Seen in The Daily Mail on 28 June 2013:

Could ADHD medication Ritalin cure cocaine addiction? New research shows it might help self-control

By Emma Innes

PUBLISHED in The Daily Mail: 28 June 2013 | UPDATED: 2 July 2013

  • A single dose of Ritalin can modify the brain circuits that cause cravings
  • Decreases connectivity between areas of brain linked to formation      of habits
  • Strengthens links between brain regions involved in regulating      emotions and controlling behaviour

Ritalin, a drug commonly used to treat ADHD, could provide a novel way of treating cocaine addiction.

A single dose of the drug can modify the connectivity in certain brain circuits that underlie self-control and cravings in cocaine addicts, new research has found.

Previous research has shown that Ritalin improves brain function in cocaine users, making them better able to perform some cognitive tasks.

A single dose of Ritalin can modify the connectivity in certain brain circuits that underlie self-control and cravings in cocaine addicts

However, researchers from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found that the drug can also help people fight cocaine addiction.

Rita Goldstein said, Professor of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, said: ‘Orally administered Ritalin increases dopamine in the brain, similar to cocaine, but without the strong addictive properties.

‘We wanted to determine whether such substitutive properties, which are helpful in other replacement therapies such as using nicotine gum instead of smoking cigarettes or methadone instead of heroin, would play a role in enhancing brain connectivity between regions of potential importance for intervention in cocaine addiction.’

Dr Goldstein and her team recruited 18 cocaine addicts, who were randomly assigned either an oral dose of Ritalin or a placebo.

The researchers used MRI scans to measure the strength of connectivity in particular brain circuits known to play a role in addiction before and during peak drug effects.

Ritalin decreases connectivity between areas of the brain linked to the formation of habits and strengthens connectivity between brain regions involved in exerting control over behaviours

They also assessed each subject's severity of addiction to see if this had any bearing on the results.

Ritalin decreased connectivity between areas of the brain that have been strongly implicated in the formation of habits, including compulsive drug seeking and craving.

The scans also showed that the drug strengthened connectivity between several brain regions involved in regulating emotions and exerting control over behaviours - connections previously reported to be disrupted in cocaine addiction.

‘The benefits of Ritalin were present after only one dose, indicating that this drug has significant potential as a treatment add-on for addiction to cocaine and possibly other stimulants,’ said Dr Goldstein.

‘This is a preliminary study, but the findings are exciting and warrant further exploration, particularly in conjunction with cognitive behavioural therapy or cognitive remediation.’


Ritalin is a nervous system stimulant that affects the chemicals in the brain which contribute to hyperactivity.

It is used to treat ADHD but can also be used to help people with the sleep disorder narcolepsy.

It has a calming influence on children with ADHD and can improve their concentration.

It is not entirely clear why the drug helps reduce the symptoms of ADHD, but it could be that the condition is caused by dopamine imbalances in the brain and that Ritalin increases the levels of the chemical.

Alternatively, it could be that the drug affects the action of serotonin in the brain and that this reduces the symptoms of ADHD.

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