An unsafe combination
Ritalin is a stimulant medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It’s also used in some cases to treat narcolepsy. Ritalin, which contains the drug methylphenidate, is available only by prescription.
Drinking alcohol while taking Ritalin can change the way the drug works. For this reason, alcohol use is not safe while you take Ritalin. Read on to learn about the effects of drinking alcohol while taking Ritalin and why the mix is a bad idea.
How Ritalin and alcohol interact
Ritalin is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. It works by increasing levels of chemical messengers called dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain. Because it works on the CNS, it can also cause other changes in your body. It can increase your blood pressure and heart rate. It can also cause faster breathing, fever, and dilated pupils.
Alcohol, on the other hand, is a CNS depressant. CNS depression slows things down. It can make it harder for you to talk and cause you to slur your speech. It can affect your coordination and make it harder to walk and keep your balance. It can also make it harder to think clearly and control impulses.
However, the effects of Ritalin and alcohol don’t cancel each other out, even though they may seem like opposites. Rather, the effects of these two drugs combine to cause big problems. These include increased side effects as well as the risks of drug overdose, alcohol poisoning, and withdrawal.
Increased side effects
Alcohol changes the way your body processes Ritalin. This can lead to higher amounts of Ritalin in your system, which can mean increased Ritalin side effects. These side effects can include:
- racing heart rate
- high blood pressure
- sleep problems
- mood problems, such as depression
Ritalin use also carries a risk of heart problems, especially for people who already have problems with their heart. In rare but serious cases, Ritalin use can cause:
- heart attack
- sudden death
Because drinking alcohol raises your risk of side effects from Ritalin, it also increases the small but real risk of serious heart problems.
Combining alcohol with Ritalin also raises your risk of drug overdose. This is because alcohol can lead to higher amounts of Ritalin in your body. When you’re drinking, Ritalin overdose is a risk even when you use the correct, prescribed dosage.
The risk of overdose is even higher if you take long-acting, extended-release forms of Ritalin with alcohol. This is because alcohol can cause these forms of the drug to be released rapidly into your body at once.
Using Ritalin with alcohol also increases your risk of alcohol poisoning. This is because Ritalin masks the CNS-depressing effects of alcohol. You may feel more alert and be less likely to realize when you’ve had too much alcohol. In other words, it makes it harder for you to tell how drunk you are.
As a result, you may drink more than usual, which can lead to alcohol poisoning. This dangerous condition can make it harder for you to breathe. It can lead to confusion, unconsciousness, and death.
If you use alcohol and Ritalin together, you could develop physical dependence on both substances. This means your body would need both substances to function normally. So, if you stop drinking or using Ritalin, you would likely have some withdrawal symptoms.
Withdrawal symptoms from alcohol may include:
Ritalin withdrawal symptoms can include:
- trouble sleeping
Reach out to your doctor right away if you think you may have developed a dependence on alcohol, Ritalin, or both. Your doctor can help you get the support you need to address your addiction. If needed, your doctor can switch you to a different ADHD medication.
Alcohol and ADHD
Alcohol can also cause problems with ADHD itself. Some research has shown that alcohol use can worsen symptoms of ADHD. Because people with ADHD may be more likely to misuse alcohol, these findings are important to consider. Other studies have suggested that people with ADHD may be more likely to become impaired by alcohol. For all of these reasons, drinking alcohol could be risky for someone with ADHD.
Talk with your doctor
Ritalin is a powerful medication that should not be used with alcohol. If you’re taking Ritalin and have a strong urge to drink, you should talk to your doctor. Questions you might ask include:
- Would a different ADHD drug be safer for me?
- What are other ADHD treatment options besides medication?
- Can you recommend a local alcohol treatment program?
Is it safe to drink alcohol with any ADHD drugs?
In general, alcohol should not be combined with any ADHD drug. Using Vyvanse or Adderall with alcohol poses similar risks because these drugs are also CNS stimulants. Strattera is the only nonstimulant treatment for ADHD shown to be effective in adults. It does not have the same risks as Ritalin and other stimulants when combined with alcohol, but it does have other risks. Strattera should not be combined with alcohol due to the risk of liver damage.the Healthline Medical TeamAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.