Link between ADHD Drug Ritalin and Depression

What ADHD is?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has become America’s number one childhood psychiatric disorder. It has been estimated that more than 5 million children are presently affected by this disorder in the U.S., which represents as many as 7 to 12 percent of preadolescent children. These percentages mean that almost every classroom can have children with ADHD. This disorder usually begins in infancy and continues into adulthood.  Usually there is a gender skew with this disorder, where boys are usually affected more often than girls, at a ratio of 4 to 1 for boys and 9 to 1 for girls.

It seems that the problem with ADHD has increased in later years, however, rather than having now a greater number of children affected by it, the reason for the increased number may well be that more children are diagnosed today than they were in the past.  Children are usually diagnosed with the disorder when they start school, thus many are only diagnosed during the first three grades and not before.

What Ritalin is?

Methylphenidate (or MPH) is an amphetamine-like central nervous system (CNS) stimulant commonly used in treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. It is also one of the primary drugs used to treat symptoms chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), symptoms of traumatic brain injury, and drowsiness brought on my narcolepsy. Common brand names of drugs containing methylphenidate include Ritalin, Concerta and Methylin, among others. Ritalin is manufactured by Novartis AG. It was granted FDA approval in 1980, ushering in the so-called generation of “Ritalin kids” as the drug became hugely popular in the 1980s for children diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.

Ritalin Controversy

From the date of its approval, Ritalin has been the focus of much controversy. This controversy includes harmful Ritalin effects, Ritalin abuse (including snorting Ritalin), Ritalin addiction and other Ritalin side effects. Since 1980, prescriptions for Ritalin have skyrocketed, and now there are more than 5 million young patients who take this medicine on a daily basis.

While it is true that children can show improvement in ADHD symptoms while on Ritalin, the Ritalin effects last only several hours. Ritalin effects ADHD symptoms but the Ritalin effects wear off when the drug wears off.

In most cases the Ritalin side effects are mild but some, though rare, are life-threatening. Nervousness and insomnia are the most common adverse Ritalin side effects. Parents need to be clear about the benefits as well as the potential Ritalin effects – including the potential for Ritalin abuse and addiction - before administering Ritalin to their children.

Kiddie Cocaine

Ritalin is often referred to as "Kiddie Cocaine" for good reason. Long-term Ritalin effects have been linked to brain development abnormalities similar to those found with cocaine use. The Journal of the American Medical Association, one of American's leading medical journals, published an article in August entitled "Ritalin Acts Much like Cocaine." An Archives of General Psychiatry report states; "Cocaine has pharmacological actions that are very similar to those of methylphenidate (Ritalin), which is now the most commonly prescribed psychotropic medicine for children in the U.S."

DEA data on methylphenidate and amphetamine for the treatment of ADD symptoms shows:
  • That methylphenidate (Ritalin, Concerta) and amphetamine (Adderall, Dexedrine) produce effects similar to cocaine in laboratory animals and in humans.
  • In clinical studies, methylphenidate and amphetamine produce behavioral and psychological effects similar to cocaine.
  • In simple terms, this data means that the human body cannot tell the difference between cocaine, amphetamine, or Ritalin.
Ritalin effects children the same way related stimulants like cocaine effect adults. Just as predictably, children are subject to Ritalin side effects, as adults are subject to the side effects of cocaine and other stimulant drugs.

Aside from the Ritalin side effects and potential for Ritalin abuse and addiction, another disturbing aspect of Ritalin is the long-term Ritalin side effects.

Until recently physicians believed that Ritalin side effects remained as short-term. Scientists at the University at Buffalo found otherwise. Research with gene expression in animals suggests that Ritalin has the potential for causing long-lasting changes in brain cell structure and function. Methylphenidate (Ritalin) appears to initiate changes in brain function that remain long after the therapeutic Ritalin effects dissipate.

In particular, the study results, made on preteen rats, from a research team led by William A. Carlezon Jr., PhD, director of the behavioral genetics laboratory at McLean Hospital and associate professor at Harvard Medical School, strongly suggest that Ritalin use in childhood may present a serious risk factor for depression development in adult years. "Rats exposed to Ritalin as juveniles showed large increases in learned-helplessness behavior during adulthood, suggesting a tendency toward depression," Carlezon says in a news release. "These rats also showed abnormally high levels of activity in familiar environments. [This] might reflect basic alterations in the way rats pay attention to their surroundings."

While research now indicates adverse long-term Ritalin side effects physically, other studies show that Ritalin use does not make an impact on behavior in the long run. A comprehensive follow-up study at Montreal Children's Hospital revealed that the behavior of hyperactive children did not differ significantly from the behavior of non-hyperactive children after taking ADHD medication for five years.

"Although it appeared that hyperactive kids treated with Ritalin were initially more manageable, the degree of improvement and emotional adjustment was essentially identical at the end of five years to that seen in a group of kids who had received no medication at all," the report stated.

Given the lack of long-term benefits, the potential for long-term Ritalin side effects and Ritalin abuse and addiction, many parents uncomfortable with Ritalin side effects choose alternative treatments for Attention Deficit Disorder.

Other Side Effects

While the purpose of this post establishing link between Ritalin and Depression, we cannot skip other side effects, caused by this drug:

  • Appetite Disturbance
  • Stomach Aches
  • Headaches
  • Stunted Growth
  • Rebound
  • Difficulty Sleeping
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Jittery Feelings
  • Blood Glucose Changes
  • Blood Pressure Changes
  • Paranoia/Psychosis
  • Seizures
  • Death
Though rare, Ritalin has been known to cause sudden death in a few individuals. While many times there are additional factors that lead to this fatal ending, it is a dangerous effect to be aware of.


As a parent, you should be really careful to admit your kid is positively diagnosed with ADHD clinical diagnosis. Note that ADHD symptoms may confuse you, as parents are often given ADHD checklists or questionnaires, which list symptoms such as:
  • fails to give close attention to details
  • makes careless mistakes
  • doesn't listen
  • doesn't follow instructions
  • loses things
  • talks too much
  • moves around too much or is always on the go
  • can't wait his turn
  • interrupts others
Can these be ADHD symptoms? Sure, but they can also be symptoms of a normal preschooler or an immature five year old, so it is important to consider the symptoms in the context of the child you are thinking about, especially his age and developmental level.

Most importantly, remember that for a child to have ADHD, the symptoms should be causing impairment for your child. That means that the ADHD symptoms should be causing him to have some trouble learning, making and keeping friends, participating in after-school activities (including sports) or even functioning at home.

Sometimes, teachers and associated medical professionals are eager to stamp overly normal, but active, child with AD/HD diagnosis, as that makes their life easier. Do not accept this verdict as granted, seek for second opinion, and admit the disorder only when evidence is overwhelming. If and when diagnosis is confirmed, and Ritalin is admitted, closely monitor your child for the side effects appearance, and ring a bell, when they go out of control immediately.

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