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What is Modafinil? (+ Its Uses)

Modafinil belongs to a class of medications that promote wakefulness. It is sold under the brand name Provigil. The drug is used to treat sleep disturbances such as: 

  1. Excessive sleepiness (being unusually tired throughout the day, despite how much sleep you get) 
  2. Obstructive sleep apnea (a condition in which the airway is intermittently blocked during sleep)
  3. Shift work sleep disorder (a sleep disorder in which the normal sleep rhythm has been disturbed, usually due to working night shifts).

Modafinil is a schedule IV controlled substance. According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration, Schedule IV controlled substances have a low risk of dependence and misuse. Other examples of such drugs include Valium and Xanax.3

Provigil works by altering the amount of chemicals in the area of the brain that controls sleep and wakefulness. 

The drug is also used to treat narcolepsy.Narcolepsy is a chronic condition that affects the brain and spinal cord and is characterized by an uncontrollable, chronic desire to sleep.

What is Adderall? (+ Its Uses)

Adderall (or Adderall XR) is the brand name for a combination of two central nervous system (CNS) stimulants: amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It is a stimulant and a prescription drug commonly used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

modafinil vs adderall

Adderall is a schedule II controlled substance. This means that, unlike Modafinil, which is a schedule IV controlled substance, Adderall has a high potential for dependence and misuse. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Adderall for the treatment of ADHD in 1996.

Just like modafinil, Adderall works by altering certain naturally occurring brain chemicals by enhancing the effects of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. This combination tablet is classified under drugs known as prescription stimulants.

This drug has been designed to improve impulsiveness, hyperactivity, and attention span. A stimulant drug like Adderall can improve ADHD symptoms in 70 percent of adults and 70 to 80 percent of children.1

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What’s the Difference Between Modafinil and Adderall?

Modafinil and Adderall are both stimulant drugs because they can affect the CNS. However, they differ in many ways.

The most significant difference between these two drugs is their structure, which translates to considerable differences in their potential for addiction and side effects.

Modafinil is a schedule IV controlled substance, while Adderall is a schedule II controlled substance. For this reason, Modafinil is usually not classified as a stimulant but as a wakefulness promoting agent.

Modafinil is typically used to treat sleep disorders and has also been used off-label to treat multiple sclerosis (MS) and Parkinson's disease symptoms. 

Unlike Adderall, Modafinil is not approved for treating ADHD, even though some studies have suggested that it helps treat impulsivity symptoms in ADHD patients.8

Modafinil vs. Adderall: Strength & Side Effects

Modafinil is a psychostimulant that promotes wakefulness, while Adderall is a central nervous stimulant. 

Both medications can be used for treating excessive sleepiness and narcolepsy.5 However, Modafinil is more commonly used for treating narcolepsy and sleep disorder, while Adderall is commonly used for treating ADHD.

Because these prescription drugs can enhance cognitive function, decision-making capacities, and wakefulness, they are sometimes referred to as “smart drugs.”

However, despite their strengths, both Modafinil and Adderall are known to cause some serious side effects. They share similar side effects such as increased heart and blood pressure, loss of appetite, dizziness, and insomnia.

Other common side effects of Modafinil include:

  • Chest pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness 
  • Dry mouth
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Constipation
  • Headache

Other common side effects of Adderall include:

  • Vomiting 
  • Blurred vision
  • Weight and hair loss
  • Fever 
  • Stomach upset
  • Diarrhea 
  • Fever
  • Heart attack 
  • Stroke

Modafinil vs. Adderall: Addiction Potential

Both Adderall and Modafinil have an addiction and misuse potential. However, Adderall is more commonly misused because of its narcotic status. Because it is highly addictive, Adderall should not be taken without medical consent. Some chronic users may be unable to function properly without using this prescription medication.

On the other hand, Modafinil is more tolerated and has less potential for misuse and addiction than Adderall.

Because Modafinil is a milder stimulant than Adderall, it permits usage in more varied situations for addressing lethargy and sleeping disorders such as obstructive sleep apnea. It has less potential for inducing irritability, anxiety, and agitation.  

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Modafinil vs. Adderall: Withdrawal Symptoms & Overdose Risks

Adderall has a higher chance of causing dependence and producing withdrawal symptoms if drug administration is stopped abruptly. This means Adderall shows more significant withdrawal effects compared to Modafinil.

