How Long Ritalin Can Stay in Your System

And Why It Matters

Woman Taking Pill Bottle Out of Cabinet
Ritalin Can Be Habit-Forming. Getty Images

Ritalin (methylphenidate) is a medication that's most often used as part of a treatment plan for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It works by stimulating the central nervous system, keeping the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain longer. Ritalin also is sometimes to used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder that causes excessive daytime sleepiness and sudden bouts of sleep.

If you take Ritalin for any reason, knowing how long the medication can stay active in your body may be helpful in preventing an accidental overdose of the stimulant, which can have serious consequences. An overdose of Ritalin can cause a host of unpleasant problems, including:

Any of these of symptoms are a sign to get medical help by calling 911 or heading to the nearest hospital emergency room.

Ritalin Abuse

Ritalin also is a medication that teenagers and young adults sometimes use in order to get high. If they don't have a prescription, they may ask other people for Ritalin pills, crush or snort it, or even steal or lie in order to get the drug, according to the American Addiction Centers. Parents who are worried a kid is abusing Ritalin may want to look out for these signs:

  • Little appetite
  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Dehydration
  • Suspiciousness
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks

What's more, Ritalin can be habit-forming. After a period of time, anyone taking Ritalin can develop a tolerance for the drug, making it less effective than when she first started taking it. As a result, she may be tempted to take larger dosages to achieve the same effect that she once got, but to do so can increase her risk of becoming addicted.

Drug Tests For Ritalin

There are many variables that can play a role in how long Ritalin, or any drug, for that matter, continue to be active in the body after it's taken. An obvious one is that every body is different. The rate at which medications and other substances are used up in the body depends on things like a person's personal rate of metabolism, age, weight, and percentage of body fat. How physically active she is, or even how hydrated, also can impact how long it takes a medication to clear. Some health conditions can play a role in the rate at which drugs are metabolized by the body.

The type of drug test used to detect Ritalin is also a consideration. Here are an estimated range of times, or detection windows, during which Ritalin can be detected by various methods:

  • Urine test: one to two days
  • Blood test: up to one day
  • Saliva test: one to two days
  • Hair follicle test: up to 90 days


American Addiction Centers. "Signs of Ritalin Addiction, Use, and Abuse."

American Association for Clinical Chemistry. "Drugs of Abuse Testing." Lab Tests Online. Jan 2013.

LabCorp, Inc. "Drugs of Abuse Reference Guide." March 2013.

OHS Health & Safety Services. " How Long Do Drugs Stay in Your System?'  March 2013.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. "Methylphenidate." Drugs, Herbs, and Supplements. October 2015