It’s clear that many students are abusing stimulants like Ritalin, and they may develop powerful addictions as a result. In June of 2012, the New York Times ran a lengthy front-page article discussing the rise of stimulant use and abuse among high school students. One student interviewed reported that about one-third of her classmates abused stimulants without a prescription, and that most used these drugs in order to help them improve their academic performance. Some of the students interviewed didn’t seem to understand that the pills they were taking were, in fact, powerful drugs. For example, one student asked, “Isn’t it just like a vitamin?”
Ritalin addictions may not be confined to the adolescent population. According to an article in Newsweek from February of 2008, the number of baseball players who asked for therapeutic exceptions to the sport’s amphetamines ban jumped from 28 to 103 in one year. While it’s possible that some of these players needed stimulant medications to help with a specific medical condition, it’s also possible that some players were abusing the drugs and attempting to subvert laws against the practice. Some of these adult players may also have developed addictions as a result.
Whether the addiction begins during adolescence, or it takes hold during adulthood, it can be treated. Ritalin is a dangerous drug to take on a recreational basis, as this article will make clear, but the addictions that come from Ritalin abuse can be successfully treated. Read on to find out more.
Ritalin is a stimulant medication that was developed to help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). People with this condition have difficulty concentrating for long periods of time, and they may also struggle with social interactions as they cannot stay focused and on task. Children with the condition may do poorly in school, as they cannot study at home or focus on a test in the classroom. They may also face disciplinary action as they are consistently hopping up from their desks or engaging in some other physical activity instead of listening to lectures from teachers and parents.
Adults may also struggle with ADHD in the workplace, as they may find it hard to stay on task while on the job, and they may be tempted to talk to others, surf the Internet or otherwise engage in destructive behaviors instead of working. People with ADHD who are given Ritalin and take it as their doctors instruct rarely become addicted to the medication. They may feel physical discomfort if they stop taking the medication, as their bodies may have developed a reliance on the drug, but they may not take Ritalin compulsively, to the detriment of their relationships. People who are addicted, by contrast, do tend to progress from simply experimenting with the drug to taking it regularly despite damage to their:
- Physical health
- Employment status
- Mental functioning
Chemistry Is to Blame
In order to understand why some people become addicted to Ritalin and others do not, the National Institute on Drug Abuse embarked on a series of tests involving brain scans of people on the drug. The results were compared with information gleaned from other studies, and the picture became clear and easy to understand.
According to the research, as described in JAMA, people who have ADHD produce a small amount of a neurochemical known as dopamine and they have random neurons firing at strange times. As a result, the things that should provide them with pleasure do not, and they are consistently distracted. Ritalin increases the power of the dopamine signal, making pleasurable signals easier to pick up, and it decreases the effect of the random neuron firing. On Ritalin, people with ADHD simply feel normal. By contrast, people who do not have ADHD have no such dopamine depletion. On Ritalin, these people feel sped up and euphoric. Those who take Ritalin by snorting it or injecting it also feel a greater response, as the drug tends to hit them in a big rush when it’s taken in this way. The article states that people who do not have ADHD who take Ritalin may feel experiences similar to those who abuse cocaine, and addictions may follow as a result. They are providing their brains with an unusual experience, and addictions commonly result from these experiences.
Those who take Ritalin in order to improve their academic performance may face a serious disappointment. According to a report printed in the journal Addiction, there is little evidence that stimulants like Ritalin improve cognitive abilities. People may feel more awake, but they may not be able to produce higher scores on tests of learning or memory. Instead of doing better in school, these people may only be developing addictions that could ruin their lives.
Consequences of Addiction
People who are addicted to Ritalin may take much higher doses of the drugs than doctors ever recommended. In fact, they may need higher and higher doses in order to feel any effect from the drug. As the body adjusts to having nearly constant access to the drug, it begins to taper its response to the drug. In order to feel a high, an addict must flood the body with the drug.
Taking high doses like this can cause a variety of unpleasant side effects, according to the Nemours Foundation, including:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeats
Extremely high doses of the drug can also cause an overdose. Those with advanced cases of Ritalin addiction may consistently take doses that are considered dangerously high, and as a result, they may consistently be at risk for overdosing on the drug they abuse.
People who are addicted may also go to great lengths to obtain the drug. People who have prescriptions for Ritalin may find that they’re using a month’s supply of the drug in a matter of days or weeks, so they must go to different doctors or multiple doctors in order to get larger prescriptions or multiple prescriptions. Some people even steal pills from their friends or family members in order to keep their addictions alive.
Living with an addiction can also be extremely isolating. The person may feel as though he or she is living with a huge secret that no one else can ever know about, although that addiction may take up the majority of the person’s time and the majority of the person’s thoughts. The person can feel as though no one really understands, or perhaps no one even cares. In addition, the addiction can be hard to control without help. The person may attempt to stop using Ritalin, and find that it is difficult if not impossible to stop using the drug. Life can seem out of control.
While Ritalin addicts may believe that their addictions are private matters that no one else can see, families often watch their loved ones change over the course of the addiction, and they are well aware that something horrible is taking place. Informal conversations about the addiction can sometimes help the addict to see that the situation is untenable and needs to change, but some addicts become furious at the mere mention of the addiction. These addicts may benefit from formal interventions, in which the family hires an expert to craft a message about the destructive nature of the addiction, and the addict is then encouraged to get help for that addiction. This can be a useful way to break through the denial and allow the addict to see that help is available.
At Michael’s House, we specialize in helping people overcome their Ritalin addiction issues. We are happy to work with families who need to schedule interventions. In fact, we can even do some advance paperwork with families before the intervention, so the addict can enter the Ritalin treatment program as soon as the difficult conversation is over and the addict has agreed to get help.
Please contact us today to find out more about this option. We would love to be of service.