Table of Contents
Concerta Addiction, Abuse, and Symptoms


The Basics

This guide explains the effects, trends, and dangers of Concerta use, as well as an unbiased analysis of the medicinal and behavioral treatment methods for Concerta addiction based on current research and publicly available statistics. In some cases, usage statistics are derived from general prescription stimulant use, which includes Adderall, Ritalin, and Dexedrine.

Primary Concerta Dangers

  • Addictiveness: In 2007, Nutt et al. published the results of a study they conducted to determine the addictive potential of 20 substances. Some of the substances tested were illegal drugs, while others were medications available by prescription. After evaluating each substance based on factors, such as risk of psychological dependence and risk of physical dependence, they determined that amphetamines have the ninth-highest addictive potential of the 20 substances. Concerta and other prescription stimulants have effects similar to those produced by amphetamines, indicating that some individuals may become addicted to Concerta.
  • Risk of overdose: In 2017, more than 10,000 overdose deaths involved some type of stimulant, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; this includes illicit substances as well as prescription stimulants.
  • Unintended side effects: Concerta can cause serious side effects in any user, but the effects are often more pronounced in users who take Concerta when they don’t have ADHD or some other medical condition that responds favorably to the active ingredient in Concerta. These side effects include irritability, aggression, manic behavior, anxiety, lack of appetite, and skin problems.
  • Legal risks: Under the guidelines set forth by the Controlled Substances Act, Concerta is a Schedule II controlled substance in the United States. Therefore, possessing Concerta without a valid prescription is considered a crime. For a first-time offense, penalties typically include a fine of up to $1,000 and a jail sentence of up to one year.

Concerta Background Information

Derived From Synthesized from phenethylamine and benzylpiperazine
Ways Used Ingestion, crushing/snorting
Scientific Name Methylphenidate
Slang/Street Names for Concerta Kiddie Coke, Skittles, Smarties, Kibbles & Bits, Pineapple, Kiddie Cocaine
How Long in Bodily System Half-life: 3.5 hours
Eliminated from the body in 48 to 96 hours
Punitive Legal Measures: Using/Possession Due to its status as a Schedule II controlled substance, Concerta is illegal to possess without a valid prescription from a licensed medical professional. Possession is usually charged as a misdemeanor, and the penalties for a conviction may include fines, jail time, or participation in a substance-abuse treatment program. Penalties for a second or subsequent conviction are usually harsher; for example, an individual convicted for a third possession offense may have to spend time in prison rather than a local jail.
Punitive Legal Measures: Selling/Distributing The penalties for selling or distributing Concerta are much more severe than the penalties for simple possession. Selling/distributing Concerta is typically charged as a felony; therefore, a conviction may result in steep fines or a long prison sentence. In some states, an individual convicted of selling or distributing Concerta can be sentenced to 20 or more years in prison.
DEA Drug Rating Schedule II

Signs of Abuse

Behavioral Symptoms of Concerta Usage and Abuse

How Concerta affects the brain

The active ingredient in Concerta, methylphenidate, blocks the activity of dopamine transporters in the brain. This causes dopamine levels to increase significantly, according to Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former director of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration. When dopamine levels increase, the individual may experience a sense of euphoria.

Dopamine is involved in the reward circuit of the brain, which plays an important role in human survival. This reward circuit is programmed to produce a sense of pleasure when people eat, have sex, and perform other activities that are necessary for the survival of the species. When an individual takes Concerta, the brain interprets the rush of dopamine as something pleasurable. Thus, the brain encourages the individual to continue taking Concerta.

Behavioral signs of Concerta usage and abuse

Many behavioral changes may indicate that someone is misusing Concerta. These changes are especially noticeable in people who take high doses of Concerta, as well as in people who combine Concerta with other substances. An individual who misuses Concerta may suddenly start spending more time alone; this isolation makes it easier to conceal substance use from other people. Concerta users may also start hanging out with new friends or take less of an interest in their long-term relationships.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, individuals who misuse Concerta and other substances may also neglect their responsibilities. An employed adult may suddenly start calling in sick, asking for time off, or neglecting important work duties; as a result, some users may have difficulty maintaining employment. Adolescent users may struggle to complete assignments, fail classes, or stop showing up for sports practices.

