Overview of Ritalin for ADHD

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When parents think about treating ADHD, they often think about Ritalin, as it was one of the first ADHD medications introduced (amphetamines were first). Ritalin has been used to treat ADHD since the 1950s.

Ritalin (generic name methylphenidate) is a central nervous system stimulant that is used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. It is also used to treat patients with narcolepsy.

Since Ritalin is often used as a generic term for the whole range of ADHD medications, sometimes people attribute every negative thing they have ever heard about ADHD treatments to Ritalin. This is unfortunate, because Ritalin has a good track record of helping a lot of children with ADHD (as shown in this research review).

Forms of Ritalin

Ritalin is available in a variety of short, intermediate, and long-acting forms. Focalin (dexmethylphenidate) and Focalin XR are made of just one part or isomer of Ritalin. These medicines leave out another part, which is inactive and may contribute to side effects.

Doses of stimulants don't usually depend on a child's weight, so your pediatrician will usually start with a low dose and then work upwards until it usually works or is causing side effects.

Although most forms of Ritalin, including Concerta, must be swallowed whole, it is possible to open Ritalin LA and Metadate CD capsules and sprinkle the contents on food, such as applesauce. The liquid and chewable forms of Ritalin are good alternatives for children who can't swallow pills.

Except for newer medications, such as Daytrana, Quillichew ER, and Quillivant XR, most of these medications are available in generic forms, which can help you save money.

Short Acting Ritalin

Short acting Ritalin is available in 5mg, 10mg, and 20mg tablets that are usually taken two or three times a day. Each dose lasts three to five hours.

  • Ritalin
  • Methylin (chewable tablets)

Intermediate Acting Ritalin

With these formulations, a dose lasts 3 to 8 hours.

  • Ritalin SR
  • Metadate ER
  • Methylin ER

Long Acting Ritalin

A dose of these medications lasts 8-12 hours, which means a child only has to take one dose per day. Although convenient, once-a-day forms of Ritalin are typically much more expensive than generic methylphenidate

  • Daytrana (patch)
  • Metadate CD
  • Ritalin LA
  • Concerta (methylphenidate ER)
  • QuilliChew ER (chewable tab)
  • Quillivant XR (oral suspension)

If your child misses a dose of Ritalin (or a similar stimulant), they can take the dose late. But they should not take it after six p.m., because it may interfere with their ability to fall asleep.

Warnings and Side Effects

The most common side effects of Ritalin are nervousness and insomnia (trouble sleeping). Other side effects include hypersensitivity, anorexia, nausea, dizziness, palpitations, headache, dyskinesia, drowsiness, blood pressure and pulse changes, tachycardia, angina, cardiac arrhythmia, abdominal pain, and weight loss (when it is taken for a prolonged period of time).

Many side effects can be managed by lowering the dose. But if they continue, ask your child's doctor about a switch to another medicine.

Although Ritalin is well tolerated by most children, there are some who should not take Ritalin, including those with other conditions such as:

  • Marked anxiety, tension, and agitation
  • Glaucoma
  • Motor tics, Tourette's syndrome, or a family history of Tourette's syndrome
  • Hypersensitivity to Ritalin

Ritalin is also not approved for children under 6 years of age, or for people taking MAO inhibitors. It is not recommended for pregnant women.

Ritalin Abuse

Short acting Ritalin is sometimes abused by people who crush and snort it, or simply take Ritalin that they haven't been prescribed. They may believe it will help them study better or perform better at school.

Ritalin is a controlled substance, but despite persistent myths, that does not mean that is a narcotic. It is controlled because it can potentially be abused (if taken by people without a prescription or medical need).

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