Ritalin is a stimulant medication that doctors sometimes prescribe for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Ritalin’s effects are almost instantaneous: The child exhibits mood changes in just 20 to 30 minutes after taking it. To minimize any side effects, your child should take the lowest dose possible to achieve the desired results. Note that the side effects that occur with Ritalin in children are practically the same as with dexedrine and Adderall, other stimulant ADHD medicines.
Determine the proper Ritalin dosage for your child by trial and error, according to your doctor’s recommendations. For example, start with the lowest possible dosage for three days. If that doesn’t change behavior, increase to the next level up for three days. Generally, you start with a 5 mg tablet and gradually increase as necessary. Generally, Ritalin prescriptions for children top out at a limit of 20 mg. If your child doesn’t respond to that dosage, she probably won’t respond to Ritalin at all, or if she does, the side effects will be too significant for safe use. Ritalin remains in the bloodstream for four hours, so the normal dose for children and teenagers is two or three times a day.
Ritalin has certain side effects that vary with duration of use. At the beginning, it can cause abdominal discomfort, as many pills can, but this complaint eventually goes away with continued use. However, Ritalin also decreases your child’s appetite. If you give a dose at breakfast before your child goes to school, he probably won’t be hungry for lunch. If your child takes three doses a day, you might need to serve dinner later when his appetite returns. Typically, the latest time to give the third dose is 4 p.m.; any later and your child may have difficulty sleeping.
Rebound is another side effect that some children have, which means that as soon as the Ritalin wears off, your child’s behavior is worse than ever. Kids with a rebound side effect are hyper in the evening. Some physicians prescribe anotehr drug, clonidine, to deal with rebound. A therapist or counselor can help you work on behavior issues if you don’t want to give your child another drug.
High doses of Ritalin, usually doses more than 20 mg, can lead to nervousness, heart palpitations, tremors and headaches. High doses also produce euphoria, which is why some kids abuse the drug. Ritalin does not lead to tolerance — needing more of the drug to get the desired effects, addiction or withdrawal when taken orally. But if kids abuse the drug by snorting or shooting it, it can lead to tolerance, addiction and withdrawal.
Ritalin and other stimulants might interfere with your child’s brain development and might cause heart problems. Get a cardiac evaluation for your child before starting her on any stimulant. Stimulants can also trigger psychiatric problems, such as aggression, hostility, anxiety and paranoia, especially in the presence of a family history of these problems. If Ritalin or other stimulants are not appropriate for your child, discuss other options with your doctor.