Posted in Drug Abuse on January 12, 2017
Last modified on May 9th, 2019

How Common Is Ritalin Abuse?

Ritalin is a brand-name medication used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the sleep disorder narcolepsy. It contains methylphenidate, a powerful stimulant capable of triggering addiction when used in excessive amounts with or without a prescription. Two federal agencies, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), track the number of people in the U.S. who abuse Ritalin/methylphenidate each year. We can use information from these agencies to get a good idea of the true extent of Ritalin abuse.

Figures From NIDA

The National Institute on Drug Abuse sponsors an annual, nationwide survey project called Monitoring the Future, which tracks the extent of substance abuse in U.S. children enrolled in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades. For 12th-graders, the survey breaks its results down on a substance-by-substance basis. In 2015 (the last year with available figures), 2% of all high school seniors reported taking part in Ritalin abuse at least once in the last 12 months. This rate is substantially lower than the rate of abuse (7%) for Adderall, another widely used ADHD medication that contains the stimulants amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. As a rule, younger children abuse almost all substances less often than 12th-graders.

Figures From SAMHSA

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration uses an annual project called the National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) to track substance abuse in all Americans over the age of 11. The NSDUH does not separately report Ritalin abuse. Instead, it includes abuse of the medication with the abuse of all products that contain methylphenidate (e.g., Concerta, Metadate, Focalin and Daytrana).

In 2015 (the last year with available figures), approximately 979,000 Americans abused some form of methylphenidate at least once. This is the equivalent of about 0.4% of the total U.S. population age 12 and older. Ritalin is the most commonly prescribed methylphenidate product, so it makes sense that a large number of those involved in a pattern of abuse rely on the medication. These figures speak to the importance of treatment for stimulant abuse. Tellingly, more than one-quarter of all people who consume a methylphenidate product abuse that product to one extent or another. Still, like the figures from Monitoring the Future, the figures from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health show that abuse of Adderall and other amphetamine-based stimulant medications is much more common than the abuse of Ritalin/methylphenidate.


U.S. National Library of Medicine – MedlinePlus: Methylphenidate

National Institute on Drug Abuse: Monitoring the Future 2015 Survey Results

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Prescription Drug Use and Misuse in the United States – Results from the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health

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