How Long Does Ritalin (Methylphenidate) Stay in Your System?


how long ritalin stays in the system

Ritalin is the brand name for a prescription stimulant medication called methylphenidate. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved methylphenidate to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy, a daytime sleeping disorder.[1] As a Schedule II controlled substance, Ritalin carries a potential for abuse and addiction.[2]

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 150,000 people over the age of 12 abused Ritalin in 2016.[3]

Ritalin is available in both long-acting and short-acting formulations. Long-acting Ritalin (Ritalin LA) will stay in your system longer than short-acting Ritalin (Ritalin SR). How long Ritalin can be detected on a drug test depends heavily on the type of Ritalin taken, the duration and severity of your Ritalin use, and other factors.

For the average individual, Ritalin can be detected on a urine test for 3 days, a saliva test for 3 days, and a hair test for 30 days.

If you have been abusing Ritalin or other stimulant drugs and have difficulty controlling how much and how often you take it, you may be struggling with addiction and be in need of professional help. Speak with our trusted admissions counselors at Moving Mountains Recovery today to learn about your Ritalin addiction treatment options.


How Long Ritalin Stays In The System


How Long Do the Effects of Ritalin Last?

Ritalin is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that increases levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the body, resulting in an elevated heart rate, body temperature, energy levels, and blood pressure. For individuals with ADHD, Ritalin decreases disruptive symptoms, such as impulsive behaviors, and improves concentration, attention, and listening skills. For individuals with narcolepsy, Ritalin helps them stay awake throughout the day.

Common effects of Ritalin include:

  • Increased concentration
  • Heightened attention span
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Changes in heart rhythm
  • Nausea

In people who do not have ADHD, Ritalin can increase energy levels, making people more talkative and confident, and produce euphoria.

The effects of Ritalin appear shortly after taking it and last 4-6 hours for the immediate-release versions and 10-14 hours for an extended-release version. When abused and taken in higher doses than prescribed, the effects may last longer.

Ritalin is metabolized in the liver. After the effects wear off, Ritalin can still be detected in your system for several days.

What is the Half-Life of Ritalin?

If you’re trying to understand how long a drug stays in the body, you have to consider its half-life. Half-life is a measure of the amount of time it takes for half of a single dose of a substance to leave your system. It takes about 4-5 half-lives for a substance to leave your body completely. Some trace metabolites that are detectable by drug tests may linger in the body even after the drug, in this case, methylphenidate, leaves the body.

Ritalin has a short half-life compared to other central nervous system depressants. The average half-life of Ritalin ranges from 1-4 hours with an average of 3.5 hours. As a result, it can stay in the body anywhere between 4-20 hours with an average of 12 hours, and it can be detected by drug tests because of the metabolites it leaves behind for even longer.[4]

Factors that Influence How Long Ritalin (Methylphenidate) Stays in Your System

Despite Ritalin’s half-life, how long it stays in the body varies from one person to the next as a result of a handful of factors, including:

  • Age and weight – Older people typically eliminate drugs at a slower rate than younger adults. Weight and body mass can also affect this, and people with a higher body mass tend to eliminate methylphenidate more quickly.
  • Metabolism – Personal differences in metabolism and liver function can impact how long Ritalin stays in the body.
  • Dose – Larger doses will stay in the body longer than lower doses or a single dose.
  • Frequency and duration of use – The more regularly you take Ritalin and the longer you’ve taken it consistently, the longer it will take to clear your system.
  • Mixing Ritalin with alcohol – Drinking while taking methylphenidate will cause the drug to be eliminated more slowly. This happens because the liver is focused on processing alcohol before anything else, allowing methylphenidate to remain in the body.
  • Medication type – Ritalin is available in extended-release and immediate-release formulations. While both are excreted through urine, the extended-release formulations will stay in the body longer.
  • Kidney function – Since the kidneys are involved in removing methylphenidate from the body, people with poor renal function will process and excrete the drug more slowly.

Staying hydrated and eating a healthy diet may also speed up the metabolism of the drug.

