Ritalin is a prescription medication that works as a central nervous system stimulant. The effects of this drug are similar to caffeine, although it is much stronger. It is not, however, as strong as an amphetamine. Ritalin is approved by the FDA to treat ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children and adolescents, and narcolepsy in adults. Due to insufficient research, it has not been approved by the FDA for the treatment of ADHD in adults, although it may be prescribed “off label” for that purpose.
How Ritalin works
The generic name for (and the active ingredient in) Ritalin is methylphenidate hydrochloride. Methylphenidate stimulates brain activity in more people, making them feel more energetic and alert. While it may seem contraindicated to give a stimulant to someone who is hyperactive, methylphenidate actually has a paradoxical effect on an individual with ADHD.
For decades, experts were baffled as to how Ritalin actually worked in the brain. Methylphenidate stimulates one of the brain’s neurotransmitters - dopamine. This brain chemical is associated with the part of the brain that controls behavior and helps a person ignore potential distractions. It is believed by some, that for children and teens who have ADHD, this region of the brain needs to be more active.
This may be one of the reasons Ritalin is beneficial for many ADHD individuals. With Ritalin, along with psychotherapy and other types of treatment, many children and adolescents who struggle with ADHD are able to exert control over their behavior and have increased focus. In fact, many people who do not have ADHD have used Ritalin as a means to enhance their cognitive functioning. It is similar to why people drink coffee, particularly in the morning – to be more alert and think more clearly.
Ritalin abuse and dependence
When taken at prescribed doses by individuals with ADHD, Ritalin is not addictive. It is safe and effective. However, many people who do not have ADHD abuse Ritalin and become dependent on it. Ritalin and other similar stimulant medications are often abused because they help people feel more energetic and awake. For some, Ritalin creates a sense of euphoria, which is very appealing. It also helps suppress appetite, and is often abused by individuals who want to lose weight.
Although Ritalin is obtained legitimately via prescription only, those who abuse it get it (or steal it) from relatives or friends, or buy it on the streets. Ritalin is known by a variety of names, including:
• Smart drug • Vitamin R • Rball • R • Kiddy cocaine • Skippy • Jif • Kibbles and bits
When abused, Ritalin tablets are often crushed until it becomes a powder. It can then be snorted, just like cocaine. The tablets may also be dissolved in water. This allows the abuser to inject Ritalin right into his or her veins. Because of its high propensity for abuse and dependence, extreme caution should be used if prescribing it to someone with any history of substance abuse or dependence.
Signs of Ritalin dependence
If someone has become dependent on Ritalin, he or she may be exhibiting some of the following symptoms:
• Decrease in appetite • Weight loss • Irritability • Rapid speech • Euphoric mood • Restlessness • Difficulties sleeping • Problems with congestion or other signs of nasal damage (if they have been snorting it) • Paranoid ideation • Elevated heart rate, temperature, and blood pressure • Increasingly depressed mood as the effects of the drug wear off
Ritalin is a very effective medication when used as described. It should be prescribed only as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for those with ADHD or narcolepsy.