- Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms
- Withdrawal Timeline
- Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
- Is Withdrawal Dangerous?
- Ritalin Treatment Programs
- Ritalin Therapy Options
- Lifestyle Adjustments
- Ritalin Withdrawal Resources
Ritalin is a stimulant medication commonly used to treat conditions such as Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADHD) or narcolepsy. Known generically as methylphenidate, Ritalin is a widely prescribed drug that triggers dopamine production in the brain, causing alertness, increased focus, and energy.
Ritalin is also a highly addictive drug, owing largely to its stimulating and mood-altering properties. While its intended use is primarily for ADHD, Ritalin is commonly used as a recreational drug and performance enhancer, which means it also has high abuse rates.
Luckily, there are plenty of options when it comes to recovering from Ritalin addiction. In this article, we cover the typical symptoms encountered during Ritalin withdrawal and the timelines for recovery. We also address the range of treatment options available.
Eliminating an addiction to Ritalin involves multiple stages of rehab that target the physical, psychological, and emotional causes. However, the first stage is to detox from the drug itself. This requires an individual to stop taking Ritalin, and this is best done through medically supervised detox.
During detox, an individual will experience withdrawal symptoms, which can vary between each person. This is also dependent on several factors such as:
- Levels of tolerance
- Individual physiology
- Duration of use
- Dose and frequency of use
- “Poly-drug use” (using multiple drugs at once)
- Co-occurring conditions or mental health issues
Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms
Because Ritalin alters the functioning of neurotransmitters in the brain, sudden discontinuation can create several symptoms. Generally, these consist of cravings and mood disturbances. The symptoms are usually predictable, and can include the following:
- Delayed movements
- Muscle aches
- Increased appetite
- Loss of focus
- Mood swings
- Sleep disturbances
- Changes in heart rate
- Changes in blood pressure
- Suicidal thoughts
- Anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure)
Individuals who have abused Ritalin or other stimulants tend to consume the drug in larger quantities over time or they use it longer than intended. These factors affect the severity of the withdrawal process. While the duration of symptoms will vary from person to person, an approximate withdrawal timeline can look like the following:
First Phase (1-3 Days)
Depending on the severity of the addiction, the first phase of Ritalin withdrawal can occur as early as a few hours (or within 72 hours) after the last dose. The symptoms are like other stimulants, in that individuals are likely to experience cravings, sleep issues, anxiety, depression, and irritability as the drug wears off.
Second Phase (1-7 Days)
The second phase of withdrawal usually occurs between days 1 and 7, when symptoms intensify (with the peak hitting around day 7). During this time, individuals can experience:
- Depression and anxiety
- Sleep disturbances
Third Phase (2 Weeks)
The third phase occurs within two weeks after the last dose but will vary depending on the severity of Ritalin use. Symptoms typically start to decrease in the third phase, but individuals can still report depression, anxiety, and cravings during this period. However, the symptoms are usually less severe.
Fourth Phase (3-4 Weeks)
Some individuals have reported withdrawal symptoms for as long as 3 to 4 weeks after their last dose. This typically occurs with individuals who have a high tolerance to Ritalin and have been taking the drug for longer than a year.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
If withdrawal symptoms last longer than a month, this is referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). The PAWS period differs depending on the drug. For Ritalin, the psychological effects can lead to other symptoms, like:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Sleep disturbances
Is Withdrawal Dangerous?
Ritalin withdrawal is less dangerous than other illicit drugs but there are risks involved. The primary concerns when it comes to detoxing from Ritalin are relapses and mood alteration. Other risks include:
- Injuries or accidents: withdrawal from Ritalin can result in increased fatigue and sleepiness. Therefore, driving or activities that require concentration can be a struggle.
- Severe depression: one of the main withdrawal symptoms from Ritalin is depression but this can become severe, especially for individuals who have underlying mental health issues.
- Suicidal ideation: in severe cases, Ritalin can lead to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. As the withdrawal period is often characterized by depression, increased agitation, and anxiety, it’s best to be monitored in a safe environment.
There are other long-term health complications associated with Ritalin and these will depend on several factors, such as the duration and intensity of use.
Ritalin Treatment Programs
The good news is that treatment for Ritalin addiction is available. While every individual is unique and will have different needs, many centers provide tailored recovery plans. Below is a list of the most common forms of drug abuse treatment programs and what they entail.
