What is Ritalin?

Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate, a mild stimulant that works on the central nervous system. It helps with concentration and focus.

How does it work?

How Ritalin actually works is not completely understood, but it is believed to activate the brain stem arousal system and cortex, to produce its stimulant effect.

What is Ritalin prescribed for?

Most commonly Ritalin is prescribed to children for Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Unfortunately there is no definitive medical test for either of these conditions, both are identified by the incidence and combination of a number of symptoms that are exhibited for at least six months. These include: difficulty in paying attention to detail and making careless mistakes; difficulty concentrating on one activity at a time; difficulty waiting - wanting everything now; constantly talking; always on the move, either running around or fidgeting and squirming; easily distracted; forgetting where things have been left; and seeming not to listen, even when directly addressed.

Because the diagnosis of ADD and ADHD relies on subjective judgements about behaviour there is much controversy about the accuracy of diagnosis. The concern is that borderline normal childish behaviour can be pathologised and Ritalin prescribed as a 'quick-fix'. It is recommended that before Ritalin is used, a full assessment of the child and their environment be undertaken, including aspects such as nutrition, possible allergies, emotional problems, and boundary setting by significant adults.


For ADD and ADHD Ritalin is taken orally and is available in both regular and extended-release tablets. Doses should be individualised on the basis of factors such as age, body weight and individual response. If no improvements are noticed after appropriate dosage adjustments over a one-month period, the drug should be discontinued. It is recommended that the drug be stopped from time to time to monitor any lasting changes in behaviour. Long-term effects of Ritalin in children have not been well established. It should not be used in children under 6 years of age, since its safety and efficacy in this age group has not been established.

Side Effects

In children side effects might be loss of appetite, abdominal pain, insomnia and tachycardia (irregular heart beat). During prolonged use there may be weight loss and minor retardation of growth. One to two per cent of children may develop tics.


Several clinical trials have been conducted on ritalin, some abstracts can be found on the internet at the Medline website -



Thanet ADDers
45 Vincent Close
Kent CT10 2ND
Tel: 01843 851145

The ADHD National Alliance
209-211 City Road
London EC1V 1JN
Tel: 020 7608 8760

These are some of the references that have been passed to us. We have not necessarily read the books, and cannot say how easy it will be to get them.

- Deal E. Ritalin: Its Use and Abuse. ISBN: 082392775X
- DeGrandpre R. Ritalin Nation: Rapid-Fire Culture and the Transformation of Human Consciousness. ISBN: 0393046850
- Diller L. Running on Ritalin: A Physician Reflects on Children, Society and Performance in a Pill. ISBN: 0553379062
- Garber SW. Beyond Ritalin: Facts about Medication and Other Strategies for Helping Children, Adolescents and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorders. ISBN: 0060977256
- Gilbert S., Winderll J. What You Really Need to Know about Ritalin. ISBN: 055357552X

- http://www.nih.gov/health/ National Institutes of Health
- http://www.mentalhealth.com/drug - Internet mental health - US site

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