What is Concerta, and How Is It Abused?

One of the most common childhood disorders is attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that at least 5 percent of children in the United States suffer from the disorder. Concerta is an extended-release formulation of the stimulant drug methylphenidate that is primarily used to treat ADHD. It may also be prescribed to help with symptoms of daytime sleepiness, or narcolepsy.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) classifies methylphenidate as a Schedule II controlled substance (the highest classification for a prescription drug with medicinal purposes) since it has such a high potential for diversion, abuse, and addiction. Young adults and adolescents may crush Concerta tablets up and snort them in an effort to get “high.”

Oftentimes, Concerta may be abused as a “party drug” for the burst of euphoria and high energy levels it can produce as a stimulant. It may be misused as an appetite suppressant or weight loss supplement. Concerta and other ADHD medications are also commonly abused as “study drugs” in an attempt to enhance focus and attention, and promote wakefulness while studying or completing projects.

Students in college fulltime may be as much as two times more likely to abuse a drug like Concerta than their peers who do not attend college fulltime, CNN reports, and as many as 30 percent of college students may use stimulant drugs for nonmedical purposes.

Abuse of Concerta is not limited to students and adolescents, however, as adult use of ADHD stimulant medications seems to be on the rise as well, The New York Times publishes. Young professionals may feel pressure to “get ahead” or produce at work, making a drug like Concerta seem like a viable option. More adults are prescribed ADHD medications than are diagnosed with the disorder, CBS News publishes, meaning that they may be taking these medications for nonmedical purposes.

Any time a prescription medication is taken for nonmedical purposes, it is classified as drug abuse. According to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), approximately 1 million American adults used stimulant drugs nonmedically that year.

Spotting Concerta Abuse

For individuals who have a legitimate prescription for Concerta as well as a medical need for the medication, the drug serves to increase focus and attention levels.

When the drug is taken in higher doses than prescribed, in a manner other than as intended, or by someone without a medical need for the drug, it disrupts brain communication by greatly amplifying levels of dopamine, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) warns.

A burst of euphoria, or a high, is often the result, as blood pressure, heart rate, respiration rate, energy, and excitement are increased, and the need to sleep and eat is depressed.

People who are under extreme pressure to produce results at school or work may be tempted to take Concerta as a “smart drug” or study aid. They may make up or exaggerate ADHD symptoms in order to garner a prescription for the drug or “shop” different doctors to get prescriptions.

The journal Medical News Today reports that ADHD medications are most commonly obtained for abuse from a friend; students may pass these drugs around and those with legitimate prescriptions for Concerta may be sharing them with those without prescriptions.

Signs a person may be abusing Concerta include:

  • Taking more of the prescribed amount at a time or taking the drug for longer than necessary
  • Altering the medication to take it in a way other than intended, such as crushing it, chewing it, or dissolving it, to get the entire dose at once
  • Periods of wakefulness, excitement, sociability, talkativeness, extreme energy, happiness, and high levels of production followed by a “crash,” indicated by fatigue, hunger, depressed feelings, and lethargy
  • Changes in appetite and weight as well as sleep patterns
  • Mood alterations and mood swings
  • Decreased interest in things that were previously important
  • Decline in grades (NIDA reports that people who abuse prescription stimulants actually fare worse in school and suffer from lower GPAs than those who don’t abuse the drugs.)
  • Inability to consistently fulfill regular obligations
  • Near obsession with taking the drug, figuring out how to get it, and recovering from its use</li>
  • Needing to take more of the drug to keep feeling its effects (tolerance)
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Aggression and potential episodes of violence toward others or self-harming behaviors
  • Hallucinations, delusions, and paranoia when high doses of the drug are taken
  • Dependence on Concerta and withdrawal symptoms when the drug wears off (e.g., insomnia, agitation, trouble concentrating, depression, suicidal or violent behaviors, and psychosis)

While Concerta may most often be abused in an effort to get or stay ahead academically or at work, it is also abused recreationally. People who abuse narcotics may dissolve and inject the drug, and those who suffer from addiction involving stimulant drugs (like cocaine or methamphetamine) may take Concerta to quell withdrawal symptoms.

Injecting, or crushing and snorting Concerta, can send the entire dose into the bloodstream at once. This bypasses the intended extended-release formulation of the drug and may cause an overdose.

An overdose of methylphenidate can be life-threatening. Heart and respiration rates, body temperature, and blood pressure can be raised to dangerously high levels, possibly resulting in cardiovascular complications or stroke. Seizures and psychosis may also occur.

Concerta may also be taken with alcohol, to counteract some of the negative depressant effects like sleepiness, and can cause a person to suffer from higher levels of intoxication and potentially alcohol poisoning, which can also be fatal. The Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) publishes that nearly 5,000 people received emergency medical care for a negative reaction to the abuse of methylphenidate in 2011.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC), as published by the DEA, reports that there were close to 10,000 methylphenidate exposures that same year. In addition to life-threatening and immediate adverse side effects of abusing Concerta, many long-term consequences are possible as well.

Treatment Options

Concerta warns that the drug can cause withdrawal symptoms that can include significant depression when a person stops taking it.

For this reason, medical detox is the ideal method for managing withdrawal symptoms and safely processing the drug out of the body.

During medical detox, a person will stay in a secure and specialized facility that is staffed by highly trained medical and mental health professionals who can provide around-the-clock supervision, support, and care.

Concerta may need to be slowly weaned, or tapered, off in order to avoid the most dangerous withdrawal symptoms. Medications can also be helpful to address specific symptoms of withdrawal. Once a person becomes physically stable after detox, they can proceed into a comprehensive treatment program.

Both residential and outpatient programs can be beneficial in the treatment of addiction involving Concerta. Individuals who are more significantly dependent on Concerta, who suffer from co-occurring mental health issues, or who abuse multiple substances will be best served in an inpatient treatment program that can provide care and support 24/7.

Counseling and therapy are integral parts of a stimulant addiction treatment program, as clients attend group, family, and individual sessions that are designed to uncover personal triggers for drug use and teach new coping skills, relapse prevention tools, and communication methods. Support groups can be very helpful in fostering a healthy peer network and an outlet to express feelings and struggles to others who can empathize.

Addiction treatment should be highly specialized and tailored to each person specifically. An individual will often undergo a detailed assessment prior to admission into a treatment program in order to determine what level of care will be best.

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