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Ritalin Addiction, Withdrawal, Side Effects, Alternatives, Treatment

Last Updated on January 23, 2024 by Carol Gillette

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr Samuel Lee MD

How Did Ritalin Addiction Become Widespread?

Ritalin addiction and addiction treatment have become serious issues for many. Ritalin© hit the market in the 1940s and 1950s when drugmakers first marketed it as a “pep pill” and later for weight loss for adults. However, it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the committee of the American Psychiatric Association voted ADD and later ADHD into existence as an “official diagnosis.”29 In the 60s, what is now called ADHD was referred to as “behavioral problems” or “hyperkinetic impulse disorder” until the new terms ADD, and the later ADHD were promoted so heavily, that they eventually became household words. adhd narcolepsyStimulants had been used on children with behavioral problems since the turn of the LAST century and with Ritalin and similar drugs, the practice continues today. The ADHD label targets children in the main, but now also includes adults with ADHD.

Ritalin is also approved for the treatment of narcolepsy, a condition that is not completely understood and results in excessive, irresistible daytime sleepiness and nighttime sleep disturbances. Narcolepsy is hypothesized to be an autoimmune disorder and while research is ongoing, has been significantly linked with certain vaccine adjuvants, exposure to heavy metals, chemical exposures from woodwork, vitamin D deficiency, and exposure to fertilizers and pesticides.22-27

With a breathtaking rise in the number of prescriptions for Ritalin and other stimulant drugs for children and adults in America and around the world, medical researchers such as LeFevre and Arcona have been sounding an alarm for decades.14

Shockingly, in 2016, the CDC reported that about 10% of children in the US were diagnosed and labeled ADHD.2,3

Notably, psychiatric experiments with amphetamines carried out as early as 1937 1 turned “behavior problem children” into guinea pigs. The psychiatrists involved in these experiments drugged children with amphetamines (Dexedrine©, Benzedrine©, etc.) ritalin side effectsAs time went on, more psychiatrists repeated similar experiments using a wave of copycat stimulant drugs such as Ritalin, Adderall®, Concerta®, Vyvanse®, SNRIs like Strattera®, and many others.

Astonishingly, the results of the experiments on children were reported as “spectacular.” In truth, most of the children became emotionally subdued and disinterested in their environments. Eureka! The practice was touted as a one-shot treatment for rowdy kids. And, you don’t have to hire any therapists, dieticians, tutors, educators, or improve curricula or teaching methods. History shows that expensive and expansive marketing coupled with aggressive lobbying helped take the toxic drug Ritalin to the top of the charts in sales. This occurred all over the world.

Increasingly, many off-label uses for Ritalin have been reported in the Journal of Human Psychopharmacology Clinical and Experimental, including to treat depression in the elderly, cancer patients, obesity and weight loss, chronic fatigue, psychosis associated with depression, and post-stroke patients, as examples.6

Ritalin has sought to fill the very large gap that research has not yet filled concerning the actual causes for such a wide array of disorders and symptoms. This may, at least in part, explain how Ritalin and similar drugs become so pervasively, and some would say intentionally, popularized.1-4,14

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Side Effects of Ritalin

ritalin side effectsAccording to drug regulators as well as researchers, the side effects of Ritalin include sudden death, heart attack, stroke, suicide, and many others. And yes, these happen even to children as well as to adults.4,5,19,20

The regulators admit that methylphenidate’s mechanism of action is unknown. However, the FDA suggests it may have something to do with dopamine and norepinephrine manipulation in the CNS, as this would explain, at least in part, the drug’s stimulant effects. But, the drug label clearly states that the way it affects the central nervous system, and other effects are not known.21

Ritalin (methylphenidate hydrochloride) is a stimulant drug that produces similar side effects as cocaine, meth, and other amphetamines, and drugs similar to amphetamines. There are now time-release versions of Ritalin that have been brought to market, such as Metadate© in 10mg to 80mg capsules.27

Some of the label’s highlighted adverse effects include sudden death, cardiac events, new or worse behavior and thought problems, new or worse bipolar illness, new or worse aggressive or hostile behavior, and new psychotic symptoms. Psychotic symptoms are detailed more extensively below, but in general, involve hearing or seeing things that aren’t there, mania-type symptoms, and paranoia.5

Side effects can intensify over time. Some come on with no warning. Often, the side effects exhibited will lead to a physician prescribing a second drug, or multiple other drugs to suppress the additional side effects, putting the person on a very slippery slope toward the mental and physical chaos that often follows over-prescription. One of the most problematic Ritalin side effects is its potential for addiction and abuse. Though studies on human subjects were not found, experiments published in the Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics on squirrel monkeys demonstrated that the effects of self-administered methylphenidate were no different than self-administered cocaine and other stimulants used in the experiment.15

A partial list of Ritalin side effects:
  • Sudden death in adults as well as children 4,5,19,20
  • Scarring of the heart, impaired or blocked circulation of blood 5
  • Stroke, myocardial infarction 19
  • Fast, irregular heartbeat, tachycardia, palpitations 4,5,18-20
  • Increased blood pressure 19
  • Suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts 5
  • Newly emerging psychiatric events including psychosis, hallucinations, and mania 5,7,19,20
  • Tics (newly emerging) especially after long-term use 5,7,19
  • Seizures 5
  • Methylphenidate is present in human breast milk, long-term neurodevelopment effects on the infant are reported as unknown 20
  • In chewable tablets, there may be adverse reactions to the aspartame used as a flavor enhancer in the tablets. 21
  • Increased aggressive behavior, hostility, aggression, irritability 4,5
  • Suppression of weight and height 5,9,17
  • Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), hypokalemia (low potassium), hyponatremia (low sodium), 21% elevated leukocytes (white blood cells) 7
  • Priapism (sustained painful penile erection) in adults as well as children 5,19,20,21
  • Increased risk of cancer in mice studies 5
  • Increased risk of birth defects in rat and rabbit studies 5
  • Learning deficits in rat studies 20
  • Nausea/vomiting 5
  • Abdominal pain, upper abdominal pain, stomachache 4,5,16,
  • Dependence, addictive cravings for more of the drug 2,5,19,20
  • Akathisia 4
  • Brain damage, especially if taken long-term 10,11
  • Insomnia 4,16
  • Anxiety, tension 5
  • Nervousness 4
  • Fainting 2
  • Dizziness 2,16
  • Drowsiness
  • Blurred vision, double vision, visual disturbance 5
  • Chest pain 5
  • Fever 5
  • Nasopharyngitis (common cold) 18
  • Rashes, hives, itching, allergic reactions 5
  • Ulceration of the digits, Raynaud’s syndrome, unexplained wounds on fingers/toes 4,5
  • Inability to move the arms, legs, body 5
  • Inability to speak 5
  • Dry mouth 18
  • Decreased appetite 4,5,16
  • Headache 16

Rarely Mentioned Side Effects of Ritalin

As early as 1955, it was known that methylphenidate caused the following side effects, which are NOT mentioned on labels of methylphenidate-based drugs released later than 1955:  hypersensitivity including skin rash, urticaria (intensely itchy red welts with swelling), exfoliative dermatitis, skin lesions, inflamed blood vessels, vasculitis leading to brain damage, internal bleeding, bleeding of the gums, unusual bruising, anorexia, dyskinesias (involuntary movement disorders), angina, libido changes, rhabdomyolysis (life-threatening syndrome from the breakdown of skeletal muscle fibers with leakage of muscle contents into the bloodstream), Tourette’s syndrome, toxic psychosis, abnormal liver function, NMS (life-threatening neuromuscular event), liver damage, cerebral arteritis, leukopenia, anemia, scalp hair loss, and serotonin syndrome when taken with other serotonergic agents.21

Want to Know About Ritalin Addiction, Ritalin Withdrawal Treatment Help at Alternative to Meds Center?

At Alternative to Meds Center, we know that labels and mood-altering drugs are poor substitutes for analyzing the root cause(s) of a condition or set of symptoms that an individual may be experiencing. Programs at ATMC are designed to assist a person in several different ways. You can view a summary of the many treatment options that are delivered at Alternative to Meds. Each person will be individually programmed according to their unique needs and profile. More information follows below.

Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms

Information about withdrawal phenomena is sparse for Ritalin and Concerta, both methylphenidate-based products.5,19 There are two versions of Ritalin: immediate-release and sustained release. Concerta is extended-release only. An oral version of methylphenidate called Quillivant© was marketed in 1955 as a sustained-release daily medication. A chewable Ritalin equivalent tablet called Methylin© is also available through prescription, though is not approved for those under 6 years old.21

Though limited, information on withdrawal phenomena gleaned from these and other references as indicated, is provided below:
  • Priapism in adults and children (on the drug label parents are told to watch for this on “drug holidays”). Sometimes surgical intervention is needed.21
  • Drug-induced psychosis and depression can be extreme, and suicidality 13,19,20
  • Increased appetite
  • Extreme fatigue 20
  • Sleep irregularities
  • Dystonia (movement disorders) 12

What Methods Are Used in Ritalin Withdrawal Treatment?

comprehensive holistic neurotransmitter rehabAt Alternative to Meds, lab testing and other assessments help gather enough information to analyze and determine the possible underlying causes of unwanted symptoms. For instance, Ritalin is often prescribed to treat adult narcolepsy. Narcolepsy patients are not sleeping well and will feel excessively tired during the day. Simply taking chemical stimulants will awaken a person, but will not handle the underlying issues. We proactively address root causes at ATMC. We do this using natural, effective, and non-invasive methods. These are based on the assessments and testing on arrival to the program.

For ADHD symptoms, ATMC applies the same principles. Assessments, testing, and analysis provide a clear path to isolating and eliminating the causes of unwanted symptoms. There is no guesswork involved.

Thus, these problems can be reduced and eliminated without resorting to simply masking these problems with drugs. Environmental medicine applications, holistic neurotoxin removal, and neurotransmitter repair are among the various services available. Correction of diet is also of prime importance in recovery, based on the principles of orthomolecular medicine. As a result, gentle and gradual withdrawal can be made much easier and much more tolerable.

How Are Ritalin Alternatives Used?

holistic ritalin alternativesAlternative to Meds Center medical and program staff design a client-specific program to assist with the gradual reduction of medication. Ritalin and all CNS stimulant drugs are prone to addiction and dependence, and their withdrawal may induce crippling symptoms. Rather than attempt to suppress withdrawal or other symptoms, alternative therapies are used extensively, in conjunction with constant and careful medical oversight. These steps in the program enable smooth and comfortable withdrawal.

Before and during treatment, the program utilizes lab testing to inform the most effective holistic therapies that will be used, including supplements to support natural neurotransmitter rehabilitation, therapeutic sauna, soothing relaxation therapies, colon hydrotherapy, and other methods of neurotoxin cleanout, exercise, correct diet, and many other treatments. The diet, exactly tailored, can facilitate and speed up necessary neurotransmitter repair and provide energy naturally and robustly. Many supportive actions such as counseling, life coaching, equine therapy, art therapy, acupuncture and other stress-reduction techniques, yoga, NAD+ and other IV therapy, Qi Gong, nebulized glutathione, and many other options. A rich combination of these holistic therapies can greatly ease the difficulties of reducing and eliminating stimulant drugs without harsh and cumbersome withdrawals. Additionally, comprehensive educational components empower each client in better methods of self-care. These offer valuable tools that will enrich one’s health and lifestyle now and in the future.

For More Information on Alternative to Meds Center’s Ritalin Addiction Treatment Programs

There is much more to learn about coming off Ritalin safely. Importantly, the programs at ATMC improve one’s health in the process. Our aim is to discover the root causes of symptoms and use natural methods to reduce and eliminate troubling symptoms. And, please ask us about insurance coverage. Enrolling may be more affordable now than ever. We look forward to your call about Alternative to Meds Ritalin addiction and withdrawal treatment programs.

Sources:


1. Bradley, C “Behavior of Children Receiving Benzedrine” AM Journal of Psychiatry [Google Scholar online] 1937 issue, and from psychiatryonline.org [cited 2023 May 17]

2. Smith, M “Dr. Matthew Smith on ADHD and Ritalin.” Journeys Through Health History [published online N.D.] [cited 2023 May 17]

3. CDC.gov, “Data and Statistics About ADHD.” US Dept of Health and Human Services [published online 2019 Oct 15] [cited 2023 May 17]

4. Verghese C, Abdijadid S. Methylphenidate. [Updated 2021 May 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482451/ [cited 2023 May 17]

5. FDA Drug label Ritalin/Ritalin SR (methylphenidate hydrochloride) tablets initial approval 1955] [cited 2023 May 30]

6. Leonard B, McCartan D, White J, King D, “Methylphenidate: a review of its neuropharmacological, neuropsychological, and adverse clinical effects.” Journal of Human Psychopharmacology Clinical and Experimental. [31 March 2004] [cited 2023 May 17]

7. Gideon Charach, Eli Karniel, Itamar Grosskopf, Alexander Rabinovich, Lior Charach,Methylphenidate has mild hyperglycemic and hypokalemia effects and increases leukocyte and neutrophil counts, Medicine, 10.1097/MD.0000000000020931, 99, 27, (e20931) (2020) [cited 2023 May 17]

8. Krinzinger H, Hall CL, Groom MJ, Ansari MT, Banaschewski T, Buitelaar JK, Carucci S, Coghill D, Danckaerts M, Dittmann RW, Falissard B, Garas P, Inglis SK, Kovshoff H, Kochhar P, McCarthy S, Nagy P, Neubert A, Roberts S, Sayal K, Sonuga-Barke E, Wong ICK, Xia J, Zuddas A, Hollis C, Konrad K, Liddle EB; ADDUCE Consortium. Neurological and psychiatric adverse effects of long-term methylphenidate treatment in ADHD: A map of the current evidence. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2019 Dec;107:945-968. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2019.09.023. Epub 2019 Sep 20. PMID: 31545988. [cited 2023 May 17]

9. Methylphenidate: growth retardation. Prescrire Int. 2011 Oct;20(120):238-9. PMID: 21970086. [cited 2023 May 17]

10. Daniali S, Madjd Z, Shahbazi A, Niknazar S, Shahbazzadeh D. Chronic Ritalin administration during adulthood increases serotonin pool in rat medial frontal cortexIran Biomed J. 2013;17(3):134-139. doi:10.6091/ibj.1173.2013 [cited 2023 May 17]

11. Gray JD, Punsoni M, Tabori NE, Melton JT, Fanslow V, Ward MJ, Zupan B, Menzer D, Rice J, Drake CT, Romeo RD, Brake WG, Torres-Reveron A, Milner TA. Methylphenidate administration to juvenile rats alters brain areas involved in cognition, motivated behaviors, appetite, and stress. J Neurosci. 2007 Jul 4;27(27):7196-207. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0109-07.2007. PMID: 17611273; PMCID: PMC6794586. [cited 2023 May 17]

12. Grau-López L, Daigre C, Mercado N, Casas M, Roncero C. Dystonia in Methylphenidate Withdrawal: A Case Report. J Addict Med. 2017 Mar/Apr;11(2):154-156. doi: 10.1097/ADM.0000000000000279. PMID: 27926589. [cited 2023 May 17]

13. Gossop M. “Review: limited evidence to support pharmacological therapy for amphetamine withdrawal.” British Medical Journal 2012 Vol 12, Iss 4 [cited 2022 May 17]

14. LeFevre G, Arcona A,  “ADHD among American Schoolchildren – Evidence of Overdiagnosis and Overuse of Medication” The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice Summer 2003 Vol 2 No 1 [cited 2023 May 17]

15. Bergman J, Madras BK, Johnson SE, Spealman RD. Effects of cocaine and related drugs in nonhuman primates. III. Self-administration by squirrel monkeys. J Pharmacol Exp Ther. 1989 Oct;251(1):150-5. PMID: 2529365. [cited 2023 May 17]

16. Ahmann PA, Waltonen SJ, Olson KA, Theye FW, Van Erem AJ, LaPlant RJ. Placebo-controlled evaluation of Ritalin side effects. Pediatrics. 1993 Jun;91(6):1101-6. PMID: 8502509. [cited 2023 May 17]

17. Baweja R, Hale DE, Waxmonsky JG. Impact of CNS Stimulants for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder on Growth: Epidemiology and Approaches to Management in Children and Adolescents. CNS Drugs. 2021 Aug;35(8):839-859. doi: 10.1007/s40263-021-00841-w. Epub 2021 Jul 23. PMID: 34297331. [cited 2023 May 17]

