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Ritalin Withdrawal

One of the most common disorders that affect children and adults nationwide is known by attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Estimates highlight the sheer volume of those affected, and the latest figures show that nearly 51 million people are affected. When we think of ADHD, we are quick to think of the popular stimulant medication, Adderall, but Ritalin is one of the first medications used to treat ADHD.

Ritalin, which also goes by the name methylphenidate, is known for its ability to stimulate the central nervous system (CNS). Ritalin is used in the treatment of ADHD and another disorder known as narcolepsy. Individuals that struggle with ADHD have been said to not produce enough dopamine on their own, which can cause issues with essential brain functions. Ritalin works by adjusting the accessibility of these neurotransmitters.

Dopamine is known as the brain’s pleasure center, and it is linked to how our motivation and rewards are controlled. Ritalin’s function is to help dopamine increase our attention span for tasks by increasing interest in someone using the medication.

While Ritalin is safe when used as prescribed, it can be dangerous when abused. It is a valuable asset in those struggling with ADHD to improve their cognitive performance. Despite its redeeming qualities, it is still a stimulant that carries the risk of addiction. Individuals prescribed Ritalin take it to calm down and focus. Those who do not have ADHD will consume Ritalin and experience alertness, increased energy, and euphoria due to increased dopamine levels.

The potential for abuse is often overlooked because it is not a drug like cocaine. It may seem like a viable option to use recreationally. Those who use the medication as the doctor prescribes can still become dependent. Recreational users, unfortunately, place themselves at an increased risk of addiction.

What Are the Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms?

Ritalin withdrawal is a challenging topic because it varies based on individual factors. Many doctors have pointed out there are no withdrawal symptoms attributed to Ritalin. While that may be true, and some will not experience any issue with stopping, others may have a more difficult time stopping use.There may be adverse effects for some people who stop using Ritalin. Ritalin withdrawal, which can be referred to as a “crash,” is when the brain adjusts to certain levels of dopamine that Ritalin will produce. When it stops producing dopamine on its own, and someone stops using the medication, their body cannot produce enough dopamine to supplement the medicine. This can result in a crash. Symptoms of a stimulant crash include:

  • Anxiety
  • Inability to focus
  • Irritability
  • Hyperactivity

The cases of people abusing Ritalin in large doses have pointed to moderate to severe withdrawal symptoms. The most common are reverse effects of the drug. These may include:

  • Inability to concentrate
  • Severe depressive state
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Increased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Increased heart rate

While the physical symptoms of Ritalin withdrawal will be minor, psychological ones may be much more intense. A lack of dopamine can cause severe depression, which may leave someone feeling suicidal. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please reach to emergency services by dialing 911 immediately.

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What Are the Stages of the Ritalin Withdrawal Timeline?

Ritalin boasts a short half-life, which means it will only remain in your system for up to 24 hours. If you have become dependent on Ritalin, you will experience withdrawal symptoms shortly after stopping. The Ritalin withdrawal timeline will vary from one person to another, but a general timeline looks like this:

  • 24-72 hours: Once Ritalin exits your system, physical symptoms such as fatigue, cravings, nausea, and increased heart rate will become noticeable. 
  • Four to seven days: By this point, the physical symptoms will reach their peak. These will be accompanied by mental symptoms such as insomnia, depression, anxiety, and irritability. 
  • Two weeks: At this point, the physical symptoms should start to subside. Anxiety and depression may still be present at this stage.
  • Three weeks: It’s likely that you’ll be past the cravings for Ritalin and that most symptoms will be gone. However, depression may linger on as your brain acclimates to creating its own dopamine. 

As was discussed above, the length and intensity of these withdrawals will be dependent on many factors. Some of which include:

  • How often someone was using Ritalin
  • The extent of their Ritalin abuse
  • What dosage they were using
  • Whether they stopped cold turkey or tapered their dose

Why Should I Detox

Woman sitting down experiencing Ritalin withdrawal

As we’ve been discussing, Ritalin withdrawal is not considered severe or dangerous. It can, however, be a long and uncomfortable process. Medical professionals will discourage you from detoxing alone from any drugs. It is imperative that you have professional assistance on your journey toward sobriety from substances. Going through medical detox will ensure your safety and comfort during this time. In addition, it will also help you long-term from relapsing.

The experience of addiction specialists will help devise a tapering plan that can range from a few days to weeks. They will gradually reduce your dose until your body has adjusted to its new state.

What Is the Next Treatment Step?

While detoxing from Ritalin is a crucial stage that allows you to start recovering, but it is merely the first step in a long process. To fully recover from addiction, you must forego the continuum of care. Those who only detox and not continue their treatment are more likely to relapse. They will not learn the behaviors that drove them to start abusing Ritalin in the first place. Long-term recovery is unlikely at this point.

Treatment programs are to vary on your current needs, and the top programs will be tailored to what you need most. You will take part in intensive therapies that address the root of your Ritalin addiction.

Sources

National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). 8: Medical detoxification. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

Gottlieb, S. (2001, February 3). Methylphenidate works by increasing dopamine levels. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1119521/

Treatment, C. for S. A. (1999, January 1). Chapter 2-How Stimulants Affect the Brain and Behavior. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64328/

Yanofski, J. (2011, January). The Dopamine Dilemma-Part II: Could Stimulants Cause Tolerance, Dependence, and Paradoxical Decompensation? Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3036556/

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