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Signs Of A Ritalin (Methylphenidate) Overdose

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D

Signs of a Ritalin overdose include aggression, confusion, rapid breathing and panic. Overdose can cause heart attack, stroke, seizure, coma and death. Treatment can help prevent these risks.

Signs of Ritalin Methylphenidate overdose

Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a stimulant medication used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). When abused, this medication speeds up physical and psychological processes, an effect that many people find desirable. However, these effects can also push a person’s body into overdose.

As a stimulant, or “upper,” Ritalin causes the body’s most vital life-support systems to work faster. These include those that regulate blood pressure, breathing, heart and temperature rates. As these systems go into overdrive, vital organs such as the heart are endangered.

Ritalin overdose can become fatal. Learning the signs and symptoms of a Ritalin overdose can help get a person medical care as soon as possible.

Signs of a Ritalin overdose include:

  • abdominal cramps
  • agitation
  • aggression
  • becoming panicked
  • confusion
  • delirium
  • diarrhea
  • fever or extremely elevated body temperature
  • hallucinations
  • headache
  • muscle pains and weakness
  • muscle twitching
  • nausea and vomiting
  • overactive reflexes
  • rapid breathing
  • rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • restlessness
  • tremors

Stimulant abuse causes immense strain on a person’s heart and cardiovascular system. In the most serious of cases, this may cause a person to have cardiac arrhythmias, a heart attack, stroke, excessively high or low blood pressure and circulation failure. Severe overdose can also cause convulsions, seizure, coma and fatal drug poisoning.

In addition to placing a person’s health and life in harm’s way, certain symptoms of overdose could put people around the overdosing individual in danger. Aggression and hallucinations may cause a person to become unstable and act out in ways that bring harm to those near them.

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What Causes A Ritalin Overdose?

Overdose occurs when the amount of drug in a person’s system is more than their body can handle and flush from its system. There is no set amount that causes overdose, rather, from person to person, the dosage can vary.

Generally, taking larger amounts of the drug at once or over a short period of time increases this risk. Some people may overdose taking smaller doses of the drug close together. Further, changing the way the drug is administered can cause overdose to happen more rapidly.

While many people who abuse Ritalin may swallow multiple capsules at once to enhance their high, others change the form of the drug to achieve this goal. Two ways of doing this include snorting or injecting the drug.

Signs of Ritalin Methylphenidate overdose

Ritalin LA takes the form of an extended-release capsule. Extended-release medications are designed to release the active drug slowly over a prolonged period of time. When snorted or injected, the medication hits a person’s system much more quickly, an effect that can raise the chances of overdose.

The maximum daily recommended dose of Ritalin LA is 60 mg. According to the Center for Substance Abuse Research, people who are heavily dependent on Ritalin may take hundreds of milligrams in any one day as they abuse this drug. Abuse at these rates can cause serious harm to a person’s body and mind, including a heightened risk of overdose.

The Dangers Of Mixing Stimulants And Depressants

Some people who abuse Ritalin recreationally mix it with other drugs. Often, this may include a depressant, or “downer.” This may be referred to as a “speedball,” a term once reserved for combining cocaine and heroin, but now expanded to include other combinations of stimulants and depressants.

Mixing these drugs places the body and mind in a dangerous tug-of-war. When taking a stimulant such as Ritalin and depressant (such as alcohol, benzodiazepines or opioids) the body is receiving messages that tell it to act in opposite directions at once. This puts vital organs and life-support systems at risk, especially the cardiovascular and respiratory systems. From this, the risk of cardiac arrest, heart failure, addiction, and overdose climbs.

Tolerance And Dependence Can Increase The Risk Of Overdose

A person doesn’t typically start out taking high doses of Ritalin. Instead, as drug abuse continues and becomes more frequent, a person develops a tolerance. This means that the substance no longer creates the intended high or pleasurable effect they desire. To overcome this, many people increase their dosage, putting them closer to developing an addiction and the possibility of overdose.

As a person abuses Ritalin more regularly, their body can become dependent. Physical dependency occurs when a person’s body relies on the drug’s chemicals to function normally. In the absence of the drug, the body reacts harshly, creating uncomfortable symptoms called withdrawal. These include fatigue, problems sleeping and severe depression.

Signs of Ritalin Methylphenidate overdose

To avoid this, many people turn back to the drug. Compulsive drug abuse can cause a person to ignore their safety and health, actions that further raise the risk of overdose.

The risk of overdose can also be higher during periods of sobriety. When a person is in an abstinent state their tolerance can drop significantly. If they relapse they may take the amount of drug they previously took. Without a tolerance, a person’s body may not be able to handle this dose, causing toxicity and overdose.

Treatment For A Ritalin Overdose

A Ritalin overdose requires prompt medical attention. If a person, or those around them, at all suspects that overdose is a possibility, emergency medical services should be contacted immediately. Taking action right away could reduce the risk of serious medical problems and death. If a person has taken Ritalin LA orally, the effects of overdose could worsen over time as more of the drug is released.

Ritalin may cause a person to become extremely overstimulated. Because of this, medical professionals will likely take measures to protect a person from outside stimuli that could exacerbate this condition. They should also monitor a person to prevent self-injury.

The medical team should focus on reducing agitation and seizures, while also supporting a person’s airway to promote breathing. They may also pump a person’s stomach to remove any excess medication that may still be present. Activated charcoal or medication (a cathartic) may be used to detoxify the body.

During this time, first responders and the emergency medical team should focus on stabilizing a person’s circulation or blood flow to the heart to reduce the risk of cardiac complications. If a person’s core body temperature is raised to dangerous levels, measures may be taken to cool them down.

Why Do People Abuse Ritalin?

Ritalin abuse typically begins for one of three reasons, as a person:

  • seeks to self-medicate undiagnosed or untreated ADHD.
  • uses the substance as a “study drug” to enhance academic performance (some individuals use it to boost their professional capabilities).
  • desires a pleasurable or euphoric effect.

In addition to these, some people who have a prescription for the drug misuse it. This means they may take it in a way other than intended, more frequently than they should or at higher doses. These behaviors can also place a person at risk of overdose.

This may happen because a person feels their dosage isn’t working or because they hope to improve the effect. In any case, misusing a personal prescription is considered drug abuse, and in certain cases, it may set the stage for physical dependence and addiction.

Dangers Of Ritalin Abuse

Abusing stimulants on a regular basis, even in the short-term, can lead to serious mental and physical imbalances.

As a person begins to abuse Ritalin this way, they may begin to develop problems with anger, paranoia and/or psychosis. People with existing mental health problems, such as behavior disturbance, bipolar disorder or thought disorder may see their symptoms become more intense. Other mental health problems include intense anxiety and the sensation that bugs are crawling on or beneath the skin, a condition called formication.

Signs of a Ritalin Methylphenidate Overdose

When abusing stimulants, some people may go for extended periods of time without sleeping or eating. This can wear a person’s body down, weaken the immune system and cause malnourishment.

People who inject this drug could contract HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B or C. Using Ritalin may make a person more prone to risk-taking behaviors, which can then make them engage in unsafe sex. Unprotected sex can increase the risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

When a person uses drugs chronically, thoughts of finding and using the drug begin to outweigh all else. As this happens, a person’s quality of life may plummet, leading to failed relationships, family problems, career struggles, and academic issues.

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Signs Of Ritalin Abuse And Addiction

Many people who abuse drugs chronically go to great lengths to hide their drug abuse. For a person who injects, this may include wearing a long sleeve shirt to hide the marks or scars from injecting (track marks).

For any form of drug abuse, this may include lying, evasive behavior or stashing the drug. Some people may even pretend they have a behavioral health condition like ADHD so that they can obtain and use a prescription. It’s also been reported that some people pretend their children have ADHD so they can have access to a prescription.

Because a person may try to hide some of the most obvious signs of drug abuse, it can be helpful to recognize the signs of abuse and addiction. Doing so may help get a person professional help, a measure that can help prevent overdose and other dangers linked to Ritalin abuse.

The effects of Ritalin abuse follow closely those of amphetamines, a highly addictive stimulant drug. Ritalin abuse affects both physical and psychological functioning. Because of this, outward changes in behavior, levels of activity, mood and appearance may become apparent.

Mental and emotional signs of Ritalin abuse include:

  • agitation
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • hostility
  • euphoria
  • excitability
  • exhilaration
  • paranoia
  • restlessness

Physical signs of Ritalin abuse include:

  • becoming more alert
  • dilated pupils
  • dry mouth
  • faster pulse
  • fever and sweating
  • flushed skin
  • headache
  • increased blood pressure
  • increased blood sugar
  • increased breathing
  • insomnia
  • irregular or rapid heartbeat
  • little to no appetite
  • muscle twitches
  • nausea and vomiting
  • raised heart rate
  • skin rash
  • voluntary movements become impaired
  • wakefulness

The sooner abuse and addiction are spotted, the sooner a person can get help. If a person isn’t ready to accept that they have a substance use disorder, professional intervention may help.

Treatment For Ritalin Abuse And Addiction

The best treatments for addiction address both the psychological and physical damage caused by drug abuse. For Ritalin abuse, this may include addressing any mental health problems caused or aggravated by addiction, such as anxiety or bipolar disorder. If a person is self-treating ADHD, this may include offering alternative treatments and support.

Addiction can deeply change the way a person feels about themselves and the world around them. A person’s behaviors and ability to function in a social setting can be drastically changed. Behavioral therapies and counseling sessions focus on this damage, providing an opportunity for a person to remove negative thoughts, emotions or behaviors that are fueling addiction.

In their place, therapists and other highly trained clinicians will help a person to build resilient coping, relapse-prevention and stress-reduction skills. By providing individualized treatment services, a facility is able to give a person the best opportunity for building a sober and more stable life.

Contact Addiction Campuses for more free information on Ritalin abuse, addiction, and treatment.

Center for Substance Abuse Research - http://www.cesar.umd.edu/cesar/drugs/ritalin.asp

DailyMed — LABEL: RITALIN LA - https://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?setid=effd952d-ac94-47bb-b107-589a4934dcca

MedlinePlus - https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682188.html

National Institute on Drug Abuse - https://www.drugabuse.gov/sites/default/files/drugfacts_stimulantadhd_1.pdf

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison, Pharm.D
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