Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are conditions that are most often seen in children. In fact, 9.5% ( of all children between the ages three and 17 are diagnosed with it. And, about 50% of these children may continue to have symptoms even through adulthood. ( Symptoms of both ADHD and ADD can include trouble focusing, inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. While behavior modification methods are often the first strategies employed, medications are also used to treat symptoms of ADHD and ADD.

History of Ritalin

Ritalin has been studied for over 50 years ( . Some studies have found it to be very safe, while others find it has questionable effects. It was not originally used to treat ADHD. In fact, ailments like narcolepsy, depression, and memory loss in the elderly were among the first disorders it was used to treat. It was first prescribed for children with ADHD in the 1960 s and has been increasingly prescribed since 1990. With an increased number of ADHD diagnoses between 2007 and 2012, ( it has been even more widely prescribed. Today, Ritalin is available in several forms including pills, capsules, transdermal patches, and a liquid syrup. One can use Ritalin that lasts for differing time periods as well. For example, there is an immediate action Ritalin in addition to a long acting formula, and suspended release formula. Each has positive and negative attributes and work best for different patients.

Benefits of Ritalin

The chemical name of Ritalin is Methylphenidate, It is a stimulant drug often used in the treatment of ADHD. Scientists do not know the exact mechanisms or reasons why Ritalin and similar drugs work. There are many theories and there is knowledge on the actions it takes in the brain. It is thought that Ritalin increases the functionality of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine work in the brain. It is known that the Ritalin does decrease the absorption of these neurotransmitters, allowing them to work longer in the brain. The increased dopamine levels, and to a lesser extent the increased norepinephrine levels, help to stimulate brain activity that helps a person to focus on a task.

A person with ADHD who takes Ritalin can often achieve better cognitive functioning than they could without the medication. In addition to an escalation in the ability to focus, patients also observe fewer impulsive behaviors. ( These manifestations are the reason why many children taking Ritalin perform better in school.

Common Side Effects

Unfortunately, Ritalin and similar drugs have a multitude of side effects. ( /) Because they are stimulant drugs similar to amphetamines, these stimulant drugs have a high risk of addiction. Additionally, they can cause nervousness, agitation, anxiety and irritability. These effects, along with depression, are often seen in adolescents who may have more demands put on them and are therefore more stressed. Further, they often disrupt the digestive system and can include symptoms such as stomach aches, nausea, and a decreased appetite, causing a child to lose weight. Headache, dizziness, heart palpitations, and insomnia are also frequent side effects of Ritalin. These side effects often wear off quickly as the drug leaves the system, especially when taking immediate action medications versus the longer acting ones. They are also frequently less prominent as time passes, and the system gets used to the new chemical.

Additionally, there appear to be some longer term side effects of taking Ritalin. First, Ritalin tends to slow the rate of weight gain and the growth in height of children. It may also cause changes in eyesight including blurred vision in some patients. Those with a previous history of seizures are also more likely to have new seizures. Further, some less common side effects ( /) may include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid pulse rate
  • Tolerance
  • Feelings of suspicion and paranoia
  • Visual hallucinations
  • Depression
  • Cocaine craving
  • Dermatoses
  • Urinary tract infection
  • Infection or viral infection
  • Elevated ALT enzyme levels in the blood

Abuse of Ritalin

Taking Ritalin when you have a diagnosis of ADHD is considered therapeutic. However, many non-diagnosed persons take the drug, and it is explicitly illegal. With the large number of children who are diagnosed with ADHD, many of them taking these psycho stimulant medications, the drugs have come to be widely available. In fact, older students, those in high school and college, often sell their pills to make a profit. This is dangerous to the ADHD patient who cannot take their medication as prescribed, but also the user of said medication. Without a diagnosis of ADHD and a prescription from a doctor, one should not be consuming these pills. Similarly, one who is prescribed the medication, should not just stop taking it so that they can sell the pills. This is also illegal, but more importantly, dangerous to their health as stopping these medications abruptly is not recommended.

ADHD medications have become so popular that studies at major colleges have shown one out of every three students have illegally tried these psychostimulant drugs, ( usually as a study aid. Alan DeSantis has studied students at the University of Kentucky. ( He has found that many students do not see the ADHD medications as “drugs.” He noted from surveys that students classify drugs as bad for you, while they view ADHD medications as study aids that make a person smarter. Others consider this type of activity cheating, comparable to athletes taking performance enhancing drugs.

Risks of Ritalin

Ritalin has risks to patients, but it is especially dangerous for those who take it without a doctor’s supervision. When Ritalin is prescribed and taken as directed, it is most often a safe choice. A low dose is taken at first to see how patients react, and continued dosages and health are monitored to adequately ensure that risks are minimized. Doctors take detailed health histories of their patients so that those who may be in more danger when taking these medications either do not or are more closely monitored.

When this drug is taken illegally, many ill effects can occur. First of all, Ritalin has certain contraindications. Persons who have glaucoma, seizure disorders, tics or nervousness and anxiety should not take Ritalin as it may severely increase these symptoms. Those with any type of heart disease should also avoid Ritalin as it could lead to a heart attack or stroke. Similarly, those on certain medications and pregnant women should stay away from psychostimulant drugs.

Often, however, those for whom the drug is not prescribed, do not know of the interactions with existing medications or conditions. This is what makes Ritalin most risky to those for whom it is not prescribed. Persons can quickly become addicted, become mentally ill, or even die from a sudden heart attack if they are taking these drugs or are not taking proper doses.

Adderall vs. Ritalin

There are many similarities between Adderall and Ritalin. Both are central nervous system stimulants. Additionally, they both speed up the brain activity of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. These sped up neurotransmitters are said to help decrease the symptoms of ADHD. Unfortunately, the side effects of these two medications, especially including their addictive qualities, are also similar. Finally, both of these medications are available in both long acting and short acting formulas.

There are differences in the way these medications work, however. Adderall has a two step process while Ritalin does not. Adderall’s first mechanism ( actually increases the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. It then keeps the neurotransmitters working in the brain for a longer period than they would without the drug. Each regular dose of Adderall remains active for approximately four to six hours.

On the other hand, Ritalin has a shorter active period, lasting only about two to three hours. It also does not increase the amount of neurotransmitters released into the brain. It does slow their absorption of these substances so that they can work to alleviate some of the symptoms of ADHD.

Both Adderall and Ritalin have advantages. First of all, one may work better for some people than the other. It is often a matter of trial and error. There might also be fewer side effects from one of the medications in comparison to the other. Additionally, people have different opinions about the way the medications work for them personally. Many like the shorter active time, so they can plan their days around side effects. For example, as the drug wears off, they can plan their meal times if the medication makes them lose their appetite or their sleep times if it gives them insomnia. Others prefer the longer action of Adderall since they don’t have to take it as frequently.

One must research on their own and work with their doctors when diagnosed with ADHD or ADD. Choices are often very personal and what works for one person may not work for others. Over time, a plan to treat this condition can be worked out and may include medications such as Ritalin.