A study found that narcolepsy patients showed no amphetamine-like withdrawal symptoms such as agitation, insomnia, and vivid dreams.6 However, Modafinil users might report withdrawal symptoms such as lack of motivation and reduced energy when drug use is stopped.

Adderall withdrawal may cause a crash (a feeling of sluggishness). Stopping Adderall use can also cause withdrawal symptoms such as depression, intense hunger, panic attacks, irritability, sleep disturbances (e.g., trouble sleeping), fatigue, and suicidal thoughts.

Both drugs also have overdose risks. When taken more than the prescribed dosage, Modafinil can cause sleep disturbance at night, while Adderall overdose can cause damage to the sinuses, nasal linings, and lungs.

Can You Take Modafinil and Adderall Together?

A slight drug interaction exists between Modafinil and Adderall. While Adderall is a much milder stimulant than Adderall, taking the two together might be risky

Combining two drugs that act like stimulants may increase the risk of over-stimulation and cause an increase in the side effects of both drugs.

An article on ModaPharma says people should "think twice before combining Modafinil and Adderall."7 

However, your doctor may prescribe taking the two for treating conditions like ADHD. If you must take Modafinil and Adderall together, it has to be prescribed and taken with the guidance of an expert physician or psychiatrist.

Dangers of Mixing Modafinil and Adderall 

Some people mix Modafinil and Adderall because they believe that taking both drugs simultaneously will double the benefits gained from the substance and improve the ability to perform on a high level. This is mostly not the case as taking Modafinil and Adderall together might cause serious risks.

Mixing these two drugs can increase the side effects of both drugs, which include:

  • Anxiety 
  • Nausea
  • Headache 
  • Nervousness
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Dry mouth
  • Tachycardia (an abnormally rapid heart rate, such as one above 100 beats per minute)
  • Palpitations 
  • Increased blood pressure 
  • Dizziness

Treatment Options for Modafinil and Adderall Misuse

Using more than one stimulant substance at a time is known as polydrug use. It can lead to combined drug intoxication (CDI), which occurs when a person takes more than one drug at a time. 

Because drugs like Adderall are schedule II substances, they have a high risk of dependency and misuse. Just like other medical conditions, drug dependence and misuse require medical attention. The sooner you seek help, the better.

Addiction treatment options for Modafinil and Adderall include:

  • Medical detox: The first step to treating any substance misuse is talking to a doctor. Medical detox typically involves gradually lowering drug dosage and frequency of use to give the body time to adjust to the absence of the drug. It also involves the use of medications (medication-assisted therapy) to treat addiction.
  • Inpatient and outpatient treatment: Inpatient treatment for drug misuse entails full patient admission into a designated inpatient facility for close monitoring until recovery. This is mostly for patients with severe addiction, while outpatient treatment is typically for patients with less severe addiction. Inpatient rehab is also better for patients who are already on the path to recovery and are required to attend scheduled treatment appointments with the doctor from their respective homes.
  • Other rehabilitation programs: There are other various rehabilitation programs for people suffering from drug misuse. Some programs involve personal therapy sessions with a therapist (like CBT) and support groups to help with addiction recovery journeys.

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Resources

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"Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Stimulant Therapy." Cleveland Clinic, 23 February 2016. Bourgeois, Florence, et al. “Premarket Safety and Efficacy Studies for ADHD Medications in Children.Plos One, Vol 9,7, (2014), DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0102249. “Drug Scheduling.” The United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Modafinil.”MedlinePlus, 15 February 2016. Morgenthaler, Timothy et al. "Practise Parameters for the Treatment of Narcolepsy and Other Hypersomnias of Central Origin." Sleep, Vol. 30,12 (2007): 1705-11. doi: 10.1093/sleep/30.12.1705. Raman, Krishnan, and Krishnan, Chary. “A Rare Case Modafinil Dependence.” Journal of Pharmacology and Pharmacotherapy, Vol. 6,1 (2015): 49-50. doi: 10.4103/0976-500X.149149. Taylor Adam. "Modafinil Combinations - Full Guide 2016." ModaPharma, 9 July 2016.

Turner, Danielle C et al. "Cognitive Enhancing Effects of Modafinil in Healthy Volunteers." Psychopharmacology Vol. 165,3 (2003): 260-9. doi: 10.1007/s00213-002-1250-8.

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