Ritalin (A complete guide)

In this blog post, we will discuss what Ritalin is used for, common side effects, and risks associated with this medication.

What is Ritalin?

Ritalin (generic name methylphenidate) is a medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Ritalin is a stimulant and can increase your ability to focus as well as control behavior problems.

It may also help you organize your to-do list and improve listening capabilities.

Ritalin can also be used to treat narcolepsy, which is a sleep disorder. 

Who is prescribed Ritalin?

People with ADHD may be prescribed Ritalin. 

The following is an overview of ADHD: 

Since 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) has characterized ADD as a subset of attention deficit ADHD. There are three subtypes of ADHD outlined below:

·     Inattentive: this is what people commonly think of when they hear “ADD”.

The person is easily distracted but does not show symptoms of impulsivity of hyperactivity 

·     Hyperactive/impulsive: The person has clear symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity but is not easily distracted

·     Combined: The person diagnosed experiences both inattentiveness and hyperactivity/impulsivity 

To be diagnosed with hyperactive/impulsive ADD, six or more of the following symptoms for children up to age 16 or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults must be persistent for at least six months and are age and developmentally inappropriate:

·     Fidgetiness (i.e., tapping hands and feet, squirming in seat)

·     Gets up from seat even when expected to remain seated

·     Consistently Interrupts conversations 

·     Often appears “on the go” 

·     Blurts out answers before a question has been completed 

·     Unable to play quietly or appropriately take part in activities 

In addition, the following criteria must be met: 

·     Has symptoms in many settings such as school, work, home, or other activities 

·     The symptoms interfere with daily functioning at school, work, or in social situations 

·     The symptoms cannot be explained by another mental health condition such as an anxiety or mood disorder 

Boys and men are more likely to be referred for ADD testing, receive accommodations, and participate in research studies, so it is difficult to identify the exact ratio of men to women with ADD.

It has been suggested that ADD is more prevalent in boys and men, but this is likely skewed due to unreported cases of girls and women with ADD.

ADD affects the areas of the brain that control executive functioning skills such as attention, concentration, memory, motivation and effort, and organization. 

It is important to understand that ADD is not caused by poor parenting, head injuries, childhood trauma, video games or other electronic devices, lack of exercise, or excess sugar.

Although these used to be widely held beliefs, there have been no scientific correlations between these examples and development of ADD. 

Researchers have shown that people with ADD have abnormalities in certain neurotransmitters, or chemicals in the brain that relay signals to control behavior.

Dopamine and norepinephrine are two such neurotransmitters.  

In addition, patients with ADD have deficits in the brain circuits that are involved in the engagement and maintenance of attention.

Studies have shown reduced activity in the premotor cortex and prefrontal cortex, areas in the brain responsible for motor activity and attention, respectively. 

Researchers have also shown differences in the volume and activity levels in the prefrontal cortex, caudate nucleus, ventral tegmental area, substantia nigra, cerebellum, and corpus callosum, areas that are known to regulate mood, emotion, and coordinated movements.  

In addition to differences in brain function and activity, certain genes have been implicated in the development of ADD.

All three of these genes involve dopamine function, including genes for dopamine receptors. 

What are some problems associated with ADD?

People diagnosed with ADD may also have issues with hyperactivity and other behavior problems. Children with ADD may have other learning disabilities and repeated problems in school, such as consistently disrupting the class.

Sadly, adults and other children may conclude that these students are “lazy” due to their lack of follow through with assignments, however, this is a clear misconception.

If you want to learn more about myths associated with ADD click here

What are the symptoms of ADD in adults?

Adults with ADD have usually had the disorder since childhood but may not have been diagnosed until later.

Typically, a family member, colleague, or peer prompts an evaluation due to a specific ongoing problem at work or in relationships. 

Adults can have any of the three subtypes of ADD, but the symptoms usually differ from children because of the higher maturity level.

Symptoms such as fidgeting in children can be seen as restlessness in adults. 

What are the symptoms of ADD in children? 

Children with inattentive ADD may have the following symptoms: 

·      Easily distracted, consistently loses focus 

·      Trouble maintaining attention on daily tasks and activities

·      Forgetful and loses materials needed to complete tasks and activities 

·      Does not give close attention to detail in schoolwork or other activities 

·      Makes careless mistakes 

·      Doesn’t follow instructions

·      Ignores person speaking, even when spoken to directly

·      Leaves tasks unfinished such as schoolwork and chores 

·      Struggles with organization 

·      Dislikes and avoid tasks that require sustained mental effort

Some school-specific symptoms of inattentive ADD include: 

·      Daydreaming or forgetfulness

·      Losing school materials, misplacing assignments

·      Failure to turn in school assignments

·      Showing a demeanor of boredom or disinterest in class

·      School assignments, desk, or locker appearing disorganized

Children diagnosed with hyperactive and impulsive ADD may have the following symptoms:

·      Talks excessively even when told not to

·      Constantly fidgets by squirming or tapping hands or feet

·      Gets up from seat even when told to remain seated

·      Unable to play quietly 

·      Constantly interrupts and has trouble waiting for turn 

·      Runs around or climbs when expected to remain seated 

If you or your child meet these criteria and don’t know where to start with getting the right help, you can contact the Cognitive Assessment Group

What are the side effects of Ritalin?

Side effects of Ritalin include nervousness, difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, weight loss, dizziness, nausea, or headache.

Monitor your blood pressure regularly since this medication can elevate blood pressure.

Some serious side effects of Ritalin include unusual wounds on the fingers or toes, irregular heartbeat, and behavior changes.

Click here for a full list of potential side effects. 

What is some important information I should know before taking Ritalin?

It is imperative not to abruptly stop taking this medication.

Suddenly stopping this medication can lead to serious withdrawal symptoms including suicidal thoughts, depression, or other mood changes. 

If you are taking Ritalin for an extended period of time, it may lose its effect.

Tell your doctor if this medication is no longer working well.

Ritalin has addictive potential, much like other stimulants.

Take this medication exactly as prescribed to lower the risk of developing addiction.

Tell your doctor if you have a substance use disorder (SUD), because this can increase your risk for developing an addiction to Ritalin. 

Do people with ADHD use Ritalin in combination with other treatments? 

A combination of the right medication and therapy are usually the most effective treatments for ADD. 

There are various solutions for ADHD including medication, various types of therapies and products which help reduce the symptoms of ADHD.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT, has been a very effective strategy in helping patients with ADD develop new adaptive coping mechanisms.

The focus of therapy is on identifying workable actions and skills in the present moment that can be applied to daily situations. 

Group therapy and peer support groups are also extremely successful in helping patients process the interpersonal and emotional effects that having ADD has imposed on them.

People with ADD often feel overwhelmed as well as shame, guilt, and failure. 

Many ADD patients seek out coaches specifically to help improve organizational skills, goal completion, time management, and general productivity.

These coaches strive to maintain a positive approach to achieving goals while also holding the patient accountable for his or her actions. 

In addition to all the forms of therapy discussed above, ADD is usually treated with medications prescribed by a psychiatrist.

Stimulants such as Strattera or Adderall are commonly used. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about Ritalin:

What does Ritalin do?

Ritalin is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant prescription medication. It is used to treat people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Ritalin may improve attention and decrease impulsiveness and hyperactivity in people with ADHD. 

2.    How does Ritalin make you feel?

Ritalin may cause feelings of euphoria because of the increase in the brain’s dopamine levels.

Dopamine is a chemical in the brain that makes you feel a sense of pleasure.

Because of this, Ritalin can have addictive potential. 

3.    Is Ritalin stronger than Adderall?

Ritalin exerts its effects faster and reaches its peak performance more quickly than Adderall does.

Some people prefer Ritalin over Adderall because it is short-acting and the timing of side effects such as loss of appetite and difficulty sleeping can be better controlled.

4.    What happens if you take Ritalin without ADHD? 

DO NOT TAKE RITALIN AS A STUDY BOOSTER. The main purpose of this drug is to increase attention and focus in ADHD patients.

If Ritalin is taken by someone without ADHD, the already adequate dopamine levels will increase and cause symptoms of euphoria and restlessness.

The feeling of euphoria is a slippery slope and can lead to addiction. 

 Raised on Ritalin – A Personal Story of ADHD, Medication, and Modern Psychiatry

This book by Tyler Page describes his experiences as being among the first generation of children prescribed Ritalin. 

Talking Back to Ritalin: What Doctors Aren’t Telling You About Stimulants and ADHD

This book discusses the harmful effects of stimulants such as Ritalin and explains how these ADHD medications can cause the same harmful effects as cocaine and amphetamine.

Dr. Peter Breggin translates research findings into understandable terms for parents to understand the risks of their child taking ADHD stimulants.

Thriving with ADHD Workbook for Kids: 60 Fun Activities to Help Children Self-Regulate, Focus, and Succeed

This best-selling workbook helps children diagnosed with ADD manage their feelings of loneliness, frustration, and helplessness.

Therapist Kelli Miller uses her professional and personal expertise to advise kids in reframing the way they think about their disorder from something negative to a more positive and unique perspective.

The workbook includes exercises that deal with staying focused, controlling impulses, and making more thoughtful decisions.

There are techniques for self-regulation and organization, as well as specific action plans.

These include preparing for daily activities such as homework charts, expressing emotions, and creating an effective morning routine. 

You Mean I’m Not Lazy, Stupid, or Crazy?!: The Classic Self-Help Book for Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder

This book is the first of its kind for written for adults with ADD and includes helpful tips for improving memory and organization.

It explains how a diagnosis of ADD differs from lapses in memory, lack of concentration, or impulsivity.

Importantly, it goes into detail on the differences between ADD in men and women and how declining levels of estrogen impact cognitive function.

Learning to balance work, family, and relationships as well as how to seek professional help are also included in this fantastic self-help guide. 

Focused: ADHD & ADD Parenting Strategies for Children with Attention Deficit Disorder

Blythe Grossberg is an expert with over 15 years of experience in treating adults and children with ADD and gives essential information on the best ways to parent a child or children with ADD.

The book includes over 40 parenting strategies on managing hyperactivity and inattentiveness, worksheets to supplement your child’s treatment plan, and guiding principles to become an advocate for your child. She encourages parents to promote positive behavior and work with their child’s unique needs. 

Questions or comments? Post below!


Attention Deficit Disorder Without Hyperactivity. Very Well Mind. Written by Ann Logsdon, October 29th, 2019 

What’s the Difference Between ADHD and ADD? Healthline. April 12th, 2017.

ADHD: The Facts. Attention Deficit Disorder Association. 1998. 

Ritalin. WebMD. 2020. 

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