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Updated on August 8, 2022

Ritalin vs Adderall Comparison

What’s the Difference Between Ritalin and Adderall?

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

Both are prescription stimulants that work by increasing levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. These neurotransmitters are important for regulating attention, focus, and energy levels.

The primary difference between the two is their chemical makeup. Ritalin is the brand name of the drug methylphenidate. Adderall is a mix of amphetamine salts. Ritalin is a short-acting medication, while Adderall is a long-acting medication. 

These stimulant medications also have different side effect profiles.

Ritalin vs. Adderall

Ritalin

  • Conditions treated: ADHD, Narcolepsy
  • Common dosages: Dosage for children typically start at 0.3 mgkg/day (or 2.5 mg twice daily  if 4 -5 years old)  and then increased as indicated. This is usually divded into two or three doses throughout the day. Dosage for adults start at 5 mg - 10 mg  twice a day, and then increased as indicated. 
  • Precautions: May be habit-forming, might increase blood pressure, use caution when driving, and may cause thoughts of suicide.

Adderall

  • Conditions treated: ADHD, Narcolepsy
  • Dosages for children: The starting dose for children ages 3 to 5 years old is 2.5 mg daily in the morning then increased as indicated. Typical starting dose for children older than 5 years old is 5 mg daily in the morning, then increaded as indicated.
  • Dosages for adults: The starting dose for adults is typically 5 mg in the morning for ADHD management, and 10 mg in the morning for managemnet of narcolepsy.
  • Precautions: Avoid if pregnant or breastfeeding, may be habit-forming, may increase blood pressure, use caution when driving, may cause thoughts of suicide.

How They Work

Ritalin and Adderall work similarly but have some key differences:

How Ritalin Works

Ritalin is also a CNS stimulant that works by increasing levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. This increase in neurotransmitter levels helps improve focus and concentration and reduces impulsive and hyperactive behaviors. 

Ritalin is thought to work by increasing the activity of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and norepinephrine. This action helps improve focus and attention. Ritalin starts working sooner than Adderall, but Adderall’s effects last longer. 

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How Adderall Works

Adderall is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant medication that is used to treat ADHD symptoms. It works by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in the brain, helping improve focus and concentration.

Adderall is thought to work by increasing the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and norepinephrine. These chemicals are responsible for transmitting signals between nerve cells. They also play a role in regulating attention and focus.

Is Ritalin or Adderall Better for Adults?

Which of these medications is better for treating ADHD in adults varies from person to person. 

Both Ritalin and Adderall can be effective like all medications, and each has its own unique set of benefits and drawbacks. Therefore, you should speak with a doctor or mental health professional to determine which medication is best for you.

Common Side Effects of Ritalin vs. 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

Drug Interactions

Adderall and Ritalin can be safely used by many people with ADHD or narcolepsy, but these drugs aren’t right for everyone. 

Most people shouldn’t take Ritalin if they have: 

  • Glaucoma
  • Tics or Tourette's syndrome
  • Severe anxiety, tension, or agitation
  • Certain heart conditions, such as cardiomyopathy

There are a few things that you should avoid taking with Ritalin. These include:

  • Selegiline (often used for parkinson disease treatment)
  • St. John's wort
  • Tramadol
  • MAO and MAOI inhibitors

Most people shouldn’t take Adderall if they have:

  • Glaucoma
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Anxiety disorders

There are a few things that you should avoid taking with Adderall. These include:

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

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Complications

While both medications can be an effective treatment for 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

Both drugs also carry the risk of drug abuse and addiction.

Cost, Availability, and Insurance

In general, most health insurance plans will cover prescription medications like Ritalin and Adderall. However, there may be some restrictions or limitations on coverage, such as how much of a medication you can get covered or whether you need to try other medications first.

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. 

If your ADHD medication is too expensive, there are a few things you can do 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

Summary

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

Speak to your healthcare provider to learn more about treating ADHD and which option may be the best medication for you.

Call to find out how much your insurance will cover
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Resources

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  1. CDC. “What Is ADHD?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, 23 Sept. 2021.
  2. NIDA Study Shows That Methylphenidate (Ritalin) Causes Neuronal Changes in Brain Reward Areas.” National Institutes of Health (NIH), 28 Aug. 2015.
  3. Harvard Health Publishing. “Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 25 Nov. 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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