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The Benefits of Ritalin vs. Adderall

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder usually diagnosed during childhood but can last into adulthood. People with ADHD can be overactive, have persistent trouble paying attention, and experience problems controlling impulsive behaviors. While ADHD cannot be cured, it can be managed using pharmacological and non-pharmacological interventions. Also, keep in mind that the symptoms of ADHD may improve as a child grows older. 

In most people, ADHD is best treated with a combination of behavioral therapy and medications. Two of the most common medications used to treat ADHD in children and adults are Ritalin and Adderall. Both these medications are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that work to control behaviors and impulses that can result in underperformance at school, work, difficulties maintaining relationships, and low-self esteem. Adderall and Ritalin are both FDA-approved to treat ADHD, but they are not the same medicine. 

Please continue reading to learn about the key differences between Adderall vs. Ritalin and which one might be the best treatment option for you or your child.

What are Ritalin and Adderall?

Adderall and Ritalin are two of the most common stimulant medications to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. These medications work by blocking the reuptake of certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) by the neurons (brain cells). Essentially, Adderall and Ritalin increase the availability of the neurotransmitters called norepinephrine and dopamine in the central nervous system. Norepinephrine is found to play a crucial role in a person’s ability to concentrate, while dopamine is responsible for emotions and movement control. Therefore, by boosting the level of these brain chemicals, Adderall and Ritalin alleviate ADHD symptoms by improving alertness and one’s ability to focus while lessening impulsive behavior.

Stimulant medicines like Ritalin and Adderall are also used to increase wakefulness in people with narcolepsy (a condition characterized by overwhelming daytime sleepiness and sudden sleep attacks).

The common side effects of Ritalin and Adderall include headaches, trouble sleeping, dry mouth, increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, anxiety, and nausea, vomiting. Both these medicines can also cause stomach pain and loss of appetite. Since they work in the same way, Ritalin and Adderall also interact with many of the same drugs.

Although Adderall and Ritalin belong to the same drug class (central nervous system stimulants) and work similarly, they are not the same. The active ingredient of Ritalin is methylphenidate hydrochloride. On the other hand,  Adderall contains two active ingredients​​—amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. There are also differences in the dosing of these medications, how fast they work, and how long their effects last.

How strong is Adderall compared to Ritalin? Is Ritalin weaker than Adderall?

Ritalin vs. Adderall differ in how quickly they act and how long the effect of the medicine lasts. Ritalin is a faster-acting drug, meaning Ritalin’s effect takes place sooner. It reaches its peak levels in the body within 1 hour. Adderall, on the other hand, takes around 3 hours to reach its peak levels. In other words, Ritalin starts working more quickly compared to Adderall. Both Adderall and Ritalin are available as oral immediate-release and extended-release tablets. 

However, while Ritalin starts working faster, Adderall stays in the body longer. The effects of Ritalin last for around 2to 4 hours. A longer-acting formulation called Ritalin LA is available, the effects of which last for approximately 8 hours. In comparison, the effects of the immediate-release Adderