Methylphenidate is a drug commonly used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It works as a central nervous system stimulant, which increases the availability of neurotransmitters that help people focus and be more alert. When used at doses higher than prescribed, the effects on the brain can cause the person to have a feeling of euphoria. When a person craves the euphoric feeling and continually uses the drug in high amounts to achieve the euphoria, it can become addictive.

Methylphenidate Abuse and Addiction

Methylphenidate misuse occurs when a person takes more of the medication than they were prescribed. Misuse also occurs when someone uses an alternative route (such as snorting or injection) to feel the effects of the drug faster. When injected through the vein, methylphenidate has been reported to have the same effects as cocaine, and the effects are more sustained.

Methylphenidate addiction occurs when a person craves the euphoric feeling of the drug and uses it more and more often. As this happens, the drug will not have its effects as quickly or higher doses will be needed to achieve the same feeling of euphoria. When a person increasingly uses the drug at higher doses, they may become dependent on it. A person who depends on methylphenidate will not be able to function normally without it.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has categorized methylphenidate as a Schedule II drug. This means it has a “high potential for abuse, which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.”

Methylphenidate is commonly misused by students, who use its effects to study more efficiently. When someone uses methylphenidate without a prescription, it is considered misuse — even if they are not using it for the feeling of euphoria. Using methylphenidate when not prescribed puts teens at an increased risk for becoming addicted.

Effects of Methylphenidate Abuse and Addiction

When someone misuses methylphenidate, they run the risk of having side effects that a person taking the normal dose would not normally experience. Methylphenidate addiction effects can be short- or long-term.

Short-Term Effects

Some of the short-term effects of methylphenidate include:

  • Excitation
  • Facial flushing
  • Excessive repetition of meaningless tasks (perseveration)
  • The sensation of bugs crawling under the skin (formication)

Long-Term Effects

Long-term effects associated with methylphenidate use include:

  • Becoming delusional
  • Developing an unrealistic sense of superiority
  • Having hallucinations
  • Becoming manic (feeling overwhelmingly happy and energetic)
  • Feeling paranoid
  • Having suicidal thoughts
  • Becoming violent

Signs and Symptoms of Methylphenidate Addiction

Methylphenidate addiction can be a serious threat to someone’s health. There are psychological signs that may occur with extended use of methylphenidate, where a person’s personality and demeanor change. The behavioral signs of addiction are related to the drug use. Finally, physical signs may appear and cause changes to the body and how it functions.

Psychological signs of methylphenidate addiction include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Agitation and anxiety
  • General nervousness
  • Social withdrawal

Behavioral signs seen with methylphenidate addiction include:

  • Consistently using methylphenidate and not feeling normal without it
  • Using increasing amounts of methylphenidate
  • Resorting to alternative methods of taking the drug, such as snorting or injecting it
  • Making the drug a priority above other responsibilities
  • Getting into risky situations in order to get the drug

Physical signs of methylphenidate addiction include:

  • Abnormal movements
  • Dilated pupils
  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Dizziness
  • Altered sex drive
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Gastrointestinal distress

Mixing Methylphenidate and Other Substances

Caution should be taken when mixing methylphenidate with other substances, as it has several unwanted interactions. When prescribed normally, a physician will inform you of the risks associated with mixing methylphenidate with other medication. Methylphenidate can have serious interactions with MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors), which are used to treat depression. It also should not be taken with alcohol, as this can be toxic.

Potential Co-Occurring Disorders

A person who has a substance use disorder may be at an increased risk for developing an addiction to other substances. Studies have shown that people who are addicted to other substances also tend to misuse methylphenidate.

If a person is diagnosed with a mental health disorder, such as anxiety, depression, psychosis or bipolar disorder, using methylphenidate can make these conditions worse.

Methylphenidate Addiction Statistics

With the increase in prescriptions of methylphenidate to treat ADHD in recent years, there has been an increased availability of the drug. This is believed to have contributed to an increase in misuse of methylphenidate and methylphenidate addiction.

In 2017, 0.5% of adolescents (aged 12 to 17) and 0.5% of adults (aged 26 and older) were currently misusing psychostimulants, such as methylphenidate. In young adults (aged 18 to 25), 2.1% had misused psychostimulants within the past 30 days.

When a person is addicted to a substance and continues to use more to get its effects, overdose can occur. This can happen with methylphenidate and psychostimulants in general. In 2017, 14% of drug overdose deaths involved psychostimulants, which was a total of 10,333 deaths. This was a 37% increase from the number of psychostimulant overdose deaths in 2016. About half of these deaths also involved opioids.

Getting Help for Addiction

The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health offers comprehensive treatment plans for individuals who are dealing with substance use disorders. If you or a loved one has a substance use disorder, such as an addiction to methylphenidate, The Recovery Village Palm Beach at Baptist Health can help. Contact us today to speak with a representative and learn more about our treatment options.

Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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