Detox programs are available at certain clinics and medical facilities where they supervise a person’s drug withdrawal and provide supportive medications where necessary. These clinics are usually staffed with a team of doctors and nurses who have experience with addiction and drug withdrawal.
The advantage of going to a detox center is that medical assistance is readily available. A detox center will place you in comfortable surroundings where you can be assured of help in case of emergencies. These clinics also provide medications to ease some of the symptoms.
Short-Term Inpatient (Residential)
Short-term inpatient centers typically start with medical detox and are followed by a program of addiction treatment, such as therapy or counseling, for 30 to 90 days. These programs range from basic inpatient to luxury options, all varying in terms of their amenities and types of therapy. These facilities usually provide 24-hour medical support and are often led by a team of counselors, clinicians, and doctors. Short-term inpatient rehab is ideal for individuals who need detoxing and therapy, but who don’t require long-term treatment.
Long-term inpatient treatment varies in length but typically ranges between 3 to 18 months. This type of rehab is best suited to individuals with long-term chronic addictions, especially those who have co-occurring mental health issues.
Depending on the severity of the addiction, long-term treatment may be a good option, especially as many programs address the underlying emotional causes of one’s drug abuse. Long-term treatment also provides an opportunity for the individual to physically withdraw from Ritalin while they focus on their mental and emotional rehabilitation. These centers also vary in terms of their provision of amenities which range from basic to luxury options.
Partial Hospitalization Programs (PHP)
For individuals who are seeking intensive treatment but still prefer to live at home, partial hospitalization (PHP) or day treatment programs are also available. PHP typically consists of hospital treatment 5 to 7 days a week for 4 to 8 hours per day. Like inpatient treatment, clinical staff are on hand to assist with detox, medication management, and withdrawal symptoms. PHP also involves counseling and group therapy, as well as specialized services that focus on skill-building, relapse prevention, and employment assistance.
Intensive Outpatient Programs (IOP)
Intensive outpatient programs are less involved than partial hospitalization programs and typically take place at a treatment center or outpatient clinic. Clients receiving intensive outpatient treatment will usually visit the center 2 to 5 days per week for 2 to 4 hours per day. IOP is well suited to clients who have just completed inpatient rehab and who wish to receive intense treatment while living off site.
IOP programs vary between centers, but they often involve a mixture of individual and group therapy, case management, 12-Step programs, experiential therapies, cognitive-behavioral therapies (CBT), and services that cover topics like skill-building, goal setting, and relapse prevention.
Standard Outpatient Programs
Standard outpatient programs are suited to individuals who have just completed an inpatient program and want to continue some form of therapy. Standard outpatient is also ideal for people who may be juggling other responsibilities such as work or school. Individuals typically report to a treatment center or clinic 1 or 2 days per week. These programs can include counseling, group therapy, 12-Step groups, skills development, goal setting, and relapse prevention training.
While Ritalin is less dangerous to detox from, it is not recommended that you do it alone as complications can occur during withdrawal. Detoxing from Ritalin is best done safely under medical supervision where clinicians can keep you safe and comfortable.
Ritalin Therapy Options
During rehab, centers and clinics will provide a range of treatments such as medications, counseling, and behavioral therapies. Below are some of the more effective therapy options for Ritalin addiction.
Rehab facilities that offer dual diagnosis are often staffed with psychiatrists or clinical therapists that can diagnose and/or treat co-occurring mental health conditions. This kind of treatment is especially useful for people who have underlying issues such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For Ritalin in particular, it is common for dual diagnosis programs to provide ADHD counseling and behavioral coaching as well. This allows clinicians to address these conditions alongside withdrawal from the Ritalin itself.
Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Due to the psychological effects of Ritalin withdrawal, cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most effective therapies. CBT helps individuals change negative cycles of thought and behavior into more positive ones. Clients receiving CBT for addiction often learn:
- how to recognize “automatic thoughts” (i.e., dysfunctional thinking patterns and their origins);
- how to understand the behavior and motivation of others;
- how to develop a greater sense of self-understanding and confidence.
In essence, CBT helps clients learn new, drug-free ways to cope with triggers that might encourage them to use Ritalin again. This includes an understanding of how situations, people, or the environment can trigger an addictive desire to take Ritalin, or how to introduce healthy behaviors that can steer them away from using. CBT is known to be effective and long-lasting, as clients can continue utilizing these strategies once their therapy sessions have ended.
Dialectical-Behavior Therapy (DBT)
Dialectical-behavior therapy is a type of cognitive-behavioral therapy that focuses on mindfulness, how to live in the moment, cope with stress, and improve relationships. DBT also helps clients identify negative influences in their lives and learn how to develop healthy coping skills. This kind of therapy is useful for people who have been addicted to Ritalin, especially those who have anxiety or depression. DBT is also effective for PTSD and for people who exhibit self-destructive behaviors.
The Matrix Model
The Matrix Model is another form of therapy that has shown to be effective in treating substance abuse. This 16-week approach is comprehensive and consists of a mixture of behavioral therapy, individual counseling, 12-Step support, family education, drug testing, and encouraging non-drug-related activities. Through guided therapy, patients learn about issues connected to addiction and relapse. These sessions are designed to promote self-esteem and self-worth while the patient and therapist work together to reinforce positive behavioral changes.
Contingency management is another effective treatment for addiction and is based on a reward system. In most cases, the therapist provides incentives to the patient in exchange for ongoing abstinence and acceptance of treatment. One well-known contingency approach is Motivational Incentives for Enhancing Drug Abuse Recovery (MIEDAR), which is effective for teaching individuals that it is possible to achieve abstinence using self-control. Participants who continue to abstain receive rewards such as prize draws for money or in-demand objects.
There are currently no specific medications for treating Ritalin addiction. However, some medications have proven to be helpful during the rehabilitation process.
Anti-depressants (e.g., Paxil) are used to treat anxiety disorders, depression, and PTSD. This drug can be useful during the detox process as many clients can experience depression and anxiety when they wean off Ritalin.
Melatonin is a natural hormone that is produced in the brain and is responsible for setting the body’s sleep-wake cycle. As Ritalin withdrawal causes sleep disruption, this supplement can help clients obtain adequate and sustained sleep.
During the detox process, doctors may also provide over-the-counter medications for nausea and headaches.
Alternative or Holistic Therapies
Many rehab centers also provide holistic therapies. The purpose of these therapies is to treat the whole person and not just the symptoms. These can be incredibly beneficial for providing calmness, spiritual support, emotional expression, improving physical health, and teaching valuable skills. Some of the popular holistic therapies include:
- Nutritional therapy
- Animal-assisted therapy (e.g., emotional support dogs)
- Massage therapy
- Adventure therapy (e.g., hiking or rock climbing)
- Mindfulness and meditation
- Art therapy, Music therapy
- Equine-assisted therapy
Recovering from Ritalin addiction can be challenging, but there are ways to make this process easier. Along with treatment, lifestyle adjustments and self-care can ease the symptoms while transitioning to a new life.
Exercise is great for improving cardiovascular health, which is especially important following substance abuse. Exercise also stimulates endorphins which can help with depression and low mood. Good forms of exercise include a mix of low- and high-intensity exercises such as walking, running, swimming, cycling, or yoga.
Meditation is known to help calm anxious or racing thoughts. Meditation can also stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain and improve cognitive function which is especially useful when recovering from stimulant addiction. Additionally, research has shown that meditation can be useful for easing tension and calming the nervous system.
Getting adequate nutrition after detoxing from substances is vitally important. The right diet can help repair any damage incurred following sustained drug use and lead to improved immunity, cognitive function, and energy. Dieticians or doctors can provide tailored food plans specific to addiction recovery.
Learning to avoid triggers is vital during the recovery period. This can include people, situations, or circumstances that can prompt a desire to take drugs. Techniques such as CBT can help individuals learn to identify and avoid their triggers by developing alternative coping strategies.
While cravings can be difficult to manage, hobbies such as sports, art, music, or crafts can be useful distractions. These activities can help someone redirect their cravings and focus on something positive and fun.
Ritalin Withdrawal Resources
At RehabAid.com, we are dedicated to helping people recover from problematic substance use and associated mental health disorders. If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction to drugs or alcohol, you are not alone. Information on treatment and support options is readily available through the National Helpline of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) at 1-800-662-4357. To further assist you along the path to recovery, the treatment center locator on our website allows you to easily find rehabilitation programs and services in your local area.
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