Updated 23 August 2016

3 surprising conditions for which Ritalin is used

Ritalin is a popular treatment for ADHD, but the drug has other unexpected uses.

Much has been said about the ADHD drug Ritalin and it’s often shrouded in controversy. According to the American Psychological Association more than two million prescriptions are filed for Ritalin each year – many of these are for school-aged children suffering from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

While Ritalin is often criticised because of side-effects such as nervousness, increased blood pressure and even psychosis, it’s still effective in many cases.

Furthermore, research suggests Ritalin can be used to treat more than just ADHD. Its positive effect on the nervous system means other conditions can also be treated with this medication. We did some digging and found three other uses of Ritalin.

Read: Could stress be mistaken for ADHD in SA?

1. Narcolepsy

According to the Narcolepsy Network, an independent research awareness organisation in the USA, narcolepsy affects almost 3 million people worldwide. People suffering from this condition have an extreme tendency to fall asleep whenever they are in relaxing surroundings. Drowsiness and sudden attacks of sleep are common symptoms, and people can often sleep for long periods of time.

Because Ritalin stimulates the central nervous system, doctors often prescribe it in severe cases. It increases the levels of two neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine, and works especially well in the prefrontal cortex of the brain which is important for concentration. People suffering from narcolepsy benefit from this stimulant as it helps to keep them awake for longer periods.

2. Depression

Research from Harvard Medical School found that Ritalin and other psychostimulants are sometimes used for chronic depression that does not respond to conventional antidepressants. Ritalin works rapidly and is thus effective for the treatment of acute depression where the patient needs immediate relief.

It’s often used in medically fragile patients (for instance when a person’s depression is leading to poor nutritional intake).  After an initial “boost” Ritalin should preferably be combined with tricyclic antidepressants.

Read: SA has one of the highest prescription rates for ADHD medication

3. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

People suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) often feel extremely tired, even though they have no underlying medical condition. Unexplained muscle pain, loss of concentration and headaches are other common symptoms.

In 2006 Belgian researchers found Ritalin is “significantly better than placebo in relieving fatigue and concentration disturbances” in some people. The study was recently updated and showed Ritalin has a positive effect in about one out of three patients. The theory is that even though there’s no medical cause of fatigue, patients benefit from Ritalin due to stimulation of the nervous system.

Read more:

An alternative to Ritalin

Beyond Ritalin

State Ritalin shock


Ask the Expert

ADHD Expert

Dr Renata Schoeman has been in full-time private practice as a general psychiatrist (child, adolescent and adult psychiatry) since 2008, currently based in Oude Westhof (Bellville). Renata also holds appointments as senior lecturer in Leadership (USB) and as a virtual faculty member of USB Executive Development’s Neuroleadership programme. She serves on the advisory boards of various pharmaceutical companies, as a director of the Psychiatric Management Group (PsychMG) and is the co-convenor of the South African Society of Psychiatrist (SASOP) special interest group for adult ADHD, and co-founder of the Goldilocks and The Bear Foundation ( She is passionate about corporate mental health awareness and uses her neuroscience background to assist leaders in equipping them to become balanced, healthy and dynamic leaders that take their own and their team’s emotional, intellectual, social health and physical needs into account. Renata is academically active and enjoys research and collaborative work, has published in many peer-reviewed journals, and has presented at local and international congresses. She is regularly invited to present at conferences and to engage with the media. During her post-graduate studies, she trained at Harvard, Boston in neurocognition and neuroimaging. Her awards include, amongst others, the Young Minds in Psychiatry award from the American Psychiatric Association, the Discovery Foundation Fellowship award, a Thuthuka award from the NRF, and a MRC Fellowship. She also received the Top MBA student award and the Director’s award from USB for 2015. She was a finalist for the Businesswomen’s Association of South Africa’s Businesswoman of the Year Award for 2016, and received the Excellence in Media Work award from SASOP during 2016.

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