Dec 23, 2021

Ritalin vs. Adderall

When it comes to treating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Ritalin and Adderall are two well-known prescription stimulant medications.  

Stimulants work by blocking the reuptake of specific neurotransmitters in the brain, increasing norepinephrine and dopamine activity to help improve focus and alertness. These drugs are also prescribed to improve wakefulness in people with narcolepsy.

Although Ritalin and Adderall can treat the same medical conditions, they do have many differences. We put together this guide to help you identify those differences and find a treatment that may work for you. 

What is Ritalin?

Ritalin (Methylphenidate) is a medication that affects chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control.

Side Effects of Ritalin

Common side effects of Ritalin include:

  • nervousness

  • trouble sleeping

  • loss of appetite

  • weight loss

  • dizziness

  • nausea/vomiting

  • headache

  • increased blood pressure 

Serious side effects that require immediate medical attention include:

  • allergic reaction- hives; difficulty breathing; swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat

  • chest pain/trouble breathing

  • hallucinations/aggression/paranoia

  • numbness/cold feeling in limbs

  • changes in skin color on fingers or toes

  • unexplained wounds

  • penis erection that is painful or lasts 4 hours or longer

What is Adderall?

Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Both are central nervous system stimulants that change the number of chemicals in the brain and nerves that contribute to hyperactivity and impulse control.

Side effects of Adderall

Common side effects of Adderall include:

  • loss of appetite

  • weight loss

  • dry mouth

  • stomach upset/pain

  • nausea/vomiting

  • dizziness

  • headache

  • diarrhea

  • fever

  • nervousness

  • trouble sleeping

Severe side effects that require immediate medical attention include:

  • allergic reactions

  • depression

  • eyesight changes or blurred vision

  • heart attack

  • impotence

  • increased blood pressure

  • psychotic episodes

  • seizures

  • slowing of growth or height in children

  • stroke

  • sudden death due to existing heart problems

  • trouble operating vehicles or machinery

What are the differences between Ritalin and Adderall?

The significant difference between the two medications is their main ingredients; Ritalin contains methylphenidate hydrochloride, and Adderall contains a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.

Does Ritalin or Adderall work faster?

Ritalin starts working faster than Adderall because it's a short-acting drug that reaches peak levels in the body more quickly. Ritalin can reach peak levels within 1 hour, whereas Adderall reaches peak levels around 3 hours after taking. 

However, Adderall generally stays in the body longer than Ritalin. The average half-life is 9 to 13 hours for Adderall and 3 to 4 hours for Ritalin. 

Is Ritalin or Adderall stronger?

Adderall is available in these formulations:

  • immediate-release (5, 7.5, 10, 20, and 30 mg doses) 

  • extended-release (XR) (5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, and 36 mg doses)

Ritalin is available in three formulations: 

  • immediate-release (5, 10, 20 mg doses)

  • sustained-release (SR) (20 mg dose)

  • extended-release (LA) (10, 20, 30, 40, 60 mg doses) 

Regardless of which medication, doctors usually start patients on the lowest dose and gradually increase until the proper dosage for symptom relief is found. 

Those taking Adderall immediate-release take one dose first thing in the morning and the other 4-6 hours later. With Ritalin's immediate release, patients take one dose in the morning and another at lunch. 

Adderall XR is approved for one dose per day. However, if you require more than 8-10 hours of symptom relief, your doctor may prescribe more. Ritalin's extended release lasts 6-8 hours and is usually taken once in the morning. 

Depending on individual needs, a doctor will prescribe Ritalin's sustained release to take once or twice daily.

Is Ritalin or Adderall more effective?

Both Ritalin and Adderall can be effective in treating ADHD and narcolepsy. However, one medication may work better depending on how your body responds to the drug. It also may depend on if you use immediate-release or extended-release formulations. 

Several studies have shown that methylphenidate is more effective as a first-line medication in children and young adults with ADHD. However, Adderall XR is the preferred treatment option for many adults with ADHD

Costs of Ritalin and Adderall

Ritalin and Adderall are brand-name drugs. They have generic drug options available that tend to cost less than the brand name. 

The cost is about the same for either prescription. However, the amount you pay will depend on your health insurance.

It's important to note that some plans will only cover generic versions, so be sure to check what your plan covers.

Which ADHD drug is right for me?

Treatment for ADHD is individualized based on a variety of factors including your symptoms, current medications you may be taking, and your medical history. Your doctor can go over your treatment options to meet your needs. Often, ADHD treatment is a combination of behavioral therapy and medication.

At CareCard, we are passionate about helping make your prescription payments more affordable, saving members up to 85% on prescription drugs and medications. Learn how CareCard can help make your medication payments more manageable.

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