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Concerta: Uses, How To Identify & Addictive Qualities

Written by Rob Alston

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD

Medically Reviewed

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Last Updated - 03/10/2022

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Updated 03/10/2022

Key Takeaways

  • Concerta is one of the brand names for the active drug methylphenidate.
  • Methylphenidate is a stimulant and a Schedule II controlled substance.
  • Concerta works by increasing the levels of the brain chemical dopamine.
  • The most common use by far for Concerta is treating people with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
  • Concerta comes as an oral tablet with a complex release mechanism.
  • Although Concerta is less likely to be abused than other stimulants due to its extended release, it still carries a high risk of abuse and dependence.

Concerta is a common drug to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. However, it also has a high risk of abuse and dependence.

If you or a loved one struggle with a medical condition like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, your doctor may have prescribed a stimulant like Concerta. Although Concerta is an effective drug to treat ADHD and other medical issues, it also has risks. In particular, Concerta can be abused. As a Schedule II controlled substance, Concerta is strongly linked to abuse and addiction. Learning about how to safely take Concerta as prescribed is, therefore, very important.

What Is Concerta?

Concerta is one of the brand names for the generic drug methylphenidate. The drug is a central nervous system stimulant that doctors prescribe for certain medical conditions, most commonly ADHD. Like many stimulants, it has a high risk of abuse and dependence. For this reason, it is a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States.

Other Names for Concerta

Many brand names for methylphenidate exist besides Concerta. However, these other dosage forms are not necessarily interchangeable with Concerta. Concerta differs from the many other dosage forms of methylphenidate because it has a complex controlled-release mechanism. Other dosage forms of methylphenidate may be short-acting or have different mechanisms for releasing the drug. Other brand names for methylphenidate-containing drugs include:

Other Names for Concerta

Aptensio XR Cotempla XR-ODT Daytrana Jornay PM Metadate ER Methylin Quillichew ER Quillivant XR Relexxii Ritalin Ritalin LA

Drug Classification

Concerta is a central nervous system stimulant. Stimulants work by increasing the amount of the brain chemical dopamine. When someone has a medical problem like ADHD, there is not enough dopamine in the brain. Not having sufficient dopamine leads to ADHD symptoms like:

  • Attention problems
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsiveness

Because stimulants increase the amount of dopamine in your brain, a person with ADHD feels calmer after taking them. The ADHD symptoms improve because the brain is no longer deficient in dopamine. Concerta is one of the available stimulants for ADHD. Because Concerta is addictive, doctors try to prescribe the lowest dose that improves your ADHD symptoms. Therefore, different people often need different doses of Concerta. If too much Concerta is used, or if you do not have a problem with dopamine levels in your brain to start with, your brain gets more dopamine than it is supposed to get. The body therefore gets overstimulated, which can cause side effects like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Fast heart rate
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue

Overdose is possible with stimulants like Concerta, and can be very dangerous.

Concerta Ingredients

The active ingredient in Concerta is the stimulant methylphenidate. However, due to its complex release mechanism, Concerta also contains many inactive ingredients like:

Concerta Ingredients

The active ingredient in Concerta is the stimulant methylphenidate. However, due to its complex release mechanism, Concerta also contains many inactive ingredients like:

Butylated hydroxytoluene, a preservative      

Carnauba wax, a binder

Hypromellose, for controlled release

Lactose, a binder

Phosphoric acid, to help the drug disperse

Polyethylene glycol, a lubricant

Povidone, a binder

Propylene glycol, to make the drug soluble

Sodium chloride, or salt, to help with controlled release          

Stearic acid, to make the drug soluble

Succinic acid, a buffer  

Ferrosoferric oxide, for color

Titanium dioxide, for color

Triacetin, a stabilizer

Cellulose acetate, to help the tablet dissolve

Uses of Concerta

Concerta is used to treat several different medical conditions, namely ADHD. As a controlled substance, it can only be prescribed by a doctor. Concerta also can be used illicitly by someone who obtains the drug illegally (without prescription).

Prescribed Uses

As of 2016, 9.4% of American children have an ADHD diagnosis. Of these children, 62% were prescribed a stimulant like Concerta to treat the disorder. Most people who are prescribed Concerta have an ADHD diagnosis. However, Concerta can be used to treat several medical problems like:

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD

Narcolepsy

Depression, mainly in people who are elderly, ill or dying

Fatigue in people who have cancer

Abusive Uses

Despite its valid prescribed uses, Concerta is often abused and used illicitly. Sometimes pills are sold or stolen from people to whom it has legally been prescribed. People who use Concerta without a doctor’s prescription often do so for several reasons, like:

Staying awake

Increasing attention

Becoming more alert

Feeling less drunk after drinking

Getting high

Stopping withdrawal symptoms from other stimulants like cocaine

Dosage and Administration

Concerta is a once-daily drug. Doctors recommend taking it in the morning with a beverage. Once swallowed, Concerta’s tablet coating absorbs liquid from the stomach and intestines. This fluid then causes the drug to be slowly released. Due to the absorbed liquid, the drug gets pushed out of the tablet, a process that can take a few hours. The tablet’s shell then comes out in feces.

Doctors usually start by prescribing Concerta 18mg daily to someone new to methylphenidate. The dose of Concerta can be increased weekly as needed until it controls symptoms.

Doctors think that Concerta may be harder to misuse than other dosage forms of methylphenidate. This is largely due to the drug’s complex release mechanism. However, the release mechanism has a drawback: Concerta comes only as a tablet that cannot be crushed, split or chewed. For this reason, if a person has a problem swallowing whole pills, Concerta may not be a good fit.

Because different methylphenidate dosage forms exist, their dosage instructions may be different from Concerta. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist if you have questions about how to safely take your medications.

What Does Concerta Look Like?

Brand-name Concerta comes as a small tablet. It is oblong-shaped and 12 millimeters in length. The tablet color and imprint depend on the dose:

  • Concerta 18mg is yellow and imprinted with “alza 18”
  • Concerta 27mg is gray and imprinted with “alza 27”
  • Concerta 36mg is white and imprinted with “alza 36”
  • Concerta 54mg is red and imprinted with “alza 54”

However, the active drug in Concerta, methylphenidate, is available in several other dosage forms. These dosage form options look different depending on the manufacturer. They include:

  • Capsules
  • Skin patches
  • Oral liquids
  • Oral tablets
  • Chewable tablets

How Long Does Concerta Stay in Your System?

Like many drugs, Concerta can be found in the body for different amounts of time depending on the specific test, and what is being tested:

Blood


The half-life of a drug refers to how long it takes for your body to have gotten rid of half of it. Concerta’s half-life in blood can range from around 2.5 to almost 8.5 hours. Because it usually takes 5 half-lives for a drug to be completely out of your system, Concerta can be found in blood until 12.5 to 42.5 hours after the last dose.

Urine

Urine tests can detect Concerta for up to 2 days after use.

Hair

Many drugs will show up in hair for months after use. Due to the rate of hair growth, a typical 1.5-inch hair sample will show drug use within the past 90 days.

Saliva

Concerta can be found in saliva up to 36 hours after the last dose.

Sweat

Sweat patches can detect Concerta for up to 24 hours since last use.

Related Topic: How long does it take to detox from methylphenidate?

Is Concerta Addictive?

As a Schedule II controlled substance, Concerta has a high risk of abuse, addiction and dependence. However, this risk must be balanced against the benefit of its use to treat disorders like ADHD. Because of the risks of abuse, doctors have researched the addictive potential of drugs like Concerta in patients. Studies have shown that using treatments like Concerta for children does not increase the risk of substance abuse later in life.

Up to 65% of people diagnosed with ADHD as children continue to have symptoms as adults. As such, they may continue drug therapy with stimulants to treat their symptoms. Studies have shown that up to 25% of adults taking prescribed stimulants like Concerta misuse their medications. Most commonly, adults misuse stimulants by taking more of the drug than is prescribed. However, the complex release mechanism of Concerta may protect people from this kind of misuse. Doctors think that misuse may be less common in drugs like Concerta which enter the bloodstream more slowly than faster-acting stimulants. For this reason, it is harder for people to get high off longer-acting drugs like Concerta.

It is nonetheless important to be vigilant about stimulant misuse in people with ADHD. People who misuse prescribed stimulants are more likely to use other drugs like narcotics or cocaine. Further, substance abuse in general is more common in people with ADHD. People with ADHD are nearly three times more likely to struggle with substance abuse than their peers.

View Sources

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