Using Ritalin to Treat ADHD

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What is the most important information I should know about Ritalin?

People should not take Ritalin if they:

  • have a known hypersensitivity to methylphenidate; or
  • have glaucoma, motor tics, Tourette's syndrome, or marked anxiety; or
  • have taken an MAOI within the previous 14 days.

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 (methylphenidate) is a central nervous system stimulant used to treat children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. It is also used to treat people 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 many children with ADHD.

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 medications such as Daytrana, Quillichew ER, Quillivant XR, Jornay PM, and Adhansia 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

  • Adhansia XR
  • Daytrana (patch)
  • Jornay PM
  • 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.

Ritalin Side Effects

The most common side effects of Ritalin are nervousness and insomnia (trouble sleeping). Other side effects include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Angina
  • Anorexia
  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Dyskinesia
  • Headache
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Pulse changes
  • Tachycardia
  • 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.

Ritalin Warnings

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

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

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 Dependence and Withdrawal

Ritalin is a controlled substance, which means that it has a potential for misuse. It carries a risk of dependence and addiction, which is higher for people who have a history of substance use disorder. This is why it is important to take this medication as prescribed. Never take more than the prescribed dose or take it longer than your doctor recommends.

You should not decrease or discontinue Ritalin without talking to a doctor first.

Suddenly stopping this medication or lowering the dose can result in withdrawal symptoms. In many cases, you doctor will recommend gradually tapering your dose over a period of time to minimize unpleasant withdrawal symptoms.

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.

5 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.
  1. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Medication guide. Ritalin.

  2. Cortese S, Adamo N, Del Giovane C, et al. Comparative efficacy and tolerability of medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, adolescents, and adults: a systematic review and network meta-analysisLancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(9):727–738. doi:10.1016/S2215-0366(18)30269-4

  3. Briars L, Todd T. A review of pharmacological management of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorderJ Pediatr Pharmacol Ther. 2016;21(3):192–206. doi:10.5863/1551-6776-21.3.192

  4. U.S. Food & Drug Administration. Highlights of prescribing information. Concerta.

  5. U.S. Department of Justice. Drug Enforcement Administration. Methlyphenidate.

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.