you used the drug recreationally in high doses. Ritalin misuse is common among college students and young adults. It’s sometimes used to achieve a stimulating high, but it’s more often used as a performance-enhancing substance. Students that want to pull all-night study sessions to increase their test scores may take Ritalin, or other stimulants, to increase their wakefulness and alertness. Quitting after using high doses may cause more severe symptoms, like hypersomnia, which is sleeping long hours.
Other symptoms may include:
The moment your first withdrawal symptoms begin will depend on several factors. One of the biggest factors is the type of Ritalin you take. Withdrawal symptoms begin when the drug wears off, and extended-release Ritalin pills will take much longer to wear off than immediate release pills. Typical immediate release pills will last for two to four hours, and they’re often taken up to three times per day. Extended-release Ritalin-LA can last for six to eight hours. Methylphenidate is also present in prescriptions like Concerta, which can last up to 12 hours.
The length of time you spend using the drug can also contribute to your withdrawal timeline. If you’ve used Ritalin for a long time or in high doses and stop abruptly, you may experience more intense withdrawal symptoms more quickly. If you’ve only used the drug for a short time in moderate doses, it may take longer for you to experience these symptoms. However, you may generally see some withdrawal symptoms within a few days of your last dose. In some cases, you may experience withdrawal within 24 hours. Rebound symptoms like the loss of focus may begin as soon as the drug wears off.
The length of time withdrawal lasts can also depend on person to person. If you go through a tapering period, your symptoms may last longer, but they’ll be less severe. Without tapering, withdrawal may last for a week to ten days. Symptoms will begin to subside after they reach their peak. Physical symptoms like an increased heart rate or dizziness may be the first to go, but psychological symptoms may last longer. In some cases, issues like anxiety and depression can linger. If you have symptoms that seem to last a long time after your last dose, they may need to be addressed with treatment.
Ritalin withdrawal isn’t known to be life-threatening, but it can be uncomfortable. Fatigue and low mood can make the week after you stop using Ritalin a serious challenge. If symptoms are severe or last longer than a few weeks, you should speak to a medical professional. If you think you might have a moderate to severe substance use disorder involving Ritalin, you should also talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Ritalin withdrawal may be more dangerous if it causes symptoms like severe depression. Stimulants can sometimes cause you to experience depression that leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair. If this leads to suicidal thoughts, it’s important to talk to someone immediately.
Ritalin withdrawal can also be dangerous if it presents a barrier to you getting help for a substance use problem. If you’ve developed an addiction to Ritalin, withdrawal symptoms might come with a compulsion to use the drug despite serious consequences. These consequences may include health issues, strained relationships, and financial instability. Remaining in a pattern of addiction to Ritalin can be dangerous. High doses can affect your heart rate and blood pressure, and very high doses can lead to overdose. Going through withdrawal with help may allow you to break the cycle of addiction.
If you notice the signs of Ritalin dependence or withdrawal symptoms, speak to your doctor. While it’s common to feel some discomfort when you’re coming off of a medication, your doctor may be able to help alleviate some symptoms. You may go through a tapering process where your doctor prescribes smaller and smaller doses to help you avoid severe withdrawal symptoms. You should also contact your doctor if you start to experience depression, which can happen when you stop taking a stimulant. If depression is new or getting worse, it may be the result of a temporary chemical imbalance caused by withdrawal. If depression becomes severe enough, you may have suicidal thoughts or actions. It’s important to recognize that these feelings are likely temporary, and even serious depression issues are treatable.
If you’ve developed a severe dependence or addiction to Ritalin, you may need higher-level treatment. Medical detox may be able to help you overcome substance use issues and withdrawal symptoms in a safe environment. Ritalin isn’t known to cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, but detox may be helpful in addressing your medical needs as you go through treatment. Detox may also include sessions with therapists to help address any underlying issues that could be related to your substance use problems. This may be especially helpful in dealing with common stimulant withdrawal symptoms like depression.
If medical detox isn’t necessary from a medical standpoint, you still may be able to go through other levels of care that aren’t as intensive as detox.
If you have a substance use disorder involving Ritalin, detox may be a helpful level of care for you, but it’s probably not all you need to address the issue. Addiction is a chronic disease that can cause powerful compulsions to use. It may be necessary to attend treatment where you can learn to cope with cravings, triggers, and negative emotions without using the drug. Treatment can also address related issues like mental health problems that may be caused by or contributed to by addiction.
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