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Ritalin (Methylphenidate) Withdrawal Symptoms + Duration

Ritalin (Methylphenidate) is a psychostimulant drug used primarily to help treat ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). It is also prescribed to individuals diagnosed with narcolepsy to help promote wakefulness. This stimulant has been thoroughly researched for over half-a-century and has a great track record for reducing symptoms associated with ADHD including inattentiveness and hyperactivity.

This drug works primarily as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor, but also has an effect on norepinephrine. When ingested, Ritalin works by blocking various transporters, which creates substantial increases in dopamine and norepinephrine levels. Increased levels of dopamine are associated with heightened arousal and activity in the nervous system. The increase in dopamine boosts learning ability, memory, and overall cognitive functioning.  In some cases, this drug also boosts mood and is sometimes used as an off-label antidepressant augmentation strategy.

Although the primary use of this drug is to treat attentional deficits, some people use it recreationally as a party drug to get “high.” Others use it to help improve performance in sports due to the fact that it provides increased energy and focus. In any event, many people who use it end up wanting to withdraw from the drug and function naturally. The withdrawal period is typically associated with a “crash” that is accompanied by fatigue, poor concentration, and depression.

Factors that influence Ritalin withdrawal

There are various factors that will have an influence on the severity of your withdrawal symptoms. These factors include things like: time span over which you took the drug, your dosage, whether you built up a high tolerance, how quickly you tapered, as well as your individual physiology. It is these factors that makes everyone’s withdrawal experience unique.

1. Time Span

How long were you taking Ritalin? People that are on this drug for a long term tend to have a more difficult time coming off of it than those only on it for a short duration. When you take this drug over the span of many years, especially during developmental years, your brain relies on it for functioning. Therefore when you take the drug away after having been on it for a long term, your brain may take awhile to reestablish normal functioning. If you take the drug “off and on,” you may only experience minor “crashes” as opposed to a full blown withdrawal.

2. Dosage (10 mg to 60 mg)

Most people take Ritalin in doses that range from 10 mg to 60 mg. The average daily dose is between 20 mg and 30 mg. There are also individuals that take doses that exceed 60 mg as a result of developing a tolerance. In general, the higher the dose that you take over an extended period of time, the more likely you will experience severe withdrawal symptoms.

People that are taking doses at the lower end of the range (i.e. 10 mg) may not experience much of a withdrawal. However those who are taking 60 mg for years will likely need to conduct a gradual taper in order to avoid a severe withdrawal period.

3. Cold Turkey vs. Tapering

How did you quit Ritalin? Did you abruptly stop and quit cold turkey or did you conduct a gradual taper? Many people can quit “cold turkey” without noticing much of anything. Others who quit cold turkey have a very difficult time coping with the severity of withdrawal. It is usually best to conduct a gradual taper by slowly reducing your dose over a period of weeks (or months in more long term users).

The more gradually you taper, the easier it will be for your brain and body to readapt to functioning without the drug. By tapering you are giving your body and brain increments of time to adjust to functioning with reductions of your Ritalin dose. If at any time during tapering you notice severe symptoms that are difficult to cope with, you may want to taper at an even more gradual rate.

4. Individual Factors

There are many individual factors that have an influence on withdrawal from Ritalin. These individual factors include: social support, environment, exercise habits, dietary habits, and whether you are taking any other drugs. It should also be noted that that individual physiology has a big influence on how quickly you recover from withdrawal symptoms. Some people are very sensitive to the withdrawal process and may have debilitating symptoms, while others may only have a few days of low energy before they feel better.

Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms: List of Possibilities

Below is a list of possible symptoms that you may experience when you discontinue Ritalin. In general the most common symptoms are fatigue (low energy), depression, and foggy thinking. This list is meant to be used as a reference due to the fact that many doctors suggest there are no withdrawal symptoms.

