Ritalin, also known as methylphenidate and Concerta, is a stimulant drug prescribed to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. It comes in the form of patches, tablets, capsules, and a liquid.
The drug acts on the central nervous system and increases the production of dopamine and norepinephrine, which speeds up brain activity. As HealthLine explains, dopamine is the neurotransmitter that affects pleasure, movement, and attention span, and norepinephrine is a stimulant. As a result of the medication’s effects, people with ADHD notice improved concentration and a sharper focus that helps them stay on task and organized, and more productive.
Other people, however, use the drug for nonprescription purposes, such as enhancing their academic or athletic performance for longer periods. Using Ritalin in this way, even the nonprescription brand, is risky and habit-forming. Recreational Ritalin users are harming their brains and bodies and walking a path that leads to addiction.
Recreational Ritalin abuse involves crushing up the tablets or capsules into a powder to snort it. Using the drug like this poses the possibility that users can ingest too much at one time. Crushing up an extended-release version of Ritalin bypasses the built-in time-release feature, which only makes the drug stronger. Using the drug in high doses can be addictive, and overdose is always a possibility. High amounts can bring on fever, irregular heart rate, and seizures as well.
Dopamine floods the brain when Ritalin is abused, causing users to feel a heightened state of alertness and euphoria. Despite these sensations, some users still may not feel “high” unless they abuse Ritalin with other drugs. That commonly happens as the drug is paired with alcohol, a depressant.
Excessive drug use builds up one’s tolerance, so users take larger or more potent amounts so that they feel the effects they once did. When these effects wear off, withdrawal symptoms emerge, and that’s a clear sign Ritalin dependence is underway.
Fatigue, depression, and sleep disturbances are some symptoms that can happen during withdrawal. Users may also experience a “crash” period, which is a common side effect of stimulant withdrawal. The crash is also called the “Ritalin comedown,” and it happens when the brain no longer receives the excess dopamine it has become used to because the person has stopped or reduced their Ritalin use.
The Ritalin crash happens quickly as the medication doesn’t stay in the body long. Its short half-life is no more than three to four hours. Once the effects wear off, a person may feel or show noticeable changes in condition or behavior, such as:
The Ritalin comedown also may make users feel tired and feeling nauseated. They find they don’t have energy and may be prone to vomiting.
According to HealthLine, Ritalin also can cause feelings of paranoia and hostility.
Longtime Ritalin users who want to stop using the drug may decide to abruptly stop their use, but that only worsens the withdrawal period, so it’s not recommended. Instead, users are advised to taper slowly off the drug under a doctor’s care. That requires professional addiction treatment at a facility that has medical and addiction professionals on staff who know what to do.
Treatment will start with a medically monitored detox to ensure users get through the withdrawal period safely as the drug is removed from the body. They may be tapered gradually off Ritalin as the body adjusts from the substance’s removal. Medical professionals oversee this entire process, which runs 24/7 for three to seven or more days. Once that step is complete, clients will be given treatment options that help them to effectively address their addiction and gain the tools to learn how to manage their lives and newfound sobriety.
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Skipping rehab means Ritalin users are on their own. Finding solid advice for a Ritalin comedown isn’t easy. A quick online search of what to do to alleviate the symptoms of a Ritalin comedown turns up all kinds of tips.
Commenters on one forum suggest various ideas, from exercising, to drinking water or orange juice to getting adequate sleep. Some respondents even mention using other substances, such as alcohol and benzodiazepines, to counter the effects of this period. These are never recommended, however. Using one substance to counter the effects of another substance can bring about bigger problems.
As HealthLine explains, the effects of Ritalin and alcohol don’t cancel each other out, even if one is a stimulant, which is the opposite of a depressant, which is what alcohol is. Combining the two drugs can bring about greater side effects, the risk of drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, and withdrawal.
HealthLine reports that alcohol changes the way the body processes Ritalin, which can lead to higher amounts of alcohol in one’s system. This only intensifies the side effects of Ritalin, the site says. Those side effects include a racing heart rate, high blood pressure, sleep disturbances, mood disturbances, anxiety, and drowsiness.
Using benzodiazepines to help ease the comedown after Ritalin use isn’t a good idea, either. Trying natural sleep aids may be a safer choice. A supplement of melatonin, which is a hormone the pineal gland produces naturally, is one alternative. Teas that contain herbs that promote relaxation, such as lavender, chamomile, and others are also options.
While benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, are prescribed to calm people who have anxiety, insomnia, and other disorders, they are also central nervous system (CNS) depressants, which means like alcohol, they depress the body’s nervous system. Mixing stimulants like Ritalin and depressants can cause users to have an unpredictable reaction both physically and psychologically. Overdose is possible as well as users may take too much of a benzodiazepine if they feel they aren’t falling asleep or relaxing fast enough. It’s best to avoid taking prescription drugs to counter the effects of other drugs.
Other ways to manage the Ritalin comedown period is to eat balanced and healthy meals and snacks (protein snacks are helpful), eat at least three meals a day, and staying hydrated.
Ritalin comedowns are indicative that one has a dependence that needs attention, however. Quick fixes can only go so far. Frequent, longtime or heavy users may want to take a closer look at if they need to seek treatment to end their Ritalin dependence.
Leaving a substance dependence of any kind untreated is signing up for a life of abuse and chances of overdose, which can easily turn fatal. Nonmedical Ritalin use among people who don’t have the conditions it was designed to treat can lead to a psychological addiction to the drug.
Recreational users risk sleep disruption and other unwanted side effects because the drug changes one’s brain chemistry. Excessive Ritalin use can lead to extreme physiological dependence and overdose, which can be fatal. Overdose on this medication can bring on a sudden heart attack and other health complications, including:
If these symptoms appear after a large dose of Ritalin has been taken, you should seek immediate emergency medical attention by calling 911 or taking the affected person to the nearest emergency room.
HealthLine. “The Effects of Ritalin on the Body.” Retrieved August 2018 from https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/ritalin-effects-on-body#4
Rodriguez, Aleah. (May 2017). “The Effects of Mixing Ritalin and Alcohol.” Healthline. Retrieved August, 2018 from https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/ritalin-and-alcohol
Wilde, Cathy. (May 2017). “Taking Ritalin to Study May Change Brain Chemistry.” Futurity.org. Retrieved August, 2018 from https://www.futurity.org/ritalin-brain-chemistry-1429542/