Financial problems are another potential sign of Concerta misuse. An individual who used to be financially stable might suddenly start borrowing money from friends, taking out payday loans, or selling personal items for quick cash. In severe cases, the user might write bad checks or max out his or her credit cards to ensure enough money is available to buy Concerta and continue using it.

Physical Symptoms of Concerta Abuse

How Concerta affects the body

Concerta and other prescription stimulants tend to speed up many of the body’s functions. When an individual takes a dose of Concerta, his or her heart rate increases. The blood vessels constrict, reducing blood flow from the heart to other parts of the body; as a result, the individual’s blood pressure increases. Other physical effects include an increased breathing rate and an increased amount of glucose in the bloodstream. At high doses, Concerta may even cause seizures, increased body temperature, heart failure, or irregular heartbeat.

Early physical effects of Concerta

Concerta typically produces physical effects within 30 to 60 minutes. Some of these effects can be life-threatening, especially for users with preexisting heart conditions.

This table illustrates the possible short-term physical effects associated with Concerta.
Short-Term Physical Symptoms
Initial (direct effects of drug, 30 – 60 min.) Dilated pupils
Muscle twitches
Increased breathing rate
High blood pressure
Fast heart rate
Increased energy
Lingering (within an hour of taking the drug) Irregular heartbeat
Lack of appetite
Difficulty sleeping
Abdominal pain
Post-Use (several hours to days after use) Fatigue

Severe and long-term physical effects of Concerta

Individuals who develop a tolerance to, or dependence on, Concerta often take the substance more often than recommended or in higher doses than recommended. As a result, they have a heightened risk of experiencing severe physical effects. Because Concerta results in an increased heart rate and higher blood pressure, misuse of this substance may even lead to heart attack, stroke, or other cardiovascular complications.

Some individuals combine Concerta with alcohol or other depressants to reduce the stimulant effects of the substance. This increases the risk of serious physical side effects. Combining Concerta with alcohol may increase the risk of alcohol poisoning, Concerta overdose, or life-threatening cardiovascular complications.

Concerta is especially dangerous when combined with other stimulants, as the stimulant effects are even more pronounced. Combining two or more stimulants can result in irregular heartbeat, stroke, heart attack, or dangerously high blood pressure. Because cocaine and other stimulants also have a high addictive potential, combining them with Concerta may also increase an individual’s risk of developing a dependence on stimulants.

This table illustrates the possible long-term physical effects associated with Concerta.
Long-term Physical Symptoms
Casual Skin problems (dryness, itching)
Reduced appetite
Dry mouth
Fast heartbeat
Chronic (Including all of the above effects for casual use) Abdominal pain
Kidney disease/kidney damage
Chest pain
Unintended weight loss
Erectile dysfunction/impotence
High blood pressure
Irregular heartbeat/palpitations
Poor circulation
Withdrawal Nausea/vomiting
Abdominal pain
Muscle aches
Difficulty sleeping

Further Resources

Both the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offer in-depth information on both the symptoms and treatment of prescription stimulant addiction.

Concerta Usage

Stimulant usage has increased significantly over the past 20 years

According to a study published in The Lancet Psychiatry, the use of prescription stimulants to treat ADHD has increased in 13 countries across four continents. The authors of the study report that approximately 1.95% of all citizens in these 13 countries use some type of prescription stimulant.

One of the main reasons the use of Concerta and other prescription stimulants has increased is because many nonmedical users are looking for a way to increase their productivity and enhance their focus at work or school. According to the International Journal of Drug Policy, 6.6% of the individuals surveyed in 2017 reported that they had used a prescription stimulant for cognitive enhancement within the previous year. These individuals were nonmedical users of prescription stimulants.