How Long Does Ritalin Show Up on a Drug Test?

Unlike other substances, like marijuana, that accumulate in the body’s cells and stay in the body for a long time, Ritalin is water-soluble and leaves the body fairly quickly. There are three types of drug screens that may be used to screen for Ritalin, each of which has a different detection window. Unlike other central nervous system stimulants, blood tests are rarely used to detect Ritalin.

Urine Tests

Urine tests (also known as standard 5-panel drug tests) are the most widely used type of drug test because they are easy to administer, accurate, and affordable. Ritalin can be detected in urine for up to three days after the last dose.

Saliva Tests

Saliva tests can also detect Ritalin for up to three days after the last dose.

Hair Tests

Hair follicle tests have an exceptionally long detection window and can detect Ritalin and other drugs for up to 90 days after the last dose.

Blood Tests

Blood tests have a very short detection window, so they are rarely used for Ritalin detection.

What Happens if You Take Too Much Ritalin? Signs of Ritalin Overdose

Taking too much Ritalin will allow dangerous levels of methylphenidate to accumulate in your body, potentially leading to a life-threatening overdose. Symptoms of Ritalin overdose include:[5]

  • Agitation
  • Shaking
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fast, pounding heartbeat
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Muscle twitching
  • Sweating
  • Flushed skin
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness

If you or someone may be experiencing an overdose, you must get medical help by calling 911 immediately. There is no way to get Ritalin out of your system faster–the drug must run its course, but the hospital can provide monitoring, fluids, and symptom-specific medication that can prevent death.

Ritalin Misuse and Addiction

Like other stimulant drugs, some people misuse Ritalin. Ritalin abuse is most common among college students and young adults who take the medication to stay up late, study longer, or mix it with alcohol to enhance the effects.

People who abuse Ritalin or take more than they are prescribed are likely to develop an addiction. Common signs that someone is abusing Ritalin are:

  • Aggressiveness
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dilated pupils
  • Fatigue
  • Hyperactivity
  • Memory problems
  • Lying to loved ones
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Suspiciousness or paranoia

Abusing Ritalin over an extended period of time can result in tolerance and physical dependence. Tolerance occurs when the body becomes less sensitive to the effects of the drug, causing them to increase their dose to experience the desired effects. Dependence is characterized by the body relying on the drug to function normally, resulting in symptoms of withdrawal if the medication is abruptly stopped.

Signs of Ritalin addiction include:

  • Having symptoms of withdrawal when you try to stop taking Ritalin
  • Losing control over how often you take Ritalin
  • Increasing your dose to experience the desired effects
  • Trying to stop but failing to do so successfully on multiple occasions
  • Mixing Ritalin with alcohol or other stimulant drugs to enhance the effects
  • Lying to loved ones about your drug use
  • Experiencing problems at home, school, or work due to your Ritalin misuse

Find Help for Ritalin Abuse and Addiction Today

If you’re concerned about passing a drug test because you can’t stop taking Ritalin, you may be struggling with addiction. Treatment for Ritalin addiction can vary depending on your situation, but it usually involves detox, rehab, and aftercare support.

At Moving Mountains Recovery, our team of dedicated admissions counselors can assess your situation, educate you about your treatment options, and verify your insurance so you can find the help that is right for you. Get started today by giving us a phone call. Our admissions line is available 24 hours a day to help.


  1. Corinne Verghese; Sara Abdijadid (2022), National Library of Medicine: Methylphenidate, Retrieved Jan 2023, from
  2. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA): Drug Scheduling, Retrieved Jan 2023, from
  3. (2017) According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): Results From The 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Detailed Tables, Retrieved Jan 2023 from
  4. H C Kimko, J T Cross, D R Abernethy (1999), National Library of Medicine: Pharmacokinetics and clinical effectiveness of methylphenidate, Retrieved Jan 2023, from
  5. W A Morton, G G Stockton (2000), National Library of Medicine: Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects, Retrieved Jan 2023 from
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