Using ADHD Drugs To Improve Self-Control? Ritalin May Keep You From Giving Up That Diet

A drug primarily used to treat ADHD has been shown to have self-control boosting properties in a new study. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

We all know Ritalin as the drug used to improve the focus of people suffering from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Now, new research says that Ritalin can also be used to boost self-control when it comes to dieting or working on a project.

The study, completed at the University of Michigan’s Department of Psychology, analyzed 108 participants who took a drug capsule an hour before the test. Half received Ritalin, or methylphenidate, which is used to increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. The others received a placebo. After two computer tasks that tested participants’ abilities to process competing information and exert self-control (or regulatory control) in order to succeed, researchers found that those who had taken methylphenidate performed better on the second task, even though they had “depleted” some of their self-control reserves in the earlier task.

The authors state that our ability to exert self-control lessens over time, “as if self-control is a limited resource that ‘runs out’ if it is used too much,” Chandra Sripada, one of the authors of the study, said in a press release. “If we could figure out the brain mechanisms that cause regulatory depletion, then maybe we could find a way to prevent it.” The study found that this depletion of self-control could possibly be mitigated through the use of Ritalin.

“These results indicate that depletion of self-control due to prior effort can be fully blocked pharmacologically,” Sripada said in the press release. “The task we give people to deplete their self-control is pretty cognitively demanding, so we were surprised at how effective methylphenidate was in blocking depletion of self-control.”

Before you go out and try to find some Ritalin, the authors warn that the study was completed only to better understand “the brain mechanisms that lead to depletion of self-control, and what interventions — pharmacological or behavioral — might prevent this,” Sripada said in the press release. So don’t go and try to take methylphenidate with the hopes of boosting your own self-control. Start by taking the non-drug route, like discovering small, pleasurable things in doing chores to become more productive, instead.

Source: Sripada C, Kessler D, Jonides J. “Methylphenidate Blocks Effort-Induced Depletion of Regulatory Control in Healthy Volunteers.” Psychological Science, 2014.