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Adderall Vs. Ritalin: What Is The Difference?

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Richard Foster, LICDC-CS

March 28, 2019

Adderall and Ritalin are two drugs used in the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy. While very similar, these drugs have many differences. A formal treatment program may be needed to overcome stimulant addiction.

Adderall and Ritalin, or amphetamine/dextroamphetamine and methylphenidate, are both central nervous stimulants. These drugs are used in the treatment of attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

When taken for ADHD, these substances work by helping people experience heightened attention and focus. They can also reduce hyperactivity. Many people with ADHD say that they feel calmer on these medications, which allows them to be more productive.

Both medications work in a similar manner and have similar effects on the brain. They also share a number of potential side effects.

How Do They Work?

Adderall and Ritalin are both prescription stimulants used to treat ADHD and sleep disorders. They can help relieve symptoms such as disorganization, inability to focus, and inattention as well as excess sleepiness.

As central nervous stimulants, these drugs affect a number of body systems and the brain. Both drugs increase the levels of dopamine in the brain, and Adderall is believed to increase the production of serotonin and norepinephrine.

Adderall is available in immediate release and extended release formulas. Immediate release Adderall will typically produce effects for four to six hours. The extended-release version can last up to 11 hours after taking it.

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Similar to Adderall, Ritalin is available in both instant release and extended release formulas. Extended-release methylphenidate is marketed as Concerta and can produce effects for six to eight hours. Instant release Ritalin will work for two to four hours. Many people will take a second dose of instant release Ritalin in the afternoon.

When taken as prescribed, these drugs can lower fatigue, increase attention and focus, and promote feelings of euphoria. However, when taken in much larger doses, they can cause cognitive impairment and other negative side effects.

Cost And Insurance

Adderall and Ritalin tend to cost around the same amount. How much you pay will largely depend on your health insurance. Some health insurance programs only cover generic versions of these substances, whereas others will cover the brand name.

Most pharmacies carry both Adderall and Ritalin. Occasionally, these substances may be in shortage and require the pharmacy to place an order for the prescription. If you are concerned about availability, you can call ahead to your pharmacy.

Ritalin Vs Adderall — How Are They Different?

The primary difference between Adderall and Ritalin is what they are made of. Adderall is composed of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, whereas Ritalin is made up of methylphenidate.

Ritalin tends to work faster than Adderall. This is because it reaches the brain more quickly, allowing it to hit “peak performance” faster.

While Ritalin works faster than Adderall, it also works for a shorter amount of time. Whereas Adderall may work for four to six hours, Ritalin tends to wear off in as little as two to three hours after taking it. Ritalin also leaves the body faster than Adderall.

Additionally, patients have reported that the effects of Ritalin are milder compared to Adderall. This often makes the drug more preferable for children diagnosed with ADHD.

Adderall Vs Ritalin — How Are They Similar?

Both Adderall and Ritalin are central nervous stimulants used to treat ADHD and sleep disorders like narcolepsy. As central nervous stimulants, they tend to produce similar effects in the body. These effects include increased energy, focus, and alertness.

Both drugs are effective in the treatment of ADHD. Most people will see an improvement in ADHD symptoms when taking these medications.

Ritalin and Adderall also have similar side effects. Common side effects of these drugs may include:

  • suppressed appetite
  • trouble sleeping
  • dry mouth
  • increased anxiety
  • increased heart rate and/or blood pressure
  • headache
  • irritability
  • dizziness
  • upset stomach
  • tics
  • mood swings
  • diarrhea
  • skin rash

Both drugs also come with a warning for additional side effects. These are more severe and may include heart problems, vision problems, seizures, and circulation issues.

Adderall and Ritalin are both classified as Schedule II controlled substances. This means that abuse, dependence, and addiction are possible when taking these drugs.

Are Adderall And Ritalin Addictive?

As with other stimulants such as cocaine, Adderall and Ritalin have a high potential for abuse and addiction. This is especially true when these drugs are taken in higher quantities than what is prescribed.

Why Do People Abuse Adderall And Ritalin?

Adderall and Ritalin may be abused for a number of reasons. College students often use these medications as “study drugs” to allow them to cram for a test or write a paper last minute.

These drugs are also used in the party scene, as they allow people to stay awake longer. Stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin can also decrease feelings of alcohol intoxication. This allows people to drink more for a longer period of time.

Additionally, because these stimulants decrease appetite, they may be used as weight loss drugs. Someone on these drugs can go for extended periods of time without eating, often resulting in decreased weight over time.

People also abuse Adderall and Ritalin for the high it produces. Because both drugs increase dopamine in the brain, they can produce intense feelings of euphoria and overall well being.

Tolerance And Dependence

The more of these drugs that a person takes, the more likely he or she is to become dependent on the drugs. This is because both Adderall and Ritalin can result in a tolerance to be built up. This is especially true when these substances are taken in large quantities.

When a tolerance is built up to a drug, more is needed to get the same effect. Taking more of Adderall or Ritalin can lead to a physical and mental dependence on the substance. Dependence is when someone needs a drug to feel normal.

In short, when taken as prescribed, Adderall and Ritalin are safe and typically don’t result in addiction. However, when taken in larger quantities and more often than what is prescribed, these drugs can be incredibly addictive.

Getting Help For An Adderall Or Ritalin Addiction

If you or a loved one is struggling with an Adderall or Ritalin addiction, a formal treatment program may be recommended. Inpatient treatment programs are often the most effective courses of action for stimulant addiction. They provide intensive, personalized programs of recovery and promote long-term sobriety.

To learn more about the differences between Adderall and Ritalin or to explore treatment options for stimulant addiction, contact our treatment specialists today.

U.S. National Library of Medicine - Amphetamine

American College Health Association - Stimulant Misuse: Strategies to Manage a Growing Problem

ADDitude - What Does Adderall Do for ADHD Symptoms? ADD Medication Overview

BMJ - Methylphenidate works by increasing dopamine levels

Neuropsychiatry Disease and Treatment - Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome

Neuropsychiatry Disease and Treatment - Attention-deficit-hyperactivity disorder and reward deficiency syndrome

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