How Long Does Ritalin Stay in Your System?

Ritalin in Your Blood, Urine, Hair, & Saliva

Woman taking pill bottle out of medicine cabinet

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Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a medication used as a treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It is also sometimes prescribed for narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes excessive daytime drowsiness and sudden bouts of sleep. Knowing how long Ritalin lasts helps you better understand its potential effects, as well as whether it may show up in specific tests.

Ritalin will not show up on a standard 5-panel drug test. However, it may show up on broader drug screens. Several factors contribute to whether it will appear—and for how long—including whether the drug is being misused.

How Long Does Ritalin Stay In Your System?

  • Urine: One to two days
  • Blood: Around 12 hours
  • Saliva: One to two days
  • Hair: Up to 90 days

How Long Does It Take to Feel Ritalin's Effects?

Ritalin begins to have an effect within 20 to 30 minutes after taking the medication. These effects last three to five hours for the short-acting formulation and around eight hours for the long-acting formulation.

The effects of Ritalin can include:

  • Subtle or significant reductions in ADHD symptoms
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Fewer mood swings
  • Better concentration
  • Improved ability to stay on task
  • Decreased impulsive behaviors

Potential Side Effects

Some people experience side effects when taking Ritalin. Two of the most common are feelings of nervousness and trouble sleeping, with additional potential Ritalin side effects including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Heart rhythm changes
  • Nausea
  • Skin rash

In rare cases, patients have reported severe side effects after taking Ritalin, such as developing Tourette's syndrome, abnormal liver function, and aggressive behavior. Even rarer is the development of neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS), a life-threatening extrapyramidal side effect with symptoms such as high fever, sweating, and unstable blood pressure.

If you experience a serious or life-threatening side effect after taking Ritalin, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention.

Ritalin Misuse

Ritalin is a medication that people sometimes misuse, with the misuse of this drug tending to be higher among college students. If they don't have a prescription, individuals may ask people who are prescribed Ritalin for their pills, or even steal or lie to get the drug.

Signs of Ritalin misuse include:

  • Aggressiveness or irritability
  • Anxiety, depression, or mood swings
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fatigue
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased isolation and secrecy
  • Memory problems
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Suspiciousness or paranoia

If you suspect that someone you know is misusing Ritalin, their healthcare provider can help address the issue in an effective, therapeutic way.

Ritalin can also be habit-forming. People taking this drug may develop a tolerance over time, making it less effective than it was at first. As a result, they may be tempted to take larger dosages to achieve the same effects. This can increase the risk of Ritalin dependence.

How Long Does Ritalin Last?

Ritalin has a medication half-life of somewhere between one and four hours. However, research has found that its elimination from the body can vary greatly from one person to the next.

In some people, almost all of the drug is eliminated from the body within two days. For others, just under a quarter of the drug might remain in their system two days after taking it. 

While Ritalin might be detected in a blood test for around 12 hours, these tests are not commonly used in drug screenings. Healthcare providers may use blood tests to determine if a person is receiving the correct dosage of their medication. Checking levels an hour or two after the drug can help them decide if the dose should be adjusted to achieve the desired results.

Urine and saliva tests are used more frequently to check for recent use. Hair follicle tests may also be used to confirm past use. Ritalin might appear on a urine or saliva test for one to three days. Detection times are much longer for hair follicle tests, which may detect the presence of a substance for up to 90 days.

Factors That Affect Ritalin Detection Time

Many variables play a role in how long Ritalin, or any drug, continues to be active in the body after it's taken. Factors that can impact Ritalin's detection time include:

  • Medication type: Ritalin is available in immediate-release and extended-release forms. Both are excreted through the urine, but the extended-release formulation will remain in the body longer.
  • Age: It may take older people longer to metabolize the drug, so it can remain detectable in the body for a longer period.
  • Metabolism: Individual metabolism plays an important role in determining how quickly the medication is processed and excreted.
  • Kidney function: Because the medication is removed from the body via the kidneys, people with renal function impairment will process and excrete the drug more slowly.
  • Health status: How physically active you are, how often you take the substance, or even how hydrated you are can impact how long it takes medications to clear. Certain health conditions can also affect the rate at which drugs are metabolized by the body.

Because so many factors contribute to the length of time that Ritalin stays in your system, it is impossible to provide an exact timeline for when the medication will no longer be detectable on a drug test.

How to Get Ritalin Out of Your System

There are many myths about getting substances out of your system to pass a drug test. It is important to be aware that the only way to get a substance out of your system, including Ritalin, is to stop taking it and give your body time to process and eliminate the drug from your system. 

You can do things to help your body metabolize substances more effectively, including getting enough exercise, eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, and avoiding other substances.

Symptoms of Ritalin Overdose

If you take Ritalin for any reason, knowing how long the medication can stay active in your body may help prevent an accidental overdose of the stimulant, which can have serious consequences. An overdose of Ritalin can cause a host of unpleasant problems, including:

  • Agitation, shaking, seizures
  • Confusion, hallucinations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dry mouth or nose
  • Fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Sweating, flushing
  • Vomiting

If you or someone else experiences any of these symptoms, get medical help by calling 911 or heading to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Getting Help for Ritalin Misuse

Ritalin can be an effective treatment for ADHD, but if you have been misusing the medication or are concerned, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. They can help you gradually lower your Ritalin dosage to minimize unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

You may also benefit from psychotherapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT can help you change maladaptive thought patterns and behaviors that contribute to addiction.

Your doctor can also prescribe other medications to help you manage your ADHD symptoms, including non-stimulant options.

If you or a loved one are struggling with substance use or addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading

By Buddy T
Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism.