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 most often used as a treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It works by stimulating the central nervous system, keeping the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain longer. Ritalin is also sometimes used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden bouts of sleep.

Ritalin will not show up on a standard 5-panel drug test. However, it may show up on some other broader drug screens.

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 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

However, these effects may also be accompanied by side effects that can include:

  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Nausea
  • Upset stomach

Ritalin Misuse

Ritalin is a medication that people sometimes use to get high. If they don't have a prescription, they may ask other people for Ritalin pills, crush or snort them, or even steal or lie to get the drug. Parents who are worried their child is abusing Ritalin may want to look out for these signs of abuse:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Depression
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fatigue
  • Hyperactivity
  • Increased isolation and secrecy
  • Irritability
  • Memory problems
  • Mood swings
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Suspiciousness or paranoia

What's more, Ritalin can be habit-forming. After some time, anyone taking Ritalin can develop a tolerance for the drug, making it less effective than when they first started taking it.

As a result of increased tolerance, you may be tempted to take larger dosages to achieve the same effects. This can increase the risk of dependence.

How Long Does Ritalin Last?

Ritalin has a 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, almost a quarter of the drug might remain in their system two days after taking it. 

While Ritalin might be detected on a blood test for around 12 hours, these tests are not commonly used in drug screening. Doctors may use blood tests to determine if a person is receiving the correct dosage of their medication. Checking levels an hour or two after taking a dose can help the doctor decide if the medication dose should be adjusted in order 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 Detection Time

Many variables can play a role in how long Ritalin, or any drug, continues to be active in the body after it's taken. The rate at which medications and other substances are metabolism depends on several factors.

  • Type of medication: 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 may be 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 also impact how long it takes medication to clear. Some health conditions can 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 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

Ritalin can be an effective treatment for ADHD, but if you have been misusing the medication or are concerned, talk to your doctor or mental health professional. Your doctor 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), which 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.

8 Sources
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.