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Concerta Addiction, Withdrawal | Methylphenidate Side Effects, Alternatives, Tapering

Last Updated on September 22, 2021 by Diane Ridaeus

Alternative to Meds Editorial Team
Medically Reviewed by Dr John Motl MD

Concerta withdrawal can mark the beginning of reclaiming your authentic joie de vivre. Alternative to Meds can help you recover your love of life without drug dependency.

Natural mental health is the fundamental goal of our programs which is why we make the process health-restoring, safe, and comfortable from start to finish.

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What is Concerta used for?

Concerta (methylphenidate) is a stimulant used in treating ADHD for children age 6 and over and for adults to age 65. FDA warns sudden death and stroke have occurred in children and adults at usual doses. Safety has not been tested under age 6 or over age 65 or in pregnant or nursing mothers. Other FDA warnings include interactions with other drugs, contraindications, cautions for use during pregnancy, and health risks such as sudden death, suicidality, age restrictions, and others.1

A prescription for Concerta and others in its class is typically meant to continue over many years, often beginning in childhood and possibly continuing even into adulthood. Currently, about 1 in 10 children have been diagnosed, in the US alone, as needing to take Concerta or other ADHD medications. Some countries around the world have experienced even higher percentages, initiating extremely high drugging of children, for example, in South Africa.8

Concerta contains methylphenidate, a stimulant drug with a similar structure and stimulant properties to cocaine and methamphetamines. Methylphenidate is prescribed to treat ADHD in children and adults between the ages of 6 and 65. The term ADHD is an acronym for attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder.1

Diagnostic Categories for ADHD

Some believe that ADHD is a bonafide diagnosis that may even be related to autism and that it should be treated as a psychiatric illness. Other medical researchers suggest it is best understood as a social or cultural construct, without the neurological, metabolic, or cognitive biomarkers, and no medical tests that normally accompany a medical diagnosis. In 1998, the NIH published a “consensus statement” on ADHD diagnoses and treatments, that clearly states there is no NIH recommendation for, and many variations for deciding which patients should or should not receive drug-based treatment for ADHD.9,2

The DSM 5 edition revised the official diagnostic criteria for ADHD in 2013, but the discussion continues.2

Symptoms of ADHD have recently been separated into three kinds of ADHD. One is “inattentive ADHD” as reported by the CDC. This disorder is evaluated against a set of 9 symptoms. A diagnosis for children under the age of 17 years must include evidence of at least 6 of these nine symptoms for at least 6 months; however, for age 17 and up, a patient only needs evidence of 5 of these 9 symptoms to completely satisfy the criteria for diagnosis:

  • Overlooks details in assigned tasks, makes mistakes, careless about details
  • Lack of sustained attention during lengthy activities, such as reading, listening to a lecture or playing
  • Distracted or non-attentive when being spoken to
  • Fails to finish assigned homework or chores, gets easily sidetracked
  • Lacks organization skills such as time management, possessions not organized, etc.
  • Reluctant to begin lengthy tasks such as preparing a long report that requires sustained focus and effort
  • Often loses possessions related to school or work, like pens and pencils, cell phones, etc.
  • Gets distracted by outside sounds or other environmental stimuli
  • Tends to be forgetful about chores, errands, keeping appointments, etc.

The second diagnostic category for this disorder is predominantly “hyperactive-impulsive ADHD,” and the 9 symptoms to satisfy diagnostic criteria for this psychiatric disorder, (required minimum of 6 of the 9 symptoms under 17 years of age, and a minimum of 5 out of 9 for age 17 and older) are:

  • Frequently fidgets, taps with hands, squirms while seated
  • When expected to remain seated, often gets up or leaves the area
  • Runs about, climbs, restless
  • Inability to play quietly or participate in leisure activities quietly
  • Often active, as if driven by a motor, can’t sit still, is difficult to keep up with
  • Talks excessively
  • Blurts out answers before a question has been completed or speaks out of turn
  • Difficulty waiting in a line, waiting for his/her turn, tends to intrude without permission
  • Hyperfocused, becoming overly absorbed in tasks to the detriment of social responsibilities, agreements, appointments, etc.

There is yet a third category — the combined impulsive, hyperactive, and inattentive version. The adult presentation, the CDC suggests, may look less like fidgeting or squirming while seated, and more like extreme restlessness, or wearing others out with their activity level.10

ADHD is considered by some in the mental health field as a questionable and even fictitious disease model, and question the tidal wave of drugging children and adults to relieve boredom and lack of interest. Many do not agree that placing a label on a child, or an adult for that matter, is a sound medical practice. There has been substantial debate on the benefits or detriments of labels and drug treatment models, especially for stimulant drugs.3

Concerta Side Effects

Concerta is a stimulant and shares a range of side effects similar to other stimulant drugs. The side effects listed here are taken from the FDA drug label 1 and from other sources as indicated.

