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ADD & ADHD Center

Dangers and Side Effects of Ritalin in Adults

by
author image Michele Noonan
Dr. Michele Noonan is author of "Train Your Brain To Get Thin," has published in journals including the "Journal of Neuroscience" and appears as a science expert on TV and radio shows. Noonan is a former Caltech scientist with a Ph.D. in neuroscience from University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and a psychology B.A. from Boston College.
Dangers and Side Effects of Ritalin in Adults
Ritalin, also known as methylphenidate, is used to treat ADHD but has serious side effects. Photo Credit pills image by Bradlee Mauer from Fotolia.com

Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate, a stimulant used to treat Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, in children and adults. ADHD is a psychiatric disorder characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Although stimulants like Ritalin are the most effective treatment for ADHD, Ritalin has many dangerous side effects.

Addiction

Ritalin is a controlled substance because it has high abuse potential. As a stimulant, Ritalin releases dopamine in the brain, which reinforces future drug use. Withdrawal symptoms can occur when Ritalin use is ended. Ritalin should be cautiously prescribed to those with a family history of alcoholism or substance abuse. Ritalin may be abused for its ability to keep users up all night, to suppress weight, or for a high when snorted. Ritalin users also have incentive to sell their prescription, as it is in demand by those without ADHD.

Cardiovascular Problems

Adults are more likely to have cardiovascular problems while taking Ritalin than children are because adults are more likely to have heart conditions including coronary heart disease, heart rhythm disorders, and structural abnormalities. Cardiovascular problems reported in adult Ritalin users include stroke, sudden death, and heart attack, although this is not common. Ritalin increases blood pressure and heart rate, which may cause hypertension or heart rhythm problems. Ritalin can also worsen glaucoma.

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Libido Increase

Ritalin does not have a direct effect on sexual function, however, it can increase attention during sex both to the activity and the partner. Libido, or sex drive, may be increased and sex may be more frequent due to positive experiences with sex while being treated with Ritalin.

Wakefulness

Ritalin, as a stimulant, can increase wakefullness and fight fatigue. One downside to this is that Ritalin used at night can cause insomnia. Another problem is that Ritalin's ability to keep someone awake all night for studying or partying can lead to abuse of Ritalin, leading to addiction.

Other Side Effects

Other common side effects of Ritalin include increased anxiety, nervousness, appetite suppression, hypersensitivity, and increase in tics if Tourette's syndrome is present. In patients undiagnosed for Bipolar disorder, Ritalin can make symptoms worse or induce manic episodes. Ritalin can also cause more frequent or severe seizures in patients with a history of seizures. Visual problems such as blurred vision and accommodation problems have also been reported with Ritalin use.

Concerns for Pregnancy

Women of childbearing age have to consider not continuing treatment with Ritalin if they become pregnant. Ritalin is a Class C drug, which means that no clinical trials in humans have entirely ruled out harm to the fetus if the mother takes Ritalin while pregnant.

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References

  • Ritalin Prescribing Information
  • "Essential Psychopharmacology:The Prescriber's Guide," S. M. Stahl; 2005
  • "ADHD in Adulthood: A Guide to Current Theory, Diagnosis, and Treatment," Margaret Weiss, Lily Trokenberg Hechtman and Gabrielle Weiss; 1999
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