Methylphenidate is the active chemical in the prescription stimulant Ritalin. It’s used to treat
attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. As a stimulant, methylphenidate works to increase activity in certain parts of the brain by decreasing the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Reuptake is the process by which a chemical is removed and recycled from its active presence in the nervous system.
Blocking reuptake can increase the presence and effects of a chemical in the brain. A buildup of chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrine can cause increased excitement and alertness. Prescription stimulants can cause increased alertness and focus in people with ADHD. However, the drug can also come with significant side effects such as insomnia and anxiety. Abusing the drug can also cause you to develop a substance use disorder.
The Side Effects of Methylphenidate
Stimulants like Ritalin serve to increase activity in certain parts of the brain. It does this by interacting with chemical messengers in your brain that are responsible for activating specific neurotransmitters are releasing natural chemicals like dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is an important chemical in the brain that’s tied to reward, excitement, motivation, and alertness. These effects can be desirable to people with ADHD who struggle to stay motivated through tasks.
It can also help people with sleep disorders who experience excessive daytime drowsiness or narcolepsy. Stimulants can also increase your heart rate and blood pressure. In people who are vulnerable, it may cause palpitations or arrhythmias, in which case, you should speak to a doctor. Other symptoms may include:
- Mood swings
- Stomach discomfort
- Appetite suppression
- Weight loss
- Heart palpitations
- Blurred vision
- Changes in heart rate
- Changes in blood pressure
- Numbness and tingling
- Poor circulation
Insomnia is a common side effect of using prescription stimulants, and it may seem like a mild consequence.
However, a solid sleep schedule is vital to maintaining your overall health. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as much as a third of American’s don’t get the recommended amount of sleep each night.
Short-term sleep problems like insomnia can cause you to be drowsy throughout the day, and it can cause other issues like headaches, difficulty concentrating, and poor cognitive performance on tasks.
Long-term sleep issues can lead to more severe consequences, including diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and depression.
Dependence and Addiction
Substance use disorders are a significant consequence of methylphenidate use and overuse. Chemical dependency and addiction can occur with long-term use or abuse of Ritalin. Ritalin is sometimes used as a performance-enhancing drug. It’s popular among college students that use it to focus through all-nighters and to improve test scores. However, if you become dependent on the drug, it can cause you to experience withdrawal symptoms if you skip a dose or try to quit.
Withdrawal can cause depression, fatigue, or an inability to feel pleasure. A severe substance use disorder may cause powerful compulsions to continue using and increase your likelihood of experiencing uncomfortable symptoms, such as insomnia or heart palpitations.