Serious Concerta Side effects include:

  • Sudden death 15
  • Serious cardiovascular events
  • Increase in blood pressure
  • Psychiatric-adverse events
  • Seizure
  • Tics 15
  • Peripheral vasculopathy
  • Visual disturbance
  • Stunted growth (long-term suppression of growth)
  • Gastrointestinal blockage or narrowing
  • Platelet count changes requiring hematologic monitoring
  • Suicidality (thoughts or attempts)
  • Increased violence
  • Violent thoughts
  • Thoughts of self-harm
  • Chest pain, difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Poor circulation in fingers and toes causing them to ulcerate, turn blue or white, cold, or numb.
  • Fainting
  • Hearing voices in the head, especially directing the person to do certain things, or other auditory hallucinations

The following is a list of commonly reported side effects of drugs containing methylphenidate:

  • Nausea, vomiting, upset stomach
  • Loss of interest in eating, decreased appetite, weight loss
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Mood swings, i.e., euphoria to irritability, sadness, anger, hostility, easily agitated, emotional lability 5
  • Insomnia, disturbed sleep, unusual dreams
  • Anxiety
  • Tachycardia, racing heart rate, palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Priapism (painful persistent penile erection) 5
  • Blurred vision
  • Sexual dysfunction

Always talk with your prescribing physician if these or other symptoms appear while taking Concerta.

Concerta Withdrawal Symptoms

The FDA and other researchers warn of the following possible withdrawal effects:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression 15
  • Insomnia
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Irritability
  • Dystonia (muscular spasms resulting in abnormal posture induced by medication) 14

While some people report minimal withdrawal symptoms after stopping Concerta, others report a range of withdrawal effects that may include:

  • Psychotic behavior
  • Suicidality
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Headaches, can be severe
  • Anxiety
  • Tiredness, fatigue
  • Nausea, stomach ache, vomiting
  • Panic attacks
  • Depression
  • Increased appetite, ravenous hunger
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Cognitive impairment, brain fog
  • Mood swings
  • Drug cravings

Discontinuing/Quitting Methylphenidate

Coming off any medication, especially one that has been taken for years or even decades, may require precise, careful monitoring to ensure the safety of the person during and after the tapering process.

Worldwide statistics collected over many years have shown that a person diagnosed with ADHD would be five times more likely to develop an addiction disorder.6

Concerta FAQs

Are Ritalin and Concerta the Same Thing?

Both Ritalin and Concerta have the same active ingredient, methylphenidate. Ritalin has a more immediate release and is prescribed to be taken 3 or 4 times per day. Concerta lasts about 10–12 hours for a single dose; hence, dosing is needed only once a day.1,4

ritalin concerta addictionBoth drugs have become popular diversion or street drugs, i.e., not prescribed, but used recreationally, usually crushed and snorted for immediate stimulating effects. These drugs cause an artificial surge of dopamine, which is a natural “reward” chemical.

Both drugs have seen a slight decline in numbers of prescriptions written yearly in the US, yet have seen a significant rise in numbers of prescriptions in other countries around the world.

It seems that this would be viewed as financially broadening the reach of pharmaceutical companies who vigorously market Concerta and similar stimulant drugs.

Given such global expansion in drug sales, coordinated with an ever-increasing prevalence of ADHD diagnoses, perhaps it is possible that ADHD could indeed soon become the leading childhood disorder treated with drugs, across the entire globe.7

Treatment for Concerta Abuse and Addiction?

ADHD drugs have become popularized as recreational drugs, due to their stimulant effects. Some nicknames have emerged, such as:

  • Kibbles & bits
  • Kiddy cocaine
  • Pineapple
  • Kiddie coke
  • Smarties
  • Skittles

ADHD drugs are addictive and can be difficult to stop using without a properly managed holistic tapering or withdrawal program in place. Tapering from Concerta in a nurturing, well-monitored, health-restorative setting is recommended to avoid the possibility of further health risks. Alternative to Meds Center provides careful tapering for adults who wish to discontinue Concerta or other drugs safely, in a relaxed and compassionate inpatient facility. Over forty highly trained staff members, including medical doctors, nurses, practitioners, and other caregivers are on hand for round-the-clock client care.

At Alternative to Meds Center, prior to tapering, lab testing is employed to investigate neurotoxin accumulations and nutritional deficiencies that may need to be addressed. Poisonous toxins and heavy metals are often linked to unwanted symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, insomnia, and other ailments, and so are nutritional deficiencies, and having a dysfunctional microbiome.11-13

holistic treatments for concerta addictionWhen these neurotoxic accumulations are removed from the body, using deep cleansing techniques, infrared sauna, nebulized glutathione, and other natural neurotransmitter repair protocols, clients often report near immediate improvements such as more energy and focus, deeper and more restful sleep, better appetite, fewer cravings, lift in emotions, improved sense of calmness, and many other benefits.

These are improvements to mental health, acquired naturally, that may be available especially where no real investigation of symptoms ever occurred, and stimulants were simply used to achieve an effect that is generally not sustainable.

Gut health and proper diet to support neurochemistry are areas that have been neglected in psychiatric health settings but are now receiving much-needed attention for patient success. At Alternative to Meds Center, these alternative treatments form essential pillars of treatments used for recovering mental health naturally, without relying on prescription drugs for temporary relief. You can learn more about alternative treatments on our services overview page.

A person who has become dependent on ADHD or other medication may have made a decision to quit, but may have some reservations. One might be the desire to quit Concerta in a way that does not create further health risks. Another concern may be the desire to correct symptoms that existed prior to medication, and not suffer the return of “rebound” symptoms after quitting Concerta. With gradual and gentle cessation methods, and with exhaustive investigation and holistic corrective techniques, Alternative to Meds Center specializes in both areas.

Contact us at Alternative to Meds Center for more information on the Concerta withdrawal programs we offer, or for other information that may be helpful to you or your loved one.

1. FDA drug label [accessed 2020 Nov 9]

2. NIH (No authors listed) Diagnosis and treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). NIH Consens Statement. 1998 Nov 16-18;16(2):1-37. PMID: 10868163. [cited 2021 Sept 21]

3. Lakhan SE, Kirchgessner A. Prescription stimulants in individuals with and without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder: misuse, cognitive impact, and adverse effectsBrain Behav. 2012;2(5):661-677. doi:10.1002/brb3.78 [cited 2021 Sept 21]

4. Khodadust N, Jalali AH, Ahmadzad-Asl M, Khademolreza N, Shirazi E. Comparison of Two brands of Methylphenidate (Stimdate(®) vs. Ritalin(®)) in Children and Adolescents with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Double-Blind, Randomized Clinical Trial. Iran J Psychiatry Behav Sci. 2012 Spring;6(1):26-32. PMID: 24644466; PMCID: PMC3939941. [cited 2021 Sept 21]

5. Verghese C, Abdijadid S. Methylphenidate. [Updated 2021 May 4]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: [cited 2021 Sept 21]

6. Richie H, Roser M “Drug Use”, 2019 Dec [cited 2020 Nov 9]

7. Scheffler RM, Hinshaw SP, Modrek S, Levine P “The Global Market For ADHD Medications” HealthAffairs, 2007 Mar/Apr [cited 2020 Nov 9]

8. “SA has one of the highest prescription rates for ADHD medication” Health24, 2017 Jul 18 [cited 2020 Nov 9]

9. Timimi, S., & Taylor, E. (2004). ADHD is best understood as a cultural constructBritish Journal of Psychiatry, 184(1), 8-9. doi:10.1192/bjp.184.1.8 [cited 2021 Sept 21]

10. CDC, “Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD.” [online] 2013 [cited 2021 Sept 21]

11. Brown JS Jr. Psychiatric issues in toxic exposures. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 2007 Dec;30(4):837-54. doi: 10.1016/j.psc.2007.07.004. PMID: 17938048. [cited 2021 Sept 21]

12. Adan RAH, van der Beek EM, Buitelaar JK, Cryan JF, Hebebrand J, Higgs S, Schellekens H, Dickson SL. Nutritional psychiatry: Towards improving mental health by what you eat. Eur Neuropsychopharmacol. 2019 Dec;29(12):1321-1332. doi: 10.1016/j.euroneuro.2019.10.011. Epub 2019 Nov 14. PMID: 31735529. [cited 2021 Sept 21]

13. Grosso G. Nutritional Psychiatry: How Diet Affects Brain through Gut Microbiota. Nutrients. 2021 Apr 14;13(4):1282. doi: 10.3390/nu13041282. PMID: 33919680; PMCID: PMC8070365. [cited 2021 Sept 21]

14. 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 2021 Sept 21]

15. Fox AM, Rieder MJ. Risks and benefits of drugs used in the management of the hyperactive child. Drug Saf. 1993 Jul;9(1):38-50. doi: 10.2165/00002018-199309010-00004. PMID: 8347290. [cited 2021 Sept 21]

Originally Published Sep 13, 2018 by Diane Ridaeus

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

Dr. John Motl, M.D.

Dr. Motl is currently certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology in Psychiatry, and Board eligible in Neurology and licensed in the state of Arizona.  He holds a Bachelor of Science degree with a major in biology and minors in chemistry and philosophy. He graduated from Creighton University School of Medicine with a Doctor of Medicine.  Dr. Motl has studied Medical Acupuncture at the Colorado School of Traditional Chinese Medicine and at U.C.L.A.

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Concerta Addiction, Withdrawal | Methylphenidate Side Effects, Alternatives, Tapering
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