ADHD Drug Ritalin Boosted Self-Control in Tests

FRIDAY April 25, 2014, 2014 -- Ritalin, a drug used to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, may help people maintain self-control so they can stick to a diet or a boring project, a new study suggests.

Despite the findings, you shouldn't start using Ritalin to assist your self-control, the study authors cautioned. Ritalin is a powerful psychiatric drug that should only be taken with a prescription.

Previous research suggests that maintaining self-control for long stretches of time can deplete that attribute, said the authors of the U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded study.

"It is as if self-control is a limited resource that 'runs out' if it is used too much," lead researcher Chandra Sripada, of the University of Michigan, said in a journal news release. "If we could figure out the brain mechanisms that cause regulatory depletion, then maybe we could find a way to prevent it."

The researchers decided to see if they could preserve self-control by using Ritalin (methylphenidate). The drug increases levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine.

The study, published April 22 in the journal Psychological Science, included 108 adults. They took either Ritalin or a placebo an hour before they attempted two consecutive computer-based tasks that tested their self-control. The participants who took Ritalin retained higher levels of self-control in the second test than those who took the placebo.

The results indicate that Ritalin can help prevent depletion of self-control, the researchers said. The drug may do this by giving a boost to specific brain circuits that are normally weakened after maintaining self-control for long periods.

"We want to use this research to better understand the brain mechanisms that lead to depletion of self-control, and what interventions -- pharmacological or behavioral -- might prevent this," Sripada said.

More information

The American Psychological Association has more about self-control.

Posted: April 2014


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