Can Ritalin be used to treat addiction?

In an effort to treat people addicted to cocaine, scientists have turned to what may seem like an unlikely option: Ritalin.  Commonly used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a stimulant medication that raises dopamine and norepinehprine activity in the brain—much as cocaine does. , However, Ritalin is taken orally, which means it takes longer to reach peak effect and that reduces the risk of abuse.  The medication extends the dopamine reaction, which improves signaling in the brain.  This leads to better cognitive function, including attention and information processing.

The study came from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and it found that Ritalin modified the connectivity in the brain circuits associated with cravings and self-control in cocaine addicts.  The research involved observing 18 cocaine addicted individuals who were randomly put in two groups: those who received an oral dose of Ritalin and those who received a placebo.  Using functional MRI scans of the brain, the researchers found improved brain activity in the areas of the brain that regulate emotions and self-control, where cocaine use generally disrupts connections in these areas.

The study also observed addiction severity. Ritalin benefits were found after only one dose, indicating that this drug could have significant potential for stimulant addiction.

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