Ritalin (generically known as methylphenidate) is a stimulant drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is also used in some cases to treat the sleep disorder, narcolepsy. Ritalin is available only by prescription.
Drinking alcohol while taking Ritalin can change the way this drug works. It can also enhance the side effects of Ritalin. That’s why alcohol use is not recommended while you take Ritalin.
Ritalin is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It works by increasing levels of the chemical messengers dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. Dopamine contributes to the feeling of pleasure and can enhance attention. Norepinephrine is a stimulant.
In people with ADHD, Ritalin may increase the length of time these chemicals work in the brain by preventing them from being reabsorbed. This can help improve focus and concentration.
Ritalin is available in short-acting (immediate-release), intermediate-acting, and long-acting (extended-release) forms.
|Short-acting or immediate-release tablets||5, 10, or 20 mg||Two to three times daily|
|Sustained-release tablets||20 mg||Once daily|
|Extended-release capsules||10, 20, 30, or 40 mg||Once daily|
Some forms of Ritalin need to be taken without food. Others can be taken with or without food. Ritalin can interfere with sleep. People who use the sustained- or extended-release medications are advised to take the once daily doses in the morning or take the last dose of their immediate-release product in the afternoon.
Ritalin is not recommended for people with Tourette syndrome, motor tics, anxiety, or glaucoma. It’s also not recommended for people who take a type of antidepressant drug called a monoamine oxidase inhibitor.
Side effects from this medicine can include:
- trouble sleeping
- skin rash
- weight loss
- fast heartbeat (palpitations) or irregular heartbeat
- changes in blood pressure
Ritalin generally stimulates the CNS, while alcohol generally depresses it. These two effects, however, don’t balance or cancel each other out. Both Ritalin and alcohol affect dopamine in the brain, but Ritalin also affects norepinephrine. Combining alcohol with Ritalin can cause unpredictable emotional or physical effects.
Mixing alcohol with Ritalin can enhance the Ritalin side effects. These include:
- fast heartbeat
- high blood pressure
- vasoconstriction (narrowing of blood vessels)
- sleep problems
- mood problems, such as depression
Inebriation and Alcohol Poisoning
Ritalin may seem to counteract the depressant effect of alcohol because it is a stimulant. You may feel more alert and may be less likely to realize when you’ve consumed too much alcohol. As a result, you may drink too much.
Drinking too much alcohol can lead to toxic levels in the body, called alcohol poisoning. This can affect your ability to breathe and can lead to confusion or unconsciousness, and it can be fatal.
When you drink alcohol while taking long-acting, extended-release forms of Ritalin, it can cause too much of the drug to be released into your body at once. High levels of Ritalin in your blood can intensify the side effects even more.
If you use alcohol and Ritalin together, you could develop dependence on both substances. If you stop drinking or using Ritalin, you may have withdrawal symptoms such as:
- fatigue or low energy
- trouble sleeping
- increased pulse/heart rate
Ritalin is only meant for use in people with ADHD or in those with narcolepsy. It should be taken as prescribed to prevent side effects. When this drug is used recreationally or combined with alcohol, it can have serious health consequences. The combination can put excess strain on the heart, and could potentially lead to dependence, difficulty stopping the drug, or alcohol poisoning. Avoid using alcohol while taking this medicine.
Any medicine you take, including Ritalin, can interact with other drugs or substances in your system. Let your doctor know before you start taking any new drug, including over-the-counter medicines and herbal supplements. If you are having problems controlling your use of Ritalin or alcohol, talk with your doctor.