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How to Decrease and Address Ritalin Tolerance

In rare instances, Ritalin can cause tolerance. Consult with the prescribing doctor to best address this situation.

Is Tolerance to Ritalin Possible?

Ritalin is a stimulant that can genuinely help people who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is made of methylphenidate, which is known to help people focus at work and school. Like caffeine, methylphenidate is a stimulant.

When a child or teenager needs medical assistance for ADHD, they may exhibit:

  • Behavioral issues
  • A hard time making or keeping friends
  • Difficulty keeping up with schoolwork

Usually, people who are diagnosed with ADHD have a prescribed medication like Ritalin that they take for years.

It can be difficult to know when someone should stop taking Ritalin. People with ADHD can often be weaned off their medication if they have been doing well for at least a year.

The New York Times published an article in 2012 stating that children usually become tolerant of ADHD medication. Parents may notice that the effects of Ritalin are not the same as when their child first started taking the drug.

Tolerance for “study drugs” like Ritalin is even easier to notice when someone is taking this medication without a prescription. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns that using stimulants for a long time allows a person to build tolerance, even if a person uses them under a doctor’s supervision. This tolerance can form even more quickly with abuse.

A 2016 article published on The Conversation shows that Ritalin and other similar stimulants are popular with student populations.

Signs of Ritalin Tolerance

People can become tolerant of Ritalin in the same way they may become tolerant of any other drug. Tolerance can vary depending on how it occurs. To better understand this, let’s explore its many definitions.

  • General tolerance: This is when a drug stops having the same effects when it has been repeatedly used at the same dosage. It may force a person to need more of the same substance, or they may need to take a different medication to find relief
  • Rapid onset: Known as acute tolerance, this occurs when a person becomes tolerant to a medication quickly, such as with LSD or cocaine
  • Chronic: This type of tolerance occurs when a person takes a given substance for at least a few weeks.

Tolerance, dependence, and addiction are not the same. People often confuse these terms because it is easier for an individual to misuse or depend on a substance to which they have built tolerance.

There are different ways a person becomes tolerant to a medication.

  • Functional tolerance: Cellular changes cause this type of tolerance. Some drugs cause the brain to fire fewer receptors, and this changes the way a person’s entire body reacts to medication
  • Metabolic tolerance: A person who consistently takes a particular drug may start producing more enzymes that let their liver metabolize the drug before it affects them. This also allows a person to flush the drug out
  • Conditioned tolerance: A person may learn to become tolerant of a drug in some environments. For example, a person who takes Ritalin while studying at the library may have better tolerance for it than if they take it somewhere else
  • Learned tolerance: If a person becomes used to the effects of a drug, they can control themselves a lot better under its effects than before they first used the drug. This is common with people who drink alcohol and can coordinate themselves better after drinking a certain amount. They have learned to tolerate alcohol and function with it.

Next Steps

Once tolerance has been detected, a person may choose from several treatment options, but this depends widely on how a person used Ritalin. People who used Ritalin with a doctor’s supervision may be able to do the following:

  • Switch to therapy alone. The New York Times mentions that studies show people who take ADHD medication for years only experience some of its benefits for a short period. Studies show that even though medication like Ritalin may assist children for some time, there were no significant differences between children with ADHD who had medication only, those who had medication and therapy, and those who had therapy alone
  • Decrease in dosage. Taking less Ritalin might help a child continue to receive treatment
  • Take breaks. Taking a break from ADHD medication during summer vacations or weekends can help to decrease tolerance. 

People who take Ritalin for recreational reasons, or without a doctor’s supervision, can also take steps to decrease their tolerance. However, these methods are self-reported on forums such as Quora.

A loss of appetite is common with people who take Ritalin and other study drugs. This can cause a person to lose weight.If a person monitors what they eat, and adds some exercise into their daily life, it may help lessen tolerance to the drug.




Recreational use of Ritalin should never cause a person to truly feel different. Ritalin can still be effective in low doses that do not cause a person to feel a particular effect.

Medication that makes a person need to use the bathroom more often can eventually cause other health issues. If this is happening, consider options other than Ritalin.

In one forum, a user explained that if a person uses Ritalin for studying, they should try to make their environment — like their bedroom or desk — as similar as possible to their classroom or test site. This may trigger memories that will help them do better while using less Ritalin.

Decreasing the Chance of Misuse and Addiction

Because Ritalin tolerance can make it easier for a person to depend on the drug or become addicted, it is best for a person to deal with their tolerance issues as soon as they notice a problem.

If a person becomes dependent on Ritalin, they may develop withdrawal symptoms when they go without the medication. NIDA mentions that these uncomfortable effects may make it easier for a person to begin abusing any substance.

Withdrawal may manifest in the following ways:

  • Depression
  • Problems sleeping
  • Tiredness

A person may start to use Ritalin again to get rid of these symptoms.

Do You Need a Break?

Misuse of any drug requires treatment, but no one needs to wait until the most obvious signs of misuse begin to take a break from Ritalin or seek help.

Jenny Kutner wrote an article on Mic in 2015 where she discussed how she stopped taking her ADHD medication. Kutner not only discussed her story, but she also spoke with others who had used stimulants to cope with ADHD as children who decided to stop taking their medication as they became adults.

Some people Kutner spoke with decided to quit their medication or take a break for these reasons:

  • The physical side effects of taking stimulants over a long time were concerning.
  • They wanted to stop taking drugs for a long time regardless of the outcome.
  • Adults still face criticism for having ADHD because it is considered a “childhood” mental health issue.
  • They wanted to be productive without using stimulants.
  • They wanted to learn how to cope with life’s daily stress without using medication.

Kutner also spoke with people who keep their prescription on hand even though they plan to go off them. One individual, she talked to mentioned that they keep their medication accessible in case of a stressful event, such as a test.

This type of use could spell trouble for people because it is similar to the behavior of people who use Ritalin as a study drug. 
People who misuse Ritalin and decide they want to stop can seek help. NIDA mentions that cognitive behavioral therapy is helpful for individuals with a variety of issues with addiction.

College and university students may have access to a university health center that provides access to therapy and addiction assistance.

The prescribing doctor should always be informed of any tolerance developing.


(December 2015) How do I prevent creating a tolerance of Ritalin? Quora. Retrieved February 2019 from

(June 2018) Prescription Stimulants. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Retrieved February 2019 from

(January 2012) Ritalin Gone Wrong. The New York Times. Retrieved February 2019 from

(September 2015) Here’s What It’s Like to go Off Your ADD Meds in Your 20s. Mic. Retrieved February 2019 from

(November 2018) When to Stop Using ADHD Medications. Verywell Mind. Retrieved February 2019 from

(May 2016) The hefty price of ‘study drug’ misuse on college campuses. The Conversation. Retrieved February 2019 from

(July 2016) Why ‘smart drugs’ can make you less clever. The Conversation. Retrieved February 2019 from

(October 2018) What Does Medication Tolerance Mean? Verywell Mind. Retrieved February 2019 from

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