Updated on November 23, 2023
5 min read

Ritalin Vs. Adderall Comparison

Key Takeaways

What is Ritalin & Adderall?

Ritalin (methylphenidate hydrochloride) and Adderall (Dextroamphetamine-amphetamine) are stimulants commonly prescribed to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They can also help treat narcolepsy. 

Both are prescription stimulants that enhance the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that regulate:

  • Attention
  • Concentration
  • Focus
  • Energy levels

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Ritalin Vs. Adderall: What's the Difference?

The primary difference between the two stimulants is their chemical makeup. The main ingredient of Ritalin is methylphenidate; meanwhile, Adderall is a blend of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.

Another difference is how long they last. Although both Adderall and Ritalin have short and long-acting forms, Adderall's effects tend to last longer.

Adderall typically works for four to six hours, while Ritalin stays active for two to three hours. Depending on the dosage, Ritalin can also affect you much faster than Adderall. Furthermore, both medications have different side effect profiles.

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How Do Ritalin and Adderall Work?

Both Ritalin and Adderall are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that increase the level of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. These neurotransmitters transmit signals between nerve cells and manage attention and focus.

After taking either Adderall or Ritalin, you'll experience:

  • Reduced impulsiveness
  • Decreased hyperactive behaviors
  • Improved concentration
  • Improved focus
  • Improved attention

Ritalin Vs. Adderal: Which is Better for Adults?

Whether Ritalin or Adderall is better for you depends on your condition and response to the medication. Both of these stimulant medications are effective at treating ADHD or narcolepsy. They also have unique sets of benefits and drawbacks.

Before taking Ritalin or Adderall, consider talking to a healthcare professional first. They can assist you in making an informed decision between these two drugs and determine which one is better for you.

Common Side Effects of Ritalin & Adderall

Ritalin side effects include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Anxiety
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight loss

Adderall side effects include:

  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia 
  • Weight loss
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Aggression or hostility
  • Anxiety or paranoia
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Increased blood pressure

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Are Ritalin and Adderall Addictive?

Although both Ritalin and Adderall have beneficial effects, they both carry the risk of drug abuse and addiction. Because of this, both substances are classified as Schedule II controlled substances.

This means both Adderall and Ritalin have a high potential for addiction and dependence. Contact a healthcare professional if you or someone you know has gotten addicted to either of these stimulants.

Ritalin and Adderall Dosages

It's important to understand that your dosage can be increased as indicated by your doctor. Be sure to follow your doctor's prescription to avoid harmful side effects and drug abuse.

The dosage for Ritalin typically starts at 0.3 mg kg/day or 2.5 mg twice a day for 4 to 5-year-old children. The dose is usually divided into two or three doses throughout the day. On the other hand, the dosage for adults starts at 5 mg up to 10 mg twice a day.

Meanwhile, the starting dose of Adderall for children ages 3 to 5 is 2.5 mg daily in the morning. The dose for 5 years old is 5 mg daily in the morning. The starting dose for adults is typically 5 mg in the morning for AHDH and 10 mg in the morning for narcolepsy.

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Who is At Risk When Taking Ritalin or Adderall?

Generally, Ritalin and Adderall can have adverse effects depending on your condition and overall health. It can increase the risk of adverse effects or worsen already existing symptoms.

You should consider avoiding Ritalin and Adderal if you have the following conditions:

  • Substance use disorders (SUDs)
  • Suicidal thoughts or ideation
  • Pregnant or breastfeeding
  • Heart conditions such as cardiomyopathy
  • Heat disease
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Glaucoma
  • Tics or Tourette's syndrome
  • Severe anxiety, tension, or agitation.

These stimulant medications can also affect motor control and function. Because of this, it's important to avoid doing certain activities like driving or operating heavy machinery.

Complications & Precautions

While both medications can effectively treat ADHD, there are potential complications to consider. 

Some common complications associated with Ritalin include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Headache
  • Dry mouth

Some common issues reported with Adderall use include:

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Sleep problems
  • Increased blood pressure and heart rate
  • Anxiety or agitation

More serious complications of Adderall include:

  • Psychotic episodes characterized by hallucinations and delusions
  • Cardiac problems like irregular heartbeat or heart attack
  • Seizures

Ritalin and Adderall Drug Interactions

Like other drugs, both Adderall and Ritalin can interact with other medications and substances. Combining these stimulants with other medications can increase the risk of side effects and even addiction.

Substances that can interact with Ritalin include:

  • Selegiline (often used for Parkinson's disease treatment)
  • St. John's wort
  • Tramadol
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)

Substances that can interact with Adderall include:

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Other stimulants such as amphetamines, methamphetamine, and cocaine
  • MAO inhibitors 
  • Antidepressants 
  • Anti-anxiety medications 
  • Sleep medications 

Cost, Availability, and Insurance

Most health insurance plans will cover prescription stimulant medication, these include Ritalin and Adderall. To find out exactly what your health insurance plan covers, the best thing to do is contact your insurer directly and ask about coverage for stimulant ADHD medications. 

However, there may be some restrictions or limitations on coverage, such as how much of it you can get covered or whether you need to try the medication first. If your ADHD medication is too expensive, you can do a few things to lower the cost.

For example:

  • See if your insurance will cover any of the costs
  • Search for programs that offer assistance with paying for medication, such as the patient assistance programs offered by many pharmaceutical companies
  • Buy generic versions of these prescription drugs


Adderall and Ritalin are drugs commonly used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Both may be safe and effective for most adults and children when taken as prescribed.

Although these stimulants have many similarities, they are different. They have a different chemical makeup as well as onset and offset times.

Speak to your healthcare provider to learn more about treating ADHD and which option may be the best medication for you. Both drugs have unique benefits and side effects, so it's important to contact a doctor before taking either Ritalin or Adderall.

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Updated on November 23, 2023
6 sources cited
Updated on November 23, 2023
  1. CDC. “What Is ADHD?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, 2021.

  2. NIDA Study Shows That Methylphenidate (Ritalin) Causes Neuronal Changes in Brain Reward Areas.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 2015.

  3. Harvard Health Publishing. “Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 2018.

  4. Cardiovascular Effects of Adderall in Healthy Young Adults.” Mayo Clinic, 2019.

  5. Mayo Clinic. “Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - Diagnosis and Treatment - Mayo Clinic.” Mayoclinic.org, 2017.

  6. Understanding ADHD: The Basics of ADHD.” Health.ucdavis.edu.

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