18. Newcorn JH, Nagy P, Childress AC, Frick G, Yan B, Pliszka S. Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Acute Comparator Trials of Lisdexamfetamine and Extended-Release Methylphenidate in Adolescents With Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. CNS Drugs. 2017 Nov;31(11):999-1014. doi: 10.1007/s40263-017-0468-2. PMID: 28980198; PMCID: PMC5730627. [cited 2023 May 17]

19. FDA drug label “Concerta (methylphenidate HCI) extended release tablets”  [approval 2000] [cited 2023 May 17]

20. FDA drug label “Quillivant XR (methylphenidate hydrochloride) approval 1955, revised 2012 [initial approval 1955] [cited 2023 May 17]

21. FDA drug label “Methylin Chewable tablets” approval 12/2013 [cited 2023 May 17]

22. Jacob L, Dauvilliers Y. La narcolepsie avec cataplexie : une maladie auto-immune ? [Narcolepsy with cataplexy: an autoimmune disease?]. Med Sci (Paris). 2014 Dec;30(12):1136-43. French. doi: 10.1051/medsci/20143012017. Epub 2014 Dec 24. PMID: 25537044. [cited 2023 May 17}

23. Birgitte Rahbek Kornum & Poul Jennum (2020) The case for narcolepsy as an autoimmune disease, Expert Review of Clinical Immunology, 16:3, 231-233, DOI: 10.1080/1744666X.2020.1719832 [cited 2023 May 17]

24. Sarkanen T, Alakuijala A, Julkunen I, Partinen M. Narcolepsy Associated with Pandemrix Vaccine. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2018 Jun 1;18(7):43. doi: 10.1007/s11910-018-0851-5. PMID: 29855798. [cited 2022 May 17}

25. Mahlios J, De la Herrán-Arita AK, Mignot E. The autoimmune basis of narcolepsy. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2013 Oct;23(5):767-73. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2013.04.013. Epub 2013 May 29. PMID: 23725858; PMCID: PMC3848424. [cited 2022 May 17}

26. Carlander B, Puech-Cathala AM, Jaussent I, Scholz S, Bayard S, Cochen V, Dauvilliers Y. Low vitamin D in narcolepsy with cataplexy. PLoS One. 2011;6(5):e20433. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0020433. Epub 2011 May 25. PMID: 21633708; PMCID: PMC3102118. [cited 2022 May 17]

27. Sarkanen TO, Alakuijala APE, Dauvilliers YA, Partinen MM. Incidence of narcolepsy after H1N1 influenza and vaccinations: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Sleep Med Rev. 2018 Apr;38:177-186. doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2017.06.006. Epub 2017 Jun 20. PMID: 28847694. [cited 2022 May 17]

28. FDA label Metadate CD extended release capsules 2014 [cited 2022 May 17]

29. Epstein JN, Loren RE. Changes in the Definition of ADHD in DSM-5: Subtle but Important. Neuropsychiatry (London). 2013;3(5):455-458. doi:10.2217/npy.13.59 [cited 2022 May 17]

30. Verghese C, Abdijadid S. Methylphenidate. [Updated 2023 Jan 2]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK482451/ [cited 2023 May 30]


Originally Published May 13, 2020 by Diane Ridaeus


This content has been reviewed and approved by a licensed physician.

Dr. Samuel Lee

Dr. Samuel Lee is a board-certified psychiatrist, specializing in a spiritually-based mental health discipline and integrative approaches. He graduated with an MD at Loma Linda University School of Medicine and did a residency in psychiatry at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle. He has also been an inpatient adult psychiatrist at Kaweah Delta Mental Health Hospital and the primary attending geriatric psychiatrist at the Auerbach Inpatient Psychiatric Jewish Home Hospital. In addition, he served as the general adult outpatient psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente.  He is board-certified in psychiatry and neurology and has a B.A. Magna Cum Laude in Religion from Pacific Union College. His specialty is in natural healing techniques that promote the body’s innate ability to heal itself.

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Ritalin Addiction, Withdrawal, Side Effects, Alternatives, Treatment
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