Ritalin (Methylphenidate)

Ioana Cozma
Morgan Blair
Written by Ioana Cozma on 09 August 2023
Medically reviewed by Morgan Blair on 15 July 2024

Ritalin is a prescription stimulant primarily used for treating ADHD symptoms in children. This guide outlines the drug’s uses, dosage, side effects, and addiction potential, comparing it to other medicine in the same category.

Key takeaways:
  • Ritalin is highly effective at treating ADHD symptoms if taken correctly.
  • Ritalin does not have severe side effects in appropriate doses.
  • Most Ritalin abuse cases occur in young populations below 25 years old.
  • Ritalin overdose triggers vomiting, hallucinations, and aggressive behavior.
Ritalin (Methylphenidate)

What is Ritalin?

Ritalin is a Schedule II controlled substance primarily used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Its main active ingredient is methylphenidate, a central nervous system stimulant that increases the activity of particular brain neurotransmitters, including dopamine and norepinephrine. People taking Ritalin feel improved focus, mental clarity, attention, and impulse control.

Ritalin dosage

The typical Ritalin dosage for adults is 20-30 mg/day, with a maximum daily dosage of 60 mg/day. Although some individuals may need 40-60 mg/ day, some cases only require 10-15 mg/day.

In children over six, the typical dosage starts at 5 mg before breakfast and lunch. This dosage can be increased by 5-10 mg more per week, though it should not be increased over 60 mg daily.

However, some studies note that the 60 mg daily limit appears arbitrary.

Ritalin is typically taken orally twice to three times daily, 30-45 minutes before mealtime. Individuals experiencing upset stomachs from Ritalin may take the substance during or after meals and snacks.

Healthcare providers can adjust these dosages depending on the patient’s medical history, affection, and response to this medicine.

The half-life of methylphenidate is 2-7 hours, meaning the drug stays in your system for 1-2 days.

How is Ritalin abused?

Ritalin abuse can take many forms:

  • Ingesting more than the prescribed dosage
  • Taking the medication differently than prescribed (e.g., crushing and snorting the tablets or intravenous administration)
  • Using someone else’s prescription
  • Mixing Ritalin with other substances, such as alcohol or other stimulants

Intranasal use of methylphenidate has similar effects to cocaine, triggering a quick synaptic release of dopamine felt as “gratifying euphoria.”

Unlike cocaine, Ritalin is a legal drug, and its widespread availability influences the subsequent possibilities of abuse. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the production of methylphenidate increased to 14,957 kilograms in 2000 from only 1,768 kilograms in 1990. Ritalin prescriptions reach 11 million per year, and the US is responsible for 85% of global Ritalin production and consumption.

The DEA notes that most methylphenidate abuse cases occur in people below 25 years old who obtain the substance from friends or classmates. The drug is typically taken to increase mental focus during studying sessions or to improve mood at parties.

Side effects of Ritalin abuse

While regular consumption of Ritalin does not typically have severe side effects, abusing methylphenidate can have harmful health consequences.

Oral abuse of this substance may induce hallucinations, paranoia, and delusional disorder. Intravenous abuse may lead to psychosis and increased mortality. Cases of intranasal abuse of methylphenidate are linked to bursts of anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and even death.

Confusion, delirium, toxic psychosis, extreme anger, and hallucinations are likewise frequently noted side effects.

Other sources note that sudden Ritalin cessation may also cause severe mental health symptoms, including mood disorder, depression, and suicidal thoughts.

Is Ritalin addictive?

Ritalin has a high addictive potential because it is a central nervous system stimulant that increases dopamine production. Individuals wanting to experience these cognitive and mood-improving effects continue to take Ritalin, forming a habit.

Ritalin can cause addiction in the same way as cocaine and amphetamines because it stimulates the same areas of the brain.

Another danger of Ritalin abuse is, paradoxically, its legality. 16% of participants in a study on children admitted they were asked to distribute Ritalin illegally. Family members are also typically involved in illegally distributing the drug.

Additionally, research on students’ perceptions of methylphenidate abuse shows that over 16% of students have taken the substance recreationally, and 12.7% had used it intranasally to experience a rapid onset of euphoria.

Ritalin vs. Adderall

Ritalin and Adderall are both CNS stimulants used in treating ADHD. While the primary substance in Ritalin is methylphenidate, Adderall is made from amphetamine salts.

Daily dosage20-30 mg5-60 mg
Immediate effectsAgitationHeadacheSleep problemsDecreased appetiteStomach painSleep problemsDecreased appetite
Long-term effectsPoor circulationDelayed growth in childrenPotential for abuseInhibits proper production of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrineParkinson’s diseaseMemory problemsVerbal learning difficulties
Risk of overdoseDelusionShakinessParanoiaAnxietySeizureConfusionFaintingFeverSeizureHeart attack
Addictive (Y/N)YesYes

Ritalin vs. Vyvanse

The primary substance in Vyvanse is lisdexamfetamine. Vyvanse is a CNS stimulant like Ritalin, but some studies note it may be more effective against ADHD. The drug is also used against binge eating disorders. Vyvanse is often used to treat the same conditions as Adderall and has a lot of similarities to the drug.

Daily dosage20-30 mg 10-70 mg
Immediate effectsAgitationHeadacheSleep problemsDecreased appetiteStomach painDecreased appetiteWeight lossInsomniaNausea
Long-term effectsPoor circulationDelayed growth in childrenPotential for abuseDelayed growth in children and teenagers
Risk of overdoseDelusionShakinessParanoiaAnxietySeizureConfusionElevated heart rateIncreased blood pressureIncreased sweatingAggressionTremors
Addictive (Y/N)YesNo

Ritalin vs. Concerta

Ritalin and Concerta are different brand names for methylphenidate, so they have corresponding effects on the brain and similar side effects.

Daily dosage20-30 mg 10-60 mg
Immediate effectsAgitationHeadacheSleep problemsDecreased appetiteStomach painSleep problemsDecreased appetiteStomach pain
Long-term effectsPoor circulationDelayed growth in childrenPotential for abuseLasting psychosisSevere heart problemsAddictionImpacted decision-making
Risk of overdoseDelusionShakinessParanoiaAnxietySeizureConfusionAnxietyRacing heartVisual or auditory hallucinationsPsychosisManic episodes
Addictive (Y/N)YesYes

Treatment for Ritalin addiction

Ritalin addiction can be overcome through medication-assisted treatment and behavioral therapy, depending on its severity. Studies show that people suffering from stimulant dependence have the best chance of successful recovery when receiving treatment in a residential rehab or outpatient program.

Detoxing at a rehab clinic and treating co-occurring conditions like anxiety and depression help patients manage withdrawal symptoms and cravings, thus decreasing the risk of relapse.

Behavioral therapy may include individual counseling, group therapy, and family therapy. Individuals with Ritalin addiction may also benefit from support groups such as Narcotics Anonymous.

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  1. Morton, W. A., & Stockton, G. G. (2000). Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects. Primary care companion to the Journal of clinical psychiatry, 2(5), 159–164.
  2. (n.d.). Methylphenidate (Rx). Medscape.
  3. (2023, June 29). Ritalin Dosage. Drugs.com.
  4. (n.d.). Ritalin - Uses, Side Effects, and More. WebMD.
  5. (n.d.). Statistics on Stimulant Use. PBS.
  6. Drug Enforcement Administration (n.d.). METHYLPHENIDATE. DEA Diversion Control Division.
  7. Babcock, Q., B.A., & Byrne, T., PhD (2000). Student Perceptions of Methylphenidate Abuse at a Public Liberal Arts College. Journal of American College Health, 49(3), 143-145.
  8. (2022, October 24). Ritalin vs Adderall: What is the difference? Drugs.com.
  9. (2023, February 1). Ritalin vs Vyvanse - What's the difference between them? Drugs.com.

Activity History - Last updated: 15 July 2024, Published date:


Morgan Blair


Morgan is a mental health counselor who works alongside individuals of all backgrounds struggling with eating disorders. Morgan is freelance mental health and creative writer who regularly contributes to publications including, Psychology Today.

Activity History - Medically Reviewed on 07 August 2023 and last checked on 15 July 2024

Medically reviewed by
Morgan Blair


Morgan Blair


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