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 Central nervous system stimulants are usually prescribed to treat symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), such as impulsivity, hyperactivity, and poor concentration and focus. Common types of prescription stimulants include Adderall, Ritalin, and a medication called methylphenidate. While effective in treating ADHD symptoms, stimulants are often abused for performance and recreational purposes. For these reasons, it’s important to know the risks and side effects of methylphenidate use beforehand.

What Is Methylphenidate and How Does It Work?

Methylphenidate is a prescription stimulant that’s also available under brand names like Daytrana, Quillivant XR, and Methylin. As a stimulant, methylphenidate is commonly prescribed to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, a sleep disorder marked by overwhelming daytime drowsiness and sudden periods of sleep. In people with ADHD, methylphenidate improves symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity, and poor concentration. In people with narcolepsy, methylphenidate increases energy and alertness to keep them awake. 

Methylphenidate works by increasing dopamine levels in the brain. Like stimulants such as cocaine and methamphetamine, methylphenidate raises levels of dopamine by blocking the activity of dopamine receptors, which reabsorb the chemical once it’s been released. However, methylphenidate blocks these receptors from reabsorbing the chemical, allowing it to build up in the brain. 

Dopamine is a chemical messenger used by nerve cells to communicate with each other. It plays a role in feelings of pleasure and is also linked to motivational processing and reward in the brain. Dopamine decreases “background firing” rates and increases the signal-to-noise ratio in target nerve cells when it’s released in the brain. As a result, methylphenidate improves attention and decreases distractibility in activities that normally don’t hold the attention of people with ADHD.1

Research also suggests that methylphenidate can help people who have too many dopamine receptors with concentration, focus, hyperactivity, and other symptoms caused by ADHD or narcolepsy.

What Are the Side Effects of Methylphenidate?

Although it’s safe when taken as prescribed and directed by a doctor, negative effects of methylphenidate can occur. Especially if the drug is administered differently than directed by a physician, some undesirable, short-term effects of methylphenidate may occur, including:

  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Heartburn
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Muscle tightness
  • Drowsiness
  • Uncontrollable movements
  • Decreased sexual desire
  • Excessive sweating
  • Back pain

These side effects usually dissipate as the person becomes accustomed to the medication. Even so, they’re likely to occur if methylphenidate is misused in any way. Forms of abuse may include taking higher doses than prescribed and mixing the medication with other drugs or alcohol.

More serious side effects from methylphenidate use include:

  • Fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Agitation
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Motor or verbal tics or twitching
  • Depression
  • Abnormally excited or elevated mood
  • Mood swings
  • Blurred vision
  • Numbness, pain, or sensitivity to temperature in the fingers and toes
  • Skin color that changes from pale to blue to red in the fingers or toes
  • Fever
  • Hives
  • Itching and rash
  • Hoarseness

The effects of methylphenidate can vary in intensity, longevity, and discomfort depending on the dose taken. As we mentioned, although the drug is relatively safe when taken as prescribed, stimulant abuse is a growing concern. This form of substance abuse is most prevalent among young adults in college and professionals seeking to improve their academic and work performance.

In addition to increasing performance and ability to work, people may also abuse prescription stimulants like methylphenidate for the high it produces. Since methylphenidate allows dopamine to collect in the brain, high doses of the drug can cause a euphoric high. Not only does dopamine physically enforce drug-taking behavior by promoting motivation and improved mood, but it’s also emotionally addictive as it makes the person feel good.

 Serious methylphenidate side effects, such as physical dependence, can indicate a growing addiction to the drug. Although dependence is common among people who use any drug for long periods, many people who use methylphenidate will simply keep taking it to avoid withdrawals. As their doses increase and drug use worsens, they may eventually hit the point of addiction.

 If you find that your typical doses of methylphenidate aren’t as effective as they once were, speak to your doctor right away. Do not increase your doses without his or her consent. Additionally, if you find that you’re unable to control your use of methylphenidate or want to quit using it, don’t do it alone. Our Christian drug rehabilitation center offers medically monitored detox for both illicit and prescription drugs that can help you safely overcome withdrawals and help prevent relapse and other risks common to cold-turkey methods.

Help for Methylphenidate Abuse and Addiction

Methylphenidate hydrochloride side effects usually dissipate as the person becomes accustomed to the medication. But when used for recreational or performance-enhancing purposes, negative reactions are bound to occur. Addiction is only one of the many things that can go wrong when you abuse methylphenidate.

If this is a struggle you’re facing, don’t wait to get help. Faith in Recovery offers Christ-centered addiction treatment for illicit and prescription drugs of all kinds. For decades we’ve helped our clients understand their addictions and develop healthy and effective relapse prevention strategies.

We also offer family services to help the spouses and family members of our clients better understand what their loved ones are going through and how they can support them. For further information about our addiction services, contact our faith-based recovery center today at 888-280-4763.

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