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Concerta Addiction & Abuse

Concerta is a prescription medication used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in adolescents and adults. When it’s used properly as directed by a doctor, it can be a safe and effective solution for a very difficult mental health disorder.

Struggling with Stimulant Addiction? Get Help Now

But Concerta isn’t without drawbacks. Concerta’s unique action on brain cells can cause problems, including abuse, addiction, and withdrawal.

Understanding what abuse looks like can help you step in and help someone in need. 

What Is Concerta?

Concerta is a brand-name medication that contains methylphenidate — the same drug found in other ADHD drugs like Ritalin. Concerta provides the medication in a thick wrapper that dissolves slowly in the stomach, allowing one pill to last for 12 hours.[1]

Researchers don’t know why Concerta helps people with ADHD.[1] They think it works on brain chemicals like norepinephrine and dopamine, enhancing their effectiveness and allowing symptom relief. While studies show that it can help people with ADHD, researchers aren’t exactly sure why it works.[1]

Common Concerta Side Effects 

Like many prescription medications, Concerta causes side effects. People using the medication as directed can experience these symptoms. But they can be more severe in people taking larger doses in an abuse context. 

Common Concerta side effects include the following:[1]

  • Poor mental health: The medication can increase nervousness, anxiety, aggression, and agitation. You may have trouble sleeping or staying still due to these feelings. 
  • Cardiac problems: People with underlying heart conditions can face serious side effects, including sudden cardiac death or stroke. 
  • Discomfort: Headaches and stomachaches can appear with regular use of Concerta. 
  • Digestive issues: Some people develop vomiting or a reduced appetite while using the medication. 

Doctors use interviews and physical exams to ensure their patients are healthy and less likely to experience severe side effects. For example, they may ask about your family history of heart problems before providing a prescription.[1] But people who abuse the drug may not get the counseling they need to avoid serious medication-related problems. 

Concerta Withdrawal 

Powerful prescription stimulants like Concerta cause persistent brain chemical changes. People who quit abruptly can experience significant withdrawal symptoms. 

Researchers say the effectiveness of Concerta hasn’t been tested in studies lasting longer than four weeks. Doctors are encouraged to use the drug for short periods only. But even then, they’re asked to taper doses instead of asking their patients to quit cold turkey.[1] This is a sign of how powerful this drug can be.

Prescription stimulants like Concerta can cause the following withdrawal symptoms:[2]

  • Depression 
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Fatigue 

These symptoms can be so severe that they prompt people to return to drug use, even when they don’t want to. 

Can Concerta Be Abused?

Like many prescription stimulants, Concerta can be abused. People who abuse these drugs report a rush of euphoria when they use the drug.[2] That feeling can prompt them to keep taking the drug despite the harm it causes them. 

Technically, anyone who takes Concerta without a prescription is abusing the drug. But people with prescriptions can misuse the drug too. They may take more than their doctors prescribe or intentionally mix the medication with alcohol or other drugs.[3] 

Studies suggest that fewer people abuse drugs like Concerta than painkillers like OxyContin.[4] But far too many people are leaning on these drugs and struggling with the consequences. 

Common Causes of Concerta Addiction 

Some people get prescriptions for Concerta and never abuse their pills. But others do. And some develop addictions without ever having a prescription. 

In a study of 545 people, including 89.2% with ADHD, 14.3% abused prescription stimulants like Concerta.[5] Studies like this demonstrate that some people with prescriptions move from using their drugs appropriately to abusing them in time. Easy access to the drug makes experimentation and abuse possible. 

In a study of college students, 5.3% abused prescription stimulants at least once. Most got the drug for free from someone they knew. These students abused the drugs recreationally, but some thought the pills would make them smarter or more effective in the classroom.[6] 

Concerta’s stimulant effects can fuel late-night cram sessions. Students who abuse the drug may feel alert, aware, and confident. Sometimes, these students become addicted to the feelings each dose provides. 

Can Concerta Cause an Overdose? 

People who use too much Concerta can experience an overdose. Typically, symptoms are caused by overstimulation of the central nervous system. Without treatment, these episodes can be life-threatening.

Common overdose symptoms include the following:[1]

  • Vomiting
  • Agitation
  • Shaking
  • Twitching muscles or convulsions
  • Coma
  • Confusion 
  • Hallucinations or delirium 
  • Sweating and flushed skin
  • Headaches
  • Cardiac problems, such as palpitations, fast heartbeat, or high blood pressure 

No medication can reverse a stimulant overdose. But doctors can use fluids and supportive therapy to help patients stay comfortable. If needed, they can use prescription medications to address cardiac problems and other life-threatening issues. 

Overdose should be considered a potentially life-threatening event. Prompt medical attention is needed, so don’t hesitate to call 911 if you witness one.

Signs & Symptoms of Abuse 

Concerta abuse can look different in different people. But some signs and symptoms are common in most people with a substance abuse issue. 

People who abuse Concerta often take more than a doctor might prescribe. A typical dose for most people is between 18 mg and 72 mg per day.[7] Someone with an abuse issue might take double or even triple this dose. 

Someone who takes too much of a drug may need to refill it more than a doctor might recommend. They may feign illnesses to get more, or visit multiple medical professionals to get refills. 

People who abuse Concerta may have mental health issues that worsen with time. You might notice psychosis, anger, or paranoia.[2] If no trigger can be identified for these changes, drug abuse may be to blame. 

People with a substance use disorder keep using drugs despite the impact it has on their health, work, and relationships.[2] They may want to quit, but they may feel unable to do so. Addiction is characterized by this compulsive need to take more drugs.

Treatment Options for Concerta Addiction 

Experts recommend professional supervision for anyone who has abused Concerta. Severe depression may take hold.[1] Without treatment, these feelings could lead to drug relapse, self-harming behaviors, or suicide.

Tapered Withdrawal

Treatment often starts with a taper. Your doctor decreases your dose gradually, allowing brain cells to adjust to sobriety at a slow and steady pace.[8] This eases the withdrawal process rather than shocking the body and brain by suddenly stopping all use.

While your brain cells adjust to sobriety, you must also develop new habits and opinions that can keep you from relapsing. Therapy can help. 


In a therapy program, doctors help you examine the thoughts, feelings, and situations that increase your drug cravings. Together, you develop a toolkit you can deploy when you feel like a relapse is coming. This education can help you handle life’s challenges without Concerta. 

Lifestyle Changes

Your treatment team can also help you learn to build a healthier life. You’ll find out about the importance of a good night’s sleep, healthy meals, sustaining hobbies, and regular exercise. When your life is structured to support good mental health, you’ll be less likely to return to drug use. 

Comprehensive Help

An inpatient program is often the first step to recovery. You’ll be surrounded by a talented treatment team around the clock that offers advice and support. When you’re feeling better, you can move to a less intense form of care, such as an outpatient program. 

Recovering from a Concerta addiction can take time. But with hard work and the right treatment team, you can quit using the drug and get your life back on track.

Updated May 7, 2024
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