Ritalin is a prescription medication that was developed to help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) calm their minds and improve their ability to focus and pay attention to important tasks. Ritalin works wonders for people who have ADHD, and most people who use the drug properly, as prescribed by their doctors for their specific medical condition, do not develop addictions to the medication.
However, people who abuse the drug for recreational purposes can, and do, develop serious addictions to the drug. According to an article published by the Harvard Medical School, about 1 million Americans reported abusing prescription stimulants like Ritalin in 2007. For many of these people, rehab programs will provide meaningful help that can stop the abuse from occurring and allow real healing to begin.
Detox Comes First
Ritalin is a strong and powerful medication that has a chemical structure quite similar to cocaine. People who have ADHD have a depletion in a key chemical used by the brain, and Ritalin is designed to help correct that depletion. People who do not have ADHD, however, flood their brains with unneeded chemicals each time they take Ritalin. The body reacts to this assault by adjusting its chemical processes in a variety of ways. A person who takes Ritalin on a regular basis, and develops an addiction as a result, may have a brain that has been chemically altered to respond to Ritalin, and those alterations must be undone before rehabilitation can move forward.
Detoxification is considered the first step in this process. Here, people are given a safe place in which to allow their bodies to adjust to the lack of Ritalin. They may also have access to therapies that can help them make the adjustment without facing serious physical discomfort. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some people experience these side effects as they attempt to withdraw from Ritalin:
While it’s possible for people to overcome these symptoms on their own at home, it’s also possible that doing so could lead to a relapse to Ritalin use. Strong feelings of anxiety and depression are hard for anyone to live with, but they might be particularly hard to endure if people know they can make the symptoms stop by taking drugs.
By checking into a detoxification program, people are ensuring that a relapse won’t occur. They won’t have access to the drug while enrolled in the program, and they will be encouraged to stay until the process is over. They may also be given medications to help ease the symptoms they feel as the detoxification process moves forward. After a few days have passed, the person will have a system free of Ritalin, and the next phase of healing can begin.
Assessing the Damage
Rehabilitation programs are tailored, providing different therapies to each addict, depending on the damage that has been done and the path the addict took that led to the addiction. In order to identify these issues, most programs will provide addicts with a significant amount of screening tests at the beginning of the rehab process.
Some of these tests are designed to assess the damage the addiction has done to the person’s life. In these tests, the addict might be asked about his/her:
- Employment status
- Parenting issues
- Housing situation
- Legal issues
Other tests are physical, designed to help determine if there are underlying physical conditions that must also be addressed as the rehab process moves forward. Ritalin abuse can put a significant amount of stress on the heart, according to an article in the journal Current Opinion in Pediatrics, and the problems tend to escalate with increasingly large doses of the drug. People with Ritalin addictions may have heart damage that must be both spotted and treated during rehab. Other physical conditions such as chronic pain might also play a role in addictions, so physical testing is considered a crucial part of the screening process.
Mental health tests also play a vital role in assessments. Addictions and mental illnesses tend to go hand in hand, and they tend to strengthen and support one another. For example, people who abuse Ritalin may feel depressed due to the changes brought about by the addiction. The depression causes the person to take more Ritalin, which makes the depression symptoms worse. By addressing only one of these two factors, the other might grow stronger. A comprehensive program that addresses both issues, by contrast, could provide meaningful help.
Dealing With Trauma
Some people develop addictions to Ritalin due to an inability to deal with stress. For example, some students who feel overwhelmed by the pressure to get good grades on all of their tests may turn to Ritalin in order to help them stay awake and focused on their studies. Instead of understanding how to manage their time and maintain reasonable expectations, these teens turned to medications to help them succeed. It’s a remarkably common occurrence.
According to a study in the Journal of American College Health, 16 percent of students polled reported abusing or misusing stimulants, and 96 percent of these students specifically reported using Ritalin. In order to heal, these students will need to learn new techniques for handling the challenges they face. Other people develop addictions due to traumatic experiences such as:
- Family violence
- Pressures of parenting
- Sexual abuse
- Witnessing conflict
These people may need entirely different types of therapy in order to help them resolve these old conflicts and move forward with their lives in a way that is both healthier and more fulfilling.
No medications have been specifically developed to help people overcome an addiction to Ritalin. In other words, no pills can help people to leave their addictions behind. Instead, people will need to use specific therapeutic techniques in order to understand how the addiction developed and how it can be controlled in the future.
Some therapists use a form of therapy that helps addicts to understand how their hidden thoughts and impulses guide them to drug use. In therapy sessions, addicts are asked to explain what they thought about in the moments leading up to drug use, and they’re encouraged to come up with new ways of thinking that may not lead to drug use. Someone who believes, “I’m not smart enough to pass this test,” might be encouraged to replace that thought with, “I have studied hard, and I feel confident.” It might sound simplistic, but it can be revolutionary. Learning to banish negative thoughts could help some people to overcome their reliance on Ritalin.
Other forms of therapy can help people to overcome prior trauma or conflict. Family therapy, in which all members of the family come together to learn more about addiction and talk about the challenges that they all face that has created conflict, could help addicts with trauma to heal. Psychotherapies might also help people who have been victims of violence to deal with their memories and their pain without leaning on drugs, or resorting to depression.
In order to help addicts stay motivated to participate in therapy, some therapists use a technique called contingency management. As a reward for abstinence, and for participating in therapy that promotes abstinence, people are given vouchers for rewards such as dinners out, clothing or movie tickets. This could make participating in therapy seem immediately rewarding and reinforcing, and this might also make people more likely to stay in therapy instead of dropping out and returning to drug use.
Ritalin addictions can be successfully treated in residential programs, where the addicts live in the facility in which they receive care, but they can also be treated in outpatient programs in which the addict continues to live at home. In general, people who have more severe cases of addiction are encouraged to enroll in inpatient programs, at least for a while, so they can step away from their habits while they’re not surrounded by the temptation to relapse.
If you’d like more information on how rehab programs work, please contact us at Michael’s House. Operators are standing by.