Overview of Ritalin for ADHD

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When parents think about treating ADHD, they usually think about Ritalin, as it was one of the first ADHD medications introduced (amphetamines were first) and it has been around for about 60 years.

Ritalin for ADHD

Ritalin 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 ADHD medications, many parents lump in every negative thing they have ever heard about ADHD treatments onto Ritalin. This is unfortunate because Ritalin has a good track record of helping a lot of children with ADHD.

Other facts about Ritalin:

  • Ritalin was first introduced in 1956
  • the generic name for Ritalin is methylphenidate
  • if you miss a dose of your child's Ritalin, you should usually skip it and not take it too late in the day
  • short acting Ritalin is available in 5mg, 10mg, and 20mg tablets that are usually taken two or three times a day
  • Focalin (dexmethylphenidate) and Focalin XR are made of just one part or isomer of Ritalin and leaves another part, which is inactive and may contribute to side effects, out.

Ritalin is available in a variety of short, intermediate, and long-acting forms, including:

Short Acting Ritalin (lasts 3-5 hours)

  • Ritalin
  • Methylin (chewable tablets)

Intermediate Acting Ritalin (lasts 3-8 hours)

  • Ritalin SR
  • Metadate ER
  • Methylin ER

Long Acting Ritalin (lasts 8-12 hours)

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

Except for the newest medications, Daytrana, Quillichew ER, and Quillivant XR, most are available in generic forms, which can help you save money.

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 you take it for prolonged periods of time. Although many side effects can be managed by lowering the dose, if they continue, ask about a switch to another medicine.

Although Ritalin is well tolerated by most children, there are some children who should not take Ritalin, including children:

  • with marked anxiety, tension, and agitation
  • who are known to be hypersensitive to Ritalin
  • who have glaucoma
  • with motor tics, Tourette's syndrome or a family history of Tourette's syndrome
  • taking MAO inhibitors

Ritalin is also not approved for children under 6 years of age.

What You Need to Know

Although most forms of Ritalin must be swallowed whole, including Concerta, it is possible to open the Ritalin LA and Metadate CD capsules and sprinkle the contents on some applesauce, etc. And of course, the liquid and chewable forms of Ritalin are nice alternatives for younger children who can't swallow pills.

Other important information:

  • 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 convenient, once-a-day forms of Ritalin are typically much more expensive than generic methylphenidate
  • short acting Ritalin is sometimes abused by teens who crush and snort it or simply take Ritalin that they haven't been prescribed

Ritalin is a controlled substance, but despite persistent myths, it is not a narcotic.

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Article Sources

  • American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Practice Guideline. ADHD: Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics 2011;128: 000
  • Ritalin Patient Information sheet