  • Anger: It is common to experience anger to the point of rage when coming off of this drug. This is a drug that helps people maintain self-control by stimulating activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. When you come off of this drug, your brain activity changes leaving you prone to anger spells. Do your best to recognize when you are becoming angry and try to channel it and realize that it’s a result of drug withdrawal.
  • Anxiety: Many people experience anxious thinking when they first stop taking Ritalin. This anxiety is typically associated with slow thinking and lower levels of arousal. It also may be linked to decreases in dopamine. If you didn’t have anxiety prior to taking this medication, you should experience full recovery from anxious thinking as your dopamine increases.
  • Appetite increase: If you experienced a decrease in appetite while on the drug, your appetite should return when you stop taking it. This increase in appetite may be significant for a few days, but eventually things should stabilize.
  • Brain fog: Since this drug is used to improve focus in people with ADHD, it is common to experience brain fog when you stop taking it. This brain fog is associated with lack of focus and inability to concentrate.
  • Concentration problems: Most people experience a resurgence of ADHD symptoms including the inability to concentrate. When you initially come off of Ritalin, you may notice that your ability to focus is worse than prior to your initial use of the drug. Your focus will improve over the course of weeks as your dopamine levels increase.
  • Cravings: Some individuals experience cravings for this drug after they quit. Usually cravings are associated with people who use it for off-label purposes such as to “get high” and weight loss. Just know that in the first few weeks of withdrawal, you may crave this drug.
  • Depression: It is very common to feel very depressed when you stop taking this drug. The reason you feel depressed has to do with decreases in dopamine and norepinephrine. It will take some time for your brain to recover from neurotransmitter changes.
  • Dizziness: Many individuals feel dizzy when they stop taking this drug. The dizziness can be relatively minor or pretty significant. Usually this is most severe within the first few days of withdrawal and will gradually improve within a couple weeks.
  • Fatigue: This is perhaps the most common withdrawal symptom when stopping Ritalin. Some people have very low energy levels following their last dose. Do not be surprised if you want to sleep all day for the first few days of withdrawal.
  • Headaches: Another prevalent symptom during withdrawal is that of headaches. You may notice that you have a pretty wicked headache for the first week or so following your last dose. These headaches will gradually improve as your brain adjusts to functioning without the drug.
  • Heart palpitations: Many people notice changes in their heart rate or rhythm when they stop taking this drug. You may notice an abnormal heart beat or feelings as though your heart is pounding.
  • Irritability: You may notice that you become very irritable when you first come off of this drug. The irritability may be due to decreased levels of dopamine, which can lead to anger, impulsivity, and irritable moods. Do your best to manage this symptom and recognize that it will get better over time.
  • Mood swings: It is common to experience intense mood swings during the first couple weeks of withdrawal. Most people feel depressed, but this depression may be accompanied by anxiety and anger. You may notice that one minute you may feel as though you are through the worst and then you feel depressed again. Just know that changes in mood are common until your brain activity stabilizes.
  • Motivation decrease: Most stimulants tend to increase our levels of motivation – making it easier to complete tasks. When you stop taking them, you may experience a period in which your motivation plummets. Realize that it will eventually return to a normal level, but you need to give your body and brain time to repair themselves.
  • Nausea: In some cases people actually feel as though they are going to vomit when they stop their Ritalin. Feeling nauseated throughout the first few days has been reported. Typically nausea can be reduced with a more gradual tapering method.
  • Panic attacks: If you notice that your anxiety levels are spiking when you initially come off of Ritalin, this may make you prone to bouts of panic. In some cases, people experience fluctuations in arousal, which could lead a person to panic. If you find yourself in this situation, understand that it’s merely a withdrawal phase and that you would likely benefit from some relaxation exercises.
  • Psychosis: In relatively rare cases, people experience psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions when coming off of Ritalin. This is due to changes in dopamine levels and functioning within the brain. In order to prevent this experience, it is recommended to
  • Sleep changes: Your sleeping habits may change during your withdrawal. Many people end up sleeping significantly more than they did for the first couple weeks of withdrawal. You may go through periods of alternating insomnia and hypersomnia (i.e. excessive daytime sleepiness).
  • Suicidal thinking: The dull depression that most people experience when they come off of Ritalin may lead a person to develop suicidal thinking. Low levels of dopamine may be responsible for a person feeling suicidal as well. If the suicidal thoughts become overwhelming, you may want to seek professional help.
  • Tiredness: You will likely feel very tired and sleepy when you first come off of this drug. Your brain and nervous system is no longer receiving the same level of stimulation that it was getting from the drug.
  • Vision changes: Some people have reported changes in vision when coming off of this drug. You may notice that your vision becomes blurry for periods of time. Typically this has nothing to do with your actual eyesight and more to do with drug withdrawal.
  • Weight gain: While taking Ritalin, many people lose weight as a result of decreased appetite and increased metabolism. When coming off of this drug, it is common to gain some weight. Your metabolism should slow back to normal and your appetite should increase.

