Like most psychoactive substances, both Ritalin and alcohol come with risks associated with their use. When Ritalin is taken as directed by a physician, the chances of severe side effects are minimal—the same can be said for occasional or moderate drinking. When these substances are used in conjunction, however, the chances of experiencing adverse effects increase exponentially.
What Is Ritalin?
Ritalin is a prescription drug that contains the active ingredient methylphenidate AND IS used to treat symptoms of ADD/ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). These disorders are hallmarked by difficulty with attention, concentration, and sometimes impulsivity or hyperactivity. While mild versions of these symptoms are not uncommon among children and teenagers, those with ADD/ADHD experience more severe symptoms and, if left untreated, may not grow out of this disorder as they age.
Ritalin is frequently abused for its stimulating effects, including increased attention, focus, and alertness, decreased appetite, and feelings of well-being. When Ritalin is abused, it is often obtained through unlawful means.
It is believed that few people who experience ADD/ADHD and have legitimate prescriptions for Ritalin engage in abuse. In fact, the effects of Ritalin on those who have ADD/ADHD are different than those who do not have the condition.
Instead, those who misuse Ritalin often obtain the substance from friends or family members with prescriptions by buying or stealing them. In some instances, people may visit multiple doctors and falsify ADD/ADHD symptoms in an attempt to obtain their own prescriptions. Ritalin can also be found on the black market and the Internet.
Ritalin abuse is most often seen among teens and young adults. ADD/ADHD drugs, such as Ritalin, Adderall, Concerta, and Modafinil, are commonly referred to as “smart drugs.” Students abuse them, believing that the drug can increase their attention span, focus, and energy.
This boost is believed to allow them to stay up all night studying or cramming for a test or finishing a paper. Despite this popular belief, research suggests that those who abuse Ritalin and other prescription stimulants tend to perform less well academically than others who do not.
Ritalin is not considered addictive when one uses the prescribed amount as directed. However, when a person increases the dosage, uses it more frequently than prescribed, uses it without a prescription, or by other routes of administration (e.g., crushing and snorting), the potential for addiction increases significantly.
Alcohol Use and Abuse
Although alcohol is legal and easily accessible for purchase and use among persons aged 21 and older in the U.S., it can have extremely harmful effects on the body and brain. Effects include mood and behavior changes, lowered inhibitions, confusion, and cognitive and motor function impairments.
Prolonged, excessive abuse of alcohol can have a severe impact on a person’s health and lead to a variety of conditions, including the following:
- Liver disease
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased risk of cancer
An alcohol use disorder (AUD) is characterized by problematic drinking or drinking that affects an individual’s life in several adverse ways.
This disorder can range from binge drinking to dependence to full-blown alcoholism. According to the NIAAA (National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism), at least 15 million adults experience an AUD, and more than 80,000 people die each year due to alcohol-related causes.
Mixing Ritalin and Alcohol
Under no circumstances is it considered safe to combine Ritalin and alcohol. Despite this, it is common for recreational users to mix the two because Ritalin is a stimulant and alcohol is a depressant. People may do so as a means to counteract the undesirable effects of either substance. For instance, an individual may use Ritalin to offset the depressant or sedative effects of alcohol, which may allow him or her to party or stay up for longer and drink more.
Combining these two substances has also been associated with unpredictable effects, such as dangerously increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Mood swings and problems with irregular sleeping patterns and disturbances can develop from combining Ritalin and alcohol, as well. Users of both substances may also experience an uptick in anxiety, which can drive further self-medication and perpetuate an increasingly hazardous cycle of substance abuse.
Because Ritalin’s stimulant properties can neutralize some of alcohol’s outward effects, this can lead to overdrinking to unsafe levels and alcohol poisoning. Acute alcohol poisoning is a potentially life-threatening condition and can also cause other severe health complications.
In addition, drinking alcohol can cause more Ritalin to be released into the bloodstream. This higher concentration can rapidly lead to the development of dependence as the body becomes accustomed to higher amounts of the stimulant.
Once physical dependence develops, withdrawal symptoms will occur when the person tries to quit using the substance. The same level of physical dependence can also quickly develop with long-term alcohol abuse. In cases of dependence on more than one substance, withdrawal is more complicated, and medical supervision is always required.
According to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), health professionals should be cautious about prescribing Ritalin to anyone with a history of substance abuse, including alcohol, opioids, or other drugs. Such substance abuse tendencies can lead to the overuse of both prescription and illicit drugs and an increased tolerance for them.
While the acute effects of combining Ritalin and alcohol are certainly significant, there are also chronic problems that can manifest from co-occurring abuse. Nutritional deficits are common, as Ritalin often suppresses appetite, and alcoholics almost always have deficiencies in key nutrients, such as thiamine. Liver disease can also occur, primarily due to the heavy use of alcohol and its damaging effects.
A lack of energy is also frequent among those abusing these substances, which can drive a person to increase their use of Ritalin or other stimulants in an effort to offset lethargy and fatigue. Irritability, agitation, anxiety, and erratic sleep patterns may also be experienced when a person combines Ritalin and alcohol.
Depression is another potential chronic effect of using both Ritalin and alcohol. Depression is a remarkably common and problematic symptom of addiction and can contribute to additional substance abuse. The correlation between depression and substance abuse has been well-researched and documented, and this particular drug combination is certainly not immune to it.
Treatment for Polysubstance Abuse and Addiction
Ritalin and alcohol are both very common substances of abuse and can be extremely hazardous even when abused independently. However, combining these two substances places an individual at higher risk for dangerous and potentially life-threatening complications, both in the short- and long-term.
Ritalin’s pervasiveness among teens and young adults makes this combination particularly worrisome, as underage persons and binge-drinkers are among those at the highest risk for acute alcohol poisoning. Ritalin’s ability to mask the immediate effects of alcohol can also compel a person to consume a dangerous amount, therefore causing an overdose related to one or both substances.
The abuse of Ritalin, alcohol, or a combination of intoxicating substances should be treated seriously. Professional treatment that includes comprehensive, evidence-based services, such as psychotherapy, is needed to address polysubstance abuse and co-existing conditions, such as ADD/ADHD, anxiety, or depression.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer comprehensive addiction treatment programs designed to help those suffering from addiction reclaim their lives and begin their recovery journey. We employ highly-skilled, caring health and addiction professionals who provide evidence-based services to those we treat with compassion and expertise.