Ritalin is used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Unfortunately, it can also be abused, and that comes with the risk of serious side effects.
The effects of Ritalin on the body systems
Ritalin is a nervous system stimulant that is commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adults and children. Ritalin (a brand name for methylphenidate) is a prescription medication.
The number of children diagnosed with ADHD is on the rise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 6.4 million American children aged 4-17 were diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. Many of those children are taking medications like Ritalin to help ease symptoms. Treatment usually involves some behavioral therapy as well.
Ritalin may also be used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder. As with all stimulants, this medication is a federally controlled substance. Unfortunately, it can be abused, which comes with the risk of serious side effects. Ritalin should only be used with medical supervision.
Central nervous system
Ritalin influences both dopamine and norepinephrine activity in your brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that affects pleasure, movement, and attention span. Norepinephrine is a stimulant. Ritalin increases the action of these neurotransmitters by blocking their reabsorption into your brain's neurons. The levels of these chemicals increase slowly. Your doctor will probably start you on the lowest possible dose and increase it in small increments, if necessary.
Ritalin may make it easier for you to concentrate, be less fidgety, and gain control of your actions.
If you're already prone to anxiety or agitation, or have an existing psychotic disorder, Ritalin may worsen these symptoms. If you have a history of seizures, this medication may cause more seizures. Some people taking Ritalin experience blurred vision or other changes to eyesight. Other potential side effects include headache, trouble sleeping, nervousness, and, rarely, racing heart or high blood pressure.
This medication can temporarily slow a child's growth, especially in the first two years of taking it. That's why your doctor will keep an eye on your child's height. Your doctor may suggest a drug holiday (often done during the summer), which is when the drug is temporarily stopped. This can encourage growth, and also allows your child's doctor to see how they do without taking the drug.
Ritalin, like other central nervous system stimulants, may be habit-forming. If you take a large dose, the quick rise in dopamine can produce a temporary feeling of euphoria. Taking Ritalin in high doses or for a long time can be habit-forming. If you stop taking it abruptly, you may experience withdrawal. Symptoms of withdrawal include sleep problems, fatigue, and depression. It's better to taper off slowly and under a doctor's care.
When abused, stimulants like Ritalin can cause feelings of paranoia and hostility. Very high doses can lead to:
- dry mouth and eyes
- shakiness, severe twitching
- mood changes
- delusions, hallucinations
If you have any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Ritalin can cause circulation problems. Your fingers and toes may feel cold and painful, and your skin may turn blue or red. Use of Ritalin is linked to peripheral vascular disease, including Raynaud’s disease. If you take Ritalin and experience circulatory problems, tell your doctor.
Stimulants can also raise your body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate. That’s usually not a problem in the short term, but you should have regular exams to check your heart rate and blood pressure. Stimulants should be taken with caution if you have pre-existing blood pressure or heart problems. Ritalin may increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Rare cases of sudden death have occurred in patients who have structural heart abnormalities.
Abusing stimulants by crushing pills and injecting them can lead to blocked blood vessels. An overdose can lead to dangerously high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat.
Ritalin can reduce appetite in some people. Other side effects include stomachache and nausea. Abusing this drug can cause vomiting. Over time, Ritalin abuse can lead to malnutrition and related health problems.
When taken as prescribed, Ritalin doesn’t generally cause a problem with the respiratory system. However, very high doses or long-term abuse can cause irregular breathing. Breathing problems should always be considered a medical emergency.
Males who take Ritalin may experience painful and prolonged erections. When this occurs, it’s usually after prolonged Ritalin use, or after your dose was increased. It’s rare, but it sometimes requires medical intervention.