Ritalin Withdrawal Duration: How long does it last?

There’s no exact Ritalin withdrawal timeline that can be followed by everyone. The withdrawal period will largely be influence by the dose that you quit from as well as the duration over which you took Ritalin. If you have been taking the drug for years and decided to quit cold turkey, your withdrawal period may last significantly longer than someone who quit after being on the lowest dose for a couple months.

In general though, most people notice that they recover from a majority of symptoms within the first month of withdrawal. As a general rule of thumb, I always suggest that it takes 90 days for proper reevaluation of how you are feeling following your last dose of the drug. By giving yourself three full months, this allows your brain and body some time to heal before you are quick to judge your experience. During this time you should notice some pretty significant improvements in how you are feeling.

There are many lucky people who don’t even notice a withdrawal from Ritalin and there are others who feel better within a matter of a couple weeks. The half-life of the drug is only 3 to 4 hours, indicating that on average, Ritalin stays in your system for less than 24 hours following your final dose.  However, just because the drug is out of your system does not mean you won’t go through a withdrawal phase. Some people even experience post-acute withdrawals that persist for months following their last dose.

When withdrawing from any drug, it is always best to trust your own experience. Different people recover at different speeds based on individual factors. Just because people tell you that you should feel 100% after a week or two doesn’t mean that you will. If you have withdrawn from Ritalin (or are in the process of withdrawing) and would like to share your experience, feel free to do so in the comments section below.

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{ 23 comments… add one }
  • Unis July 6, 2014, 1:08 pm

    Hi there, thanks so much for this article. It’s precisely what I was looking for as someone who has been feeling anxious after stopping ritalin. I was wondering if you have any references for your 90 day rule of thumb for recovering?

  • Isaac December 3, 2014, 12:20 pm

    I took my first Concerta 36mg today and I felt it all day I took it around 9-10 am and I didn’t stop feeling it until around 4 and 5 that’s when the depression hit but pm that lasted for only 30 minutes after that I still felt it until which is now 5:14 am I don’t feel the ritalin I just feel the withdrawal… like I haven’t eaten anything today and my stomach keeps growling lol.

    I tried to force myself to eat a burrito but I ended up not wanting it so I haven’t eaten much IDK I feel some (cocaine itches, bug feeling occasionally). Not to bad but I definitely feel tingling in my fingers and around some parts of my body but it happens every other five minutes but I can’t sleep when I close my eyelids they flicker so that’s uncomfortable. I’m sure it’ll wear off soon but it’s kind of a weird feeling.

  • Greg March 19, 2015, 5:22 am

    Second helpful article I have read from your site. Thank you, for taking your time to write them. I having nothing to add to the different types of possible withdrawal symptoms. However I would like to point out that there are several different type of dispersal methods for methylphenidate under a myriad of names. I would state from personal experience that the longer time the medication takes to deliver the Ritalin to your system the great the likelihood for withdrawals from that medication.

  • Bryan March 29, 2015, 9:02 am

    I snort 8-10 20mg tablets daily and I get 90 pills a month from my Doctor so when I am down to 5/-10 pills left in my bottle I switch to smoking high quality marijuana to help with my withdrawal but I do suffer mentally for at least 7 days. I know I shouldn’t take it, but I crave it the rest of the time before my new prescription is supposed to be filled. It’s definitely a Love Hate relationship that’s been going on for approximately 10 years.

    • Sheila December 6, 2016, 5:31 am

      You describe my current circumstance perfectly. How are you doing? Has anything changed for you?

  • Rosie July 30, 2015, 5:48 pm

    This article is very helpful. I only took Medikinet, also methylphenidate, (for ADHD) for only 44 – 46 days (not sure which) and only took 25mg throughout the day. It was only meant to be starting dose. The improvements were evident but slight. Mostly I felt more alert, a little calmer, a little more able to get stuff done and a little less mentally foggy generally.

    However, like Equasym did to me, Medikinet gave me acne, and it was starting to do that red, sore, furious thing on my face. Having lived a life ravaged by mental health problems all I ask is that I can be on remedial medications without having my appearance too marred also. Since stopping Medikinet a few days ago, the acne is starting to heal, so it is still quite probably the cause given the timing and the fact my other meds didn’t do this before Mediniket.

    I also take two medications for Bipolar Disorder and have two other strange non-formalized diagnoses on my psych reports of PMDD and EUPD (BPD). In short, with innately labile and unstable mood / energy levels, I guess it’s no surprise that having stopped Medikinet 2 days ago, today being day 3 off it, I am feeling low, fatigued, extremely foggy and unable to concentrate, focus and think straight, hopeless and anxious about things.

    Although my subjective experience of this is currently very lame, I believe that my withdrawals may be minor but that other factors may be at play in the mix. Whatever the factors in my current state, this article has been a great help in clarifying the potential dangers of coming off a methylphenidate-based drug. I am disappointed to have to rule out medication for my ADHD yet again due to an acne side effect but all the stimulants seem to have testimonial evidence of causing acne.

    Psychiatrists offer no solutions, at least in my experience. I guess it’s just a case of riding the withdrawals out and doing one’s best.

  • jerry August 5, 2015, 4:24 pm

    Thanks very much for this article. I take ritalin 40mg slow release daily and really struggle at the end of the day. During crashes I sometimes experience a combination of slight anxiety best characterised as not feeling comfortable in my own skin and hyperstimulation in the form of micro panic attacks. I feel like I have to remember who I am in my social interactions and that I am hanging onto my identity by a thread. It usually lasts only a few hours but basically leaves me with a huge desire to lock myself in a quiet room and stare at a wall until it’s over.

  • CSP August 17, 2015, 3:12 pm

    I’ve been going through methylphenidate withdrawal for 4 months now: 10+years @ 64mg/day concerta SR. It is still very hard (lethargy, depression, lack of focus or care, suicidal ideation) but has gotten better as less brooding after the second month. This is one heck of a kicker for me — and still going!

    Check out the article on Adderall withdrawal on this site; has many more comments that suggest a wide range of withdrawal symptoms and duration relative to individuality.

  • Tommy d November 14, 2015, 11:52 pm

    -I took Ritalin daily for 24 years.
    -Started low dosage and ramped up to 90 20mg pills per month which I stayed at for years.
    -Quit cold turkey roughly 3 months ago.

    I feel a little depressed, want to and do sleep more, feel fatigued and lethargic, and drink a ton of coffee now. Overall, it’s harder some days than others and despite all the symptoms, I’m confident I will overcome them and find my true self. I’ve never done anything harder and couldn’t be more proud of the fact that I quit!

    • Mary August 8, 2016, 4:26 pm

      Thank you on this comment. Helps tremedously. I have been on Ritalin for around 30 yrs. through a Dr. I mentioned to him I would like to come off and he did agree. Waiting to hear from him on how to go about. The quicker I am off the better!! I have been on the same dose for 15 yrs 20 SR in a.m. then 4 hrs later 10mg then in 3 hrs another 10.

  • Barry December 6, 2015, 4:10 pm

    My gosh. I never expected this to be hard, but really… Took like 100 – 120 mg on a daily basis for like 9 – 10 months (followed the prescription) and I got a taper schedule which would get me “Rita clean” in 2 weeks. It went from 120 to 90 mg and now I’m supposed to be at 60mg (steps taken are minus 30 mg every 3-4 days) but even when a family member keeps my pills with him, I managed to ramp up another 15mg due to cravings. I thought I could resist these #*(@)! cravings, but when you feel unmotivated, inactive, bored like hell, and when ADD-symptoms strike back, things will get hard… and you may end up feeling guilty and weak, like I do. Will a cold turkey be the only way to end this misery?

  • Marcel Venter December 12, 2015, 6:15 pm

    I’ve been on 54mg Concerta for only 73 days & I am being treated for anti-depressant resistant depression. The first week was awesome & then it only went downhill from there.

    I get extremely anxious, angry, annoyed, irritated & depressed. It’s doing the exact opposite of what it’s suppose to be doing.

  • Jishad K.P March 8, 2016, 9:23 am

    Hello, Thanks in advance. I have been on Ritalin for the last 18 months and suddenly my Dr. decided to took it off completely as Cold Turkey. After 17 days of stopping it, I again started taking it for 9 days and then again stopped it for 21 days. However, once I reach back home from the treatment center, I found out 20 tablets of 20 mg left with me.

    Now I again started using it and I can’t help it. So please advice me on what to do and will I go through the same severe withdrawal I have gone through earlier? Will it again take the same amount of time for recovering from it? Thanks.

  • Becca April 11, 2016, 10:13 pm

    For the grand majority of the 10 years I was on methylphenidate, I took 40mg per day. Going to college, I decided to taper off and see how it would be. After being completely off of my meds, I felt tired. I would be awake but I never truly felt awake. Four months later after having been completely off. I felt tired. I had the strangest cravings (skittles with peanut butter anyone?), could not gauge whether or not I was full (I gained a bit of weight), was anxiety ridden, I could not read my textbook, and had horrible surges of rage in which resulted in self-inflicted injuries.

    I was very unhappy. However, through all of this, I was going through some tough experiences, which absolutely did not help. On top of all of that, I could not stay awake in class no matter how much coffee was in me (I tried to not use caffeine as a supplement at first, but I slowly worked my way up to 5 cups a day). Once I was back on my full dosage of methylphenidate (about a year after I started weaning off), I had my last physics course.

    I tried to open my textbook and I was amazed that I could actually read it this time. Finally again, my alarm would go off, and I would feel energized and ready for the day. It was a failed experiment to go off of my meds. Now that I am back on, I feel happier, awake and alert, and I can read. I also do not feel the need to consume any caffeine at all and I have lost the bit of weight that I had gained from being off of my meds.

    I thought that going off my meds would show me that I could live my life perfectly fine without them. But it seems that after having started taking methylphenidate when I was 8 years old, it is an integral part of my physiology that would take perhaps years to reshape if I so decided to get off of my meds again. Maybe I’ll try to go off my meds later on in my life, but for now I feel fine with them.

  • Gemma June 19, 2016, 1:15 pm

    It amazes me the amount of people who continue to take this medication when they suffer such awful side effects, and those who blatantly abuse their meds. I know being prescribed CDs (controlled drugs) can be seen as a badge of honour, but is it worth it? Those who abuse their meds, should have their scripts stopped, as you only make it harder for us, who take their meds correctly, to obtain this medication.

    I take Concerta 54mgs, and it works brilliantly. However, it only continues to work well due to the fact I ensure I take a weekly break. I try not to take it on Saturday’s and Sunday’s. Yesterday was Saturday and I didn’t take my meds. I felt very hungry and tired. Today I attempted not to take my meds again, but it made me feel incredibly drowsy. So I decided to take just the instant release under my tongue.

    Suddenly drowsiness vanishes, I’m feeling alert, awake and human again. Methylphenidate works great for me. As long as I take a break from it.

  • Dana July 10, 2016, 2:50 pm

    Hi! I really appreciate this website! I am 32 and I have Narcolepsy. I am a hard worker, but I am living with my parents right now because unfortunately my mom has pancreatic cancer… My mom is my World to me! My Psychiatrist tried me on two medications, but I was allergic. So he prescribed me Ritalin, which was helping so much!!

    I eventually went up to 20mg three times a day… I ended tapering down and I got angry one day. Now since I live under my parents roof… They said I can’t take it anymore.. But my doctor tried to tell them, that I’m getting irritated because I am withdrawing. It’s been almost 3 weeks and my parents have so much control! Plus I am so tired I can’t drive to work.

    I just don’t know what to do anymore… Especially BC I am the only one that is here to take care of my mom! Thank you so much for just letting me comment even though it was about myself!! -Dana

  • Dana Marie July 18, 2016, 11:19 am

    I’m trying my best to tapper off. I unfortunately tried it first with out my doctors supervision, but my mom and society have such a bad stigma about this Ritalin, that now my mother is moderating them, and she’s only giving me 10mg a day… When I was on 60mg a day! I’m just saying I have these horrible headaches and a stomachaches!!

    I unfortunately suffer from narcolepsy… Why in the world is there such this horrible STIGMA ABOUT RITALIN? ESPECIALLY IF IT CAN WORK FOR A LOT OF US!! I’am really praying that more will be revealed and more people will be more OPEN MINDED!! Thank you so much for this Page! – Dana Marie

    • Joanne November 12, 2016, 4:55 am

      I have narcolepsy as well. I have been taking Ritalin for over 10 years. I take 36mg ER once a day and I take 4 x 10mg throughout the day. About 2 years ago they added Modafinil 200mg 2 times a day. Unfortunately I am still tired. I did not want to stop my medication but because my doctor didn’t sign the prescription before my insurance ran out, I am now not able to take my 10mg 4x a day.

      I have had a really bad headache for about a week now. I am very irritable. I am still on my other methylphenidate but it doesn’t seem to be helping as far as the withdrawal symptoms. I am so tired, and when I am awake, if I am not screaming at someone I am crying. Yes I also have depression, so that doesn’t help either.

      Luckily I have all my other medications that will last until the end of November, but if I don’t find a doctor before then, I don’t know what is going to happen to me. If anyone has any ideas on how to help with the headache and being tired… please let me know…

  • maadugula srinivas July 31, 2016, 5:06 am

    So called great psychiatrists did not reveal these important withdrawal symptoms. Thanks a lot. I used Inspiral-5mg for my son, aged 9 years. After noticing abnormal symptoms, I discontinued it. After its discontinuance, on first day he complained of stomach pain and slept for about two hours. On the next day, no complain of stomach pain, but slept additional two hours than normalcy.

  • Anon August 24, 2016, 10:45 am

    It’s a love-hate relationship when I come off my methylphenidate. I sleep way better. My appetite is normal. And I don’t feel as jittery all the time. Been on 60 mg a day ( 20 mg, 3 x a day) for 4 years already. I’ll admit when things tense up with school or work, I’ll be up earlier so I can take more throughout the day. I still separate the dosages up between 3 or 4 hours.

    But what ends up happening is I run out early. As a whole, I feel way better when I run out. But I can’t control my ADHD symptoms, and this causes a huge strain on my family. I am more irritable and I cannot control my anger or outbursts. I can’t help it! This is who I am! Before the meds. I’m just zombified and shaky all the time on them. The more and more this happens, the more and more I consider just stopping forever.

  • Julie September 15, 2016, 6:49 am

    I have been taking ritalin for ADHD for about 6 years. Everytime I stop taking it, I get an EXTREME uncontrollable shaking in my left hand (the hand I write with and primarily use!). This results in me taking more ritalin than I am prescribed and in turn I run out early each month. Like I said it is extreme, I can’t control it.

    It’s uncomfortable, it happens OFTEN, and it is embarrassing! If I go up to 7 days without my new prescription, it does it the entire time. PLEASE somebody, let me know if this is going to be permanent. I don’t think I could live with this for the rest of my life! How long will this last? Thanks ahead of time for any advice that can be given to me.

  • Mitch October 10, 2016, 6:07 pm

    I’ve been on 20mg 3 X a day for awhile now. Tried quitting, but I’m so tired and irritable! When will this end?!

  • Winston November 10, 2016, 3:59 am

    I’ve been on Ritalin for 12 years for depression unresponsive to tricyclics, SSRI’s, SSNRI’s and even ECT in doses up to 120mg per day. I developed pulmonary artery hypertension while on it, but there were confounding variables such as sleep apnea and pulmonary embolisms which are more likely than the Ritalin to have caused the PAH according to my pulmonologist.

    Nevertheless, I want to taper off as possible. I’m doing well on just 60mg/day now in 2016. Curiously, lithium of which I take 900mg/day now, seems to be helping in decreasing the Ritalin dose now, though in the past Li never helped my mood. And now I have to be aware of renal side effects of the Li. Such are the trials and tribulations of those of us who have mood disorders. I’m glad I had this forum to ventilate today.

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