Effects of Ritalin: Can Nonprescription Ritalin Alter Brain Chemistry?
By: Paige Hohmann
Nonprescription and prescription Ritalin use is predominant among teens, young adults, and even children. Ritalin is intended to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and teens. Ritalin in children is prescribed and it targets a child’s brain in a way that brings them to a normal state. However, more young adults, especially students, take this drug to improve their learning skills as well as improve their concentration. Most of these individuals they will feel euphoric and “speedy,” compared to the way a person who actually needs the medication will feel. More often than not, the drug is illegally obtained.
The effects of Ritalin can be alarming if an individual uses the drug illegally, against medical advice.
Not only will the individual experience a number of unwanted side effects, they also run the risk of Ritalin affecting their brain chemistry. Ritalin’s chemical structure affects the central nervous system (CNS). It is a Dopamine uptake inhibitor. Over time, especially within an individual who produces the required amount of Dopamine to function, it can certainly affect the brain in a number of negative ways.
What Does Ritalin Do?
Ritalin, first patented in 1954, was created to aid in the treatment of severe depression in adults. It wasn’t until 1962 that the effects of Ritalin on children were recognized as beneficial. It was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating cognitive disorders, specifically in children. The drug gained popularity and it became one of the most common drugs used to treat ADHD. However, the drug, despite being intended for children, gained a significant amount of attention from adults. With Ritalin’s cognitive enhancing properties, it became a drug that students and adults wanted to try.
Ritalin use, if not prescribed, can lead to abuse. In fact, Ritalin’s abuse potential is extremely high due to its increasing availability and “limitless” effects it has on its user. The effects of Ritalin on an individual who doesn’t have any cognitive disabilities involve:
- Increase in mood
- Heightened energy level
- Increase in concentration and focus
- Increase in productivity and motivation
When an individual who does have ADHD takes this medication, they may feel all of the same effects of Ritalin, yet they will not feel high. Ritalin use in people with a cognitive disadvantage will only feel balanced. They lack the capabilities a normal person has to focus and function properly in educational settings. Nonprescription Ritalin is prevalent in people who do not have any disabilities and need the “drive” Ritalin gives them.
Ritalin and the Central Nervous System
Using a substance like Ritalin can have damaging effects on the individual, predominantly in the brain. It affects Dopamine levels in the brain, which increases motivation in an individual as well as possesses properties that lead individuals to function properly and healthily. However, too much Dopamine entering the brain while using a substance can cause damaging effects in their brain. When the individual stops using the substance, they will lack natural production of the chemical. This can put an individual into a deep depression where they are unmotivated and allow feelings to manifest themselves in a disruptive way.
An individual will also experience negative effects of Ritalin in their body and their behaviors.
Other side effects of Ritalin include:
- Reduced appetite
- Increased irritability
- Sleep difficulties
- Hallucinations or paranoia
Ritalin and the Brain
Ritalin affects the brain in numerous ways. First, the increase in Dopamine prevents a person from producing it on their own after long-term use. Second, addiction can creep its way into an individual who abuses Ritalin. In a person without ADHD, the effects of Ritalin on the brain increase dramatically.
Ritalin affects the brain’s prefrontal cortex, which is vital for cognitive function. In the prefrontal cortex, there are two basic cell types: pyramidal cells (excitatory cells) and inhibitory cells (interneurons). In the pyramidal cells, activity significantly decreases with nonprescription use of the drug. Also, communication between both cells decreases, meaning the individual will experience difficulty adapting to change and new information processing in the brain. Despite the large number of benefits for people who need Ritalin, the effects of Ritalin on the individual who does not can be more damaging than beneficial with both short and long-term use.
People who need Ritalin for ADHD naturally have an underactive prefrontal cortex. What Ritalin does for these people is it stimulates the region of the brain causing an increase in activity, leading to cognitive improvements. It is beneficial for them because it provides them with the chemicals they are lacking. However, people abusing Ritalin will experience the opposite in their brain even though they may feel like Ritalin helps them become better. These effects are rather short-lived and can ultimately lead to destruction, depression, and dependence.
Addiction to Ritalin
There is no doubt that Ritalin’s addictive properties are extremely high. When a drug affects dopamine in an individual, they may feel like they cannot function without it. This causes an individual to become dependent and addicted to the drug. They depend on the influx of Dopamine inhabiting their brain and without it they will go through withdrawals, both physically and mentally. The extra Dopamine in the individual who produces enough naturally, but uses Ritalin, will make them feel high. These individuals are most at risk for addiction to Ritalin, which ultimately changes the brain chemistry of said individual.
Also, since Ritalin is in pill form, there is a higher potential that the drug can be used intranasally.
Effects of Ritalin can be similar to that of speed or cocaine. It can give its users a rush or feeling of euphoria, keeping them wanting more. As with any addiction comes tolerance, which keeps the individual needing more of the drug to produce the desired effects. Since Ritalin is often used for short time periods, users may “crash” more often than experience withdrawals from the drug. However, both are extremely likely.
Withdrawal symptoms of Ritalin include:
- Vivid Dreams or nightmares
- Lack of pleasure
- Insomnia or hypersomnia
“Crash” symptoms include:
- Increase in appetite
- Excessive sleepiness
- Mood swings
- Inability to focus
Addiction, Treatment, and Brain Chemistry
Since the effects of Ritalin in people without a cognitive disability is somewhat extreme, treatment is necessary. Although withdrawal from Ritalin is not dangerous, a person can experience side effects that should be monitored in a medical setting. A person who is prone to or has a history of seizures might experience one while they are quitting Ritalin. Also, the person can become extremely violent and agitated and behave in a manner unlike themselves, so it is important they are in a safe, stable environment. Medications will be given to a person in withdrawal to relieve discomfort and improve feelings associated with Ritalin withdrawal.
As far as Ritalin altering brain chemistry goes, treatment can be difficult, but it is possible. There are a number of Dopamine reuptake inhibitors designed specifically for people who become anxious or depressed from nonprescription drug use. Permanent brain damage is not an effect of Ritalin, although the brain can become impacted to a certain degree.
Harmful reactions caused by Ritalin include:
- Obsessive-compulsive behaviors
- Confusion or mental impairments
- Loss of emotion
- Abnormal body movements (Tourette Syndrome)
- Reduced alertness
Despite the complications nonprescription Ritalin has on the brain, there are a number of options available that restore brain functions to their normal state.
Are You Struggling With Ritalin Addiction?
Addiction to Ritalin and other medications designed to improve a person’s capabilities can be challenging to seek help for. Denial is one of the several feelings an addict will experience during active addiction. Denial can prevent an addict from seeing the harsh realities of their addiction. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to any substance, do not hesitate to seek help. When a healthy, fulfilling life is on the back burner, time is vital in starting the recovery process. At Delphi, our mission is to inspire wellness and help you see the beauties that lie ahead in recovery. Call (844) 899 – 5777 today and one of our trained staff members can help you decide on the right treatment program for you. It’s never too late to regain control of your life, start now!