Based on data collected in several research studies, nonmedical users of prescription stimulants tend to be younger than nonmedical users of other substances. For example, the prevalence of prescription stimulant usage in adults aged 19 and older was only 0.39%, according to the study published in The Lancet Psychiatry. The rate of stimulant use in this age group was much higher in the United States than it was in countries like Japan.

Prescription Stimulant Use Throughout the World

Highest Second Third
Regions with the Highest Number of Prescription Stimulant Users North America Northern Europe Asia and Australia
Countries with the Largest Increase in Non-Medical Prescription Stimulant Rates Hungary (0.1% in 2015, 1.6% in 2017) France (0.6% in 2015, 4.6% in 2017) Belgium (3.6% in 2015, 12.4% in 2017)

* This table includes data from users of both dextroamphetamine (Adderall) and methylphenidate (Concerta).

Sources: Raman et al. 2018 and Maier et al. 2018

Concerta Usage Demographics in the US

The United States has a higher rate of prescription stimulant misuse than any other country

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, more than 1.7 million Americans aged 12 and older had misused prescription stimulants within the previous 12 months. This represents approximately 0.6% of the population. One reason for the rising rate of prescription stimulant use is the increased rate of ADHD diagnoses.

For Americans between the ages of 12 and 25, prescription stimulant misuse is most common among individuals between the ages of 18 and 25; approximately 2.2% of this demographic has engaged in the nonmedical use of prescription stimulants. In contrast, only 0.4% of adolescents aged 12 to 17 had engaged in the misuse of prescription stimulants.

Prescription stimulant misuse is also increasing among students in elementary school, high school, and college. For example, according to a study published in the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, anywhere from 5% to 9% of grade school and high school students surveyed reported that they had engaged in the misuse of these substances. The prevalence of prescription stimulant misuse among college students ranges from 5% to 35%.

Demographics of Prescription Usage
Past Year (2019) Lifetime
8th grade (14-15 yo) 1.00% No data collected
10th grade (15-16 yo) 0.70% No data collected
12th grade (17-18 yo) 1.10% No data collected

How to Find Help

Because Concerta affects the reward center of the brain, some individuals develop a dependence on it. This dependence often causes an addicted individual to keep taking Concerta even when it produces unpleasant or dangerous physical and psychological side effects. Even if an individual wants to stop taking Concerta, it can be difficult to do so due to the unpleasant withdrawal effects that may occur.

Due to these complex factors, effective Concerta addiction treatment usually involves a multistep process that combines supervised medical detox with behavioral therapies that can help the individual develop better coping skills and learn how to avoid specific addiction triggers. To learn more about this multistep rehabilitation process, read our comprehensive Concerta rehabilitation guide.

Staging an Intervention

If you have a loved one who’s struggling with addiction, staging an intervention is often the first necessary step towards sobriety, but it’s important to be strategic and loving in your approach. Even the most well-meaning of interventions can have a negative effect if they aren’t handled correctly.

5 Tips for Staging an Intervention

1. Don’t Do It Alone. A professional interventionist is always the most qualified to guide a successful intervention. Also, rely on non-addict family and friends – especially those who have a close relationship with you or the addict.
2. Research Ahead of Time. It’s best to do plenty of research ahead of time to gather insight on the addiction and how it affects the addict. Also, be prepared with local resources for getting help.
3. Write Out Your Statement. During the actual intervention, emotions will likely be running high, so it’s best to have a statement of how the person’s addiction has impacted you and your relationship with him or her. These statements should be honest, yet written from a place of love – no personal attacks.
4. Offer Help. It’s important for everyone attending the intervention to offer tangible help and support as the person works through detox and rehabilitation.
5. Set Boundaries. If the person refuses to seek help and take the next steps outlined, it’s important that they understand that everyone present will end codependent and enabling behaviors.