The Difference Between Adderall and Vyvanse
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The Difference Between Adderall and Vyvanse

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

Medically reviewed by

Isaac Alexis, M.D., AAMA, AMP-BC

January 17, 2019

Adderall and Vyvanse are stimulants used in the treatment of ADHD. Both of these drugs are highly addictive and could lead to serious health-effects if taken other than directed by a physician.

Adderall and Vyvanse are both highly addictive ADHD stimulant medications. Stimulants heighten the activity of our central nervous system (CNS), leading to increased brain activity. Adderall is a combination of two stimulants, dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, whereas Vyvanse contains only one, lisdexamfetamine. When abused, both medications can lead to serious side effects, including addiction, overdose, cardiovascular failure, seizure, coma, and death.

As stimulants, each drug creates similar psychological and mental reactions within a person, which heighten in situations of abuse. Despite the similarities, there are differences between these drugs. Any time a drug is misused or abused, it’s particularly important to understand the exact specifications and risks of the drug. This knowledge helps to facilitate proper preventative measures and effective treatment.

What Is A Stimulant?

Stimulant drugs, or psychostimulants, speed up your CNS. Specifically, these substances boost the levels of activity within our brains. These changes cause various physical and mental processes to quicken, leading to increased:

  • Alertness
  • Attention
  • Blood pressure
  • Breathing rates
  • Energy
  • Heart rate

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A word of warning: CNS stimulation heightens from abuse. This leads to a more rapid heart rate, raised blood pressure, and increased breathing rates. It’s because of these effects that stimulant abuse can become quite dangerous and even deadly.

Why Are ADHD Stimulants Abused?

Stimulants increase the levels of critical chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) within the brain. Within their active states, Adderall’s and Vyvanse’s mechanisms of action are essentially the same, as explained by Mental Health Daily. They function “by increasing levels and inhibiting reuptake of stimulatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine.” Individuals with ADHD are thought to suffer from a deficit of these chemicals.

When medications are used to balance these levels, an individual with ADHD actually feels more attentive, calm, and focused. On the other hand, illicit users (most of whom are not deficient in this way) seek to initiate an overproduction of dopamine. In excess, this neurotransmitter creates intense feelings of pleasure and well-being.

As a result of this surplus, recreational stimulant abusers experience a near opposite effect, including:

  • Extreme wakefulness
  • Euphoria
  • Excessive energy
  • Hyperfocus
  • Talkativeness

For these reasons, students and professionals alike abuse ADHD stimulant medications to increase their productivity and performance. Others choose to abuse them for weight loss.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a mixed amphetamine salt medication, which means it’s a combination of two drugs: dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. In addition to being prescribed to manage symptoms of ADHD, it’s also approved as a treatment for narcolepsy. It may also be used off-label for weight loss. Off-label use means that the prescribed purpose hasn’t been approved by the FDA.

This drug is available in five to 30 mg doses, as either a:

  • Short-acting form or immediate-release tablet (referred to only as Adderall, or sometimes as Adderall IR)
  • Long-acting form or extended-release capsule (Adderall XR)

The former works quicker, but for a shorter duration, lasting only four to six hours. Because of this, many individuals have to take multiple doses per day for adequate treatment coverage. The latter version peaks more gradually, as the medication is released more slowly. A single dose of Adderall XR contains beads of both the immediate- and extended-release versions of the drug. This creates a prolonged effect which is essentially like two daily doses. One dose lasts roughly 12 hours.

What Is Vyvanse?

Vyvanse contains the stimulant medication lisdexamfetamine. In addition to ADHD, Vyvanse is approved as a treatment for binge-eating disorder. Despite this, MedlinePlus cautions that the drug “should not be used for weight loss in people who are obese or who are overweight.”

Vyvanse comes in two forms as well:

  • Capsule (ten to 70 mg)
  • Chewable tablet (ten to 60 mg)

Both forms are long-acting, allowing for the medication to work upwards of ten to 14 hours.

How Are These Drugs Different?

Adderall and Vyvanse are both manufactured by the same company, Shire Pharmaceuticals. These drugs share the majority of characteristics which are hallmark to ADHD stimulant medications. Despite this, there are still notable differences between the two, such as:

Cost: While Adderall is currently offered in several generic forms, Vyvanse is not. This will likely cause Vyvanse to be more expensive.

How They Work

The major difference between these drugs is the state by which they enter your body. Adderall’s components are in their active form. This means that the drug is already in the correct chemical makeup that your body needs to use. Because of this, it can begin to work immediately.

Contrasting this, lisdexamfetamine is “the first chemically formulated prodrug stimulant.” Unlike Adderall, Vyvanse has to be changed within your body before it can work. This is because it enters your body in an inactive state and will not become active until your body metabolizes it.

What is interesting, is that lisdexamfetamine is actually converted into an active form of d-amphetamine (a component of Adderall) within your body. This features allows for Vyvanse’s release and effects to be felt more smoothly. It was also designed this way to reduce the potential for misuse.

Abuse Potential

A Mental Health Clinician (MHC) study compares the abuse potential of these two drugs. It details that “drug “liking” and euphoria may be associated with a faster rate of absorption and delivery to the brain.”

To put this in perspective, unlike Adderall XR, Vyvanse “capsules do not contain free or active dextroamphetamine.” These components are responsible for creating a more immediate and intense euphoric effect. It’s this difference which leads experts to believe that Adderall XR has a greater abuse liability.

Preliminary research cited within this study supports this theory. Adderall XR produced more overall reports of drug-liking than Vyvanse did. More research is needed on the subject, however. Even though Adderall works more quickly and intensely, both drugs are classified by the DEA as Schedule II. This means they “have a high potential for abuse which may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Because of these dangers, each carries the FDA’s most serious label “black box warning,” advising of these risks.

Means Of Abuse

Within situations of abuse, Adderall and Vyvanse are taken in a higher dose or frequency than which is typically prescribed for therapeutic use. To do so, a person may consume the drug orally or crush it prior to snorting or injecting the drug. Snorting and injecting Vyvanse does not yield as effective a high, due to the drug’s inactive state. For this reason, recreational abusers are more apt to swallow higher doses of the capsule.


In addition to the above, certain side effects vary. Adderall may induce a restless or nervous state, whereas Vyvanse may cause a jittery feeling. Adderall can also create sexual dysfunction. Overdose symptoms are for the most part similar, however, an Adderall overdose can also lead to blurred version or urine which appears dark and red or cola-colored. Adderall’s black box warning also outlines the possible risk of “sudden death and serious cardiovascular adverse events.”

Keep in mind, side effects and dangers significantly increase within patterns of abuse and addiction.

Slow Down And Get Help Today

Misusing prescription drugs (even your own) is still considered abuse. These behaviors can lead to addiction, overdose, and death. Severe addiction may require inpatient treatment. Do you need support in overcoming an addiction to Adderall or Vyvanse? If so, can help you to find the best resources and treatment options. Contact us today.

MedlinePlus - Dextroamphetamine and Amphetamine

US National Library of Medicine - Label: ADDERALL XR- dextroamphetamine sulfate, dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine sulfate and amphetamine aspartate capsule, extended release

US National Library of Medicine - Label: VYVANSE- lisdexamfetamine dimesylate capsule, VYVANSE- lisdexamfetamine dimesylate tablet, chewable

US National Library of Medicine - Lisdexamfetamine Dimesylate (Vyvanse), A Prodrug Stimulant for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

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