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Ritalin Addiction Statistics: A Rising Threat

Methylphenidate, also known by the brand name Ritalin, is a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It may also be prescribed for narcolepsy, although this usage is less common. The drug is manufactured by Novartis, and has been used to treat ADHD since 1955. It began being prescribed heavily in the 1990s, however, and since has been the recommended treatment for ADHD.


ADHD is a disorder that is characterized by an inability to pay attention, along with disruptive behavior and hyperactivity. It often makes succeeding in school more difficult. The symptoms often begin to appear at an early age (by the age of 7), but may not be most apparent until academic problems appear. The disorder affects anywhere from 3 to 5 percent of children around the world.

Some of the common symptoms of ADHD include being distracted easily, difficulty focusing, becoming bored with something after only a short time, fidgeting, talkativeness, and impatience. Although most people displays symptoms like this in a modicum, in those with ADHD they cause significant problems in daily functioning and/or success in school.

It should be noted that ADHD is a chronic disorder. Although it appears in childhood, it generally continues into adulthood. Thus, many people who are prescribed Ritalin to treat ADHD are no longer of school age.

Ritalin as a Treatment

Ritalin is a stimulant medication, which may seem counterintuitive as ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity. However, stimulant drugs are also known for increasing the ability to focus. Ritalin acts on the brain to increase levels of neurotransmitters that are needed to maintain focus and concentration.

Ritalin has been demonstrated to be effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD. Thus, it has become the medication of choice for children suffering from the disorder. Some estimates are that 1.5% of children between 2 and 4 are taking stimulants, anti-psychotics, or antidepressants. Ritalin makes up a significant portion of that percentage.

Ritalin Addiction Statistics

Ritalin is similar to cocaine in the way it works on the brain. It increases the levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine, although common dosages of Ritalin do so in a gradual manner so as to not produce the euphoria common to drugs like cocaine. When administered in a different manner than recommended, however, such as by crushing and snorting the pills. The same effect can be achieved by injecting the drug and taking very large doses orally.

In fact, Ritalin can be more potent than cocaine when taken in these ways. People may take it both to stay awake for long periods of time or to induce euphoria. The abuse of Ritalin occurs more among college students than other populations. The majority of the Ritalin abused by college students is obtained from legal prescriptions. Often those who receive valid prescriptions will sell their pills to classmates, although Ritalin is also one of the most frequently stolen prescriptions in the United States.

Due to the increasing diagnosis of ADHD and thus the more common Ritalin prescription, Ritalin addiction statistics are also rising. In 2003, a study found that 10% of students in 12th grade stated they had used recreational stimulants in the past year (Ritalin was included in this category). In 1996, a DEA study in three states found that 30-50% of adolescents in treatment for drugs reported using Ritalin. In 1998, there were 11 million Ritalin prescriptions written; surely that number has risen drastically in the past 10 years.

Ritalin Addiction Effects

The effects of Ritalin addiction can be serious. Like many other stimulants, it has side effects on the heart. It can cause cardiac arrhythmia, changes in pulse and blood pressure, and chest pain. These acute effects may become more serious with prolonged use. There have thus far been 19 cases of cardiac arrest associated with Ritalin in adolescents. There have also been some cases of long-term Ritalin use leading to psychosis.

Like many other addictive drugs, Ritalin can lead to tolerance when taken for a long period of time. This also can cause withdrawal symptoms if the drug is suddenly discontinued. Once someone begins taking Ritalin via a different route of administration (snorting, injection), he or she can progress rapidly to addiction.

Ritalin is a drug with a great deal of abuse potential. Only when used according to the manufacturer's recommendations are its users safe from addiction.


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