Key takeaways:

  • The drug works by changing the dopamine levels in the brain, causing those with attention disorders to achieve a calm state and reduce over-stimulating brain functions
  • The risk of experiencing an overdose on Concerta is increased when the drug is taken with other stimulants such as cocaine or meth, or CNS depressants like alcohol or heroin
  • Like all forms of stimulant addiction, Concerta can be extremely difficult to quit on one's own. Some people benefit from a short-term stay in a medical detox or inpatient rehab program to manage symptoms of withdrawal

Concerta (aka Methylphenidate) is a powerful prescription stimulant that is often prescribed to treat symptoms of ADD, ADHD, or impulsivity. It can be prescribed to adults or children and works on certain brain chemicals linked to concentration, energy levels, and impulse control. Some people who are prescribed Concerta abuse their medication by taking larger doses or taking the medication more often than prescribed, which can lead to negative health and mental health effects, including increasing the risk for addiction.

Understanding Methylphenidate

Methylphenidate is sold under various brand names including Aptensio XR, Metadate (CD and ER), Ritalin (also Ritalin LA and SR), and Concerta which is the extended-release version. Methylphenidate is a central nervous system stimulant medication primarily used to improve attention and subdue hyperactive or impulsive behaviors. A common disorder treated with stimulant medications like Concerta is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). [1] 

The drug works by changing the dopamine levels in the brain, causing those with attention disorders to achieve a calm state and reduce over-stimulating brain functions. Concerta is formulated in different strengths of 18, 27, 36, or 54 mg and comes in red, grey, yellow, or white pills. [1] As Concerta has medical benefits but also displays a high potential for abuse, it is a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act. [2]

People without ADD, ADHD, or impulse control disorders may abuse Concerta and other Methylphenidate drugs in order to achieve a heightened level of energy, stimulation, and focus. Those who abuse the drug may crush and snort the medication, and some may even take the medication intravenously. Misusing this medication can lead to serious harmful effects on the brain and body, including increasing the risk for stroke, heart problems, and even death. [1, 2]

Why people abuse Concerta

There are many reasons why people abuse stimulant medications like Concerta, including some of the more common reasons:[1]

  • To achieve euphoric effects or experience a “high” 
  • To lose weight or suppress appetite
  • To increase levels of energy or be more productive
  • To increase focus or use as a ‘study drug’
  • To boost mood  
  • To reduce the need for sleep
  • To improve performance at work, school, or athletics
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Concerta abuse effects and risks

Any use of methylphenidate medication that falls outside of the prescribed amount is considered abuse. This includes taking higher doses than prescribed, for longer periods, getting multiple prescriptions, or using the drug without any prescription. 

The immediate effects of Concerta abuse resemble those of most CNS stimulants, causing feelings of:[1, 2, 3]

  • Alertness and energy
  • Euphoria or happiness 
  • Increased focus
  • Sociability and extraversion 
  • Decreased appetite or need for food
  • Decreased need to sleep
  • Increased confidence or self-esteem

In addition to these ‘desired effects’, abusing Concerta in high doses can also lead to:[1, 2]

  • High blood pressure
  • Irritability or agitation
  • Aggression or homicidal impulses
  • Impulsive decision making
  • Paranoid or psychotic thoughts
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Increased anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Life-threatening overdose

Concerta overdose

The risk of experiencing an overdose on Concerta is increased when the drug is taken with other stimulants such as cocaine or meth, or CNS depressants like alcohol or heroin. The symptoms of overdosing on Concerta can be both physical and psychological, the former of which can cause fatalities and the latter potentially leading to long-term mental health conditions.[3]

Physical symptoms of Concerta overdose:[2]

  • High fever
  • Dizziness
  • Tremors or convulsions
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Headache
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Rapid breathing
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Increased body temperature

Concerta overdose can put immense strain on the cardiovascular system, potentially leading to heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, coma, and death.

Psychological symptoms of Concerta overdose include:[2, 3]

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Disorientation/confusion
  • anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Mania
  • Psychosis
  • Aggression

Methylphenidate addiction

As with almost all forms of drug abuse, continuing to misuse Concerta and other Methylphenidate drugs can lead to an addiction-forming. Addiction through continued Concerta abuse is common. Whether someone is addicted or has Methylphenidate dependence is assessed through a set of 11 criteria outlined in the DSM-5 that measure the negative impact Concerta abuse is having on the user's life. 

These criteria include experiencing two or more of the following: [3]

  • Hazardous or risky use (i.e. while driving, mixing with other drugs)
  • Social or interpersonal problems related to substance use
  • Neglected major responsibilities to abuse substances
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when stopping use
  • Developing a tolerance (needing more to get the same effect)
  • Using larger amounts than planned or intended
  • Repeated unsuccessful attempts to quit or control use 
  • Excessive time spent using Concerta, thinking about using, obtaining, or trying to recover from effects of using
  • Physical or psychological problems related to abuse (but continuing to use)
  • Neglecting other activities you like and enjoy to use Concerta more
  • Cravings or strong urges for Concerta

These criteria are measured on a spectrum of mild, moderate, and severe. Meeting 1-2 criteria is defined as mild, 3-5 moderate, and 6+ severe. [3] While it’s important to know the warning signs of addiction, a person can only be diagnosed by a doctor, therapist, or other licensed and trained professional.

Treatment for Concerta addiction

Like all forms of stimulant addiction, Concerta can be extremely difficult to quit on one's own. Some people benefit from a short-term stay in a medical detox or inpatient rehab program to manage symptoms of withdrawal, while others are able to get their treatment needs met in an outpatient setting. If you or someone you care about is suffering from a substance use disorder then contact a treatment provider today. During a formal evaluation, a clinician can help you assess what treatment is right for you.