Ritalin (methylphenidate) is an amphetamine-like substance and can affect the body similarly to other forms of speed. However, when used as medically indicated, its effects are beneficial for individuals. Those who use Ritalin recreationally, or abuse this drug in larger doses, especially through injection or snorting, put a great strain on their body and brain.
What are the long term consequences of chronic Ritalin abuse? Is addiction a possible outcome of prolonged and repetitive misuse? We discuss the possible negative long term effects of Ritalin and invite your questions at the end.
Long term effects of Ritalin use
The effectiveness of Ritalin for long-term use, i.e., for more than 2 weeks, has not been systematically evaluated in controlled trials. Therefore, the physicians who decide to prescribe Ritalin for extended periods should periodically re-evaluate the long-term usefulness of the drug for individual patients.
Long term effects of Ritalin on the brain
All stimulants, including Ritalin work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain; dopamine is a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure, movement, and attention. The therapeutic effect of stimulants is achieved by slow and steady increases of dopamine, which are similar to the way dopamine is naturally produced in the brain. The doses prescribed by physicians start low and increase gradually until a therapeutic effect is reached.
When taken in doses and via routes other than those prescribed, Ritalin can increase dopamine in a rapid and highly amplified manner (similar to other drugs of abuse such as methamphetamine). This way, it disrupt normal communication between brain cells, can produce euphoria and, as a result increases the risk of addiction. Prolonged use of Ritalin can lead to a number of side effects, such as:
- damage to the brain including strokes and possibly epilepsy
- excessive tiredness
- permanent damage to blood vessels in the brain
- slurred or difficult speech
Long term effects of Ritalin on the body
Ritalin does not only affect the brain, but the whole body. Effects on the body from long term Ritalin use may include:
- motor and/or verbal tics
- muscle tightness
- numbness, burning, or tingling in the hands or feet
- numbness, pain, or sensitivity to temperature in the fingers or toes
- uncontrollable movement of a part of the body
- weakness or numbness of arms or legs
Long term effects of Ritalin on a fetus
There is not enough data on the use of ADHD medications in pregnancy to make a clear statement about their safety and possible effects on the fetus. Available evidence for amphetamines suggest no increased risk of malformations with use of therapeutic doses, and inadvertent exposure during pregnancy is unlikely to be harmful.
Exposed infants, however, might have slightly lower birth weights. The clinical relevance of this is still unclear.
Long term effects of Ritalin abuse
Ritalin suppresses the appetite, promotes wakefulness, and increases focus and attention. Out of this reason, prescription stimulants such as Ritalin can be abused for purposes of weight loss or performance enhancement (e.g., to help study or boost grades in school; see box). But studies have found that the medication does not significantly enhance learning or thinking ability when taken by people who do not actually have ADHD. Also, research has shown that students who abuse prescription stimulants actually have lower GPAs in high school and college than those who don’t.
Another reason why people abuse Ritalin for recreational purposes (i.e., to get high) is due to its ability to produce euphoria. Euphoria from stimulants is generally produced when pills are crushed and then snorted or mixed with water and injected.
Long term effects of Ritalin addiction
The long term consequences of Ritalin addiction are not too different from the negative effects of other substance use problems. Obtaining Ritalin illegally and using it chronically and for a longer period of time can pose a risk to your:
- health state
- financial stability
- studies and career path
- social relationships (family, friends, loved ones…)
- criminal record
However, patients who use Ritalin out of real medical reasons may not be facing the risk of developing addiction, although it is still a possibility.
“Studies to date suggest that prescribed use of Ritalin (methylphenidate) in patients with ADHD does not increase their risk for subsequent addiction. However non-medical use can lead to addiction as well as a variety of other health consequences,” says NIDA Director Dr. Nora Volkow.
Can Ritalin long term effects damage you permanently?
There is no body of evidence available from controlled trials to indicate how long an ADHD patient should be treated with Ritalin. It is generally agreed, however, that pharmacological treatment of ADHD may be needed for extended periods, and for as long as there is a legitimate need.
One general rule is that Ritalin can be useful for as long as the benefits of the medication outweigh the potential risks.
Long term Ritalin questions
Do you still have questions about the long term effects of Ritalin treatment? Please post them in the designated section at the end. We try to answer all relevant enquiries personally and promptly. In case we don’t know the answer to your question we will gladly refer you to professionals who can help.
Reference Sources: MedlinePlus: Methylphenidate
NCBI: Long-term effects of methylphenidate on neural networks associated with executive attention in children with ADHD: results from a longitudinal functional MRI study
FDA: Ritalin facts
OASES NY: Addiction Medicine – Ritalin
Brookhaven National Laboratory: How Ritalin Works
Department of Justice: Ritalin fast facts
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from Addiction Blog http://prescription-drug.addictionblog.org/ritalin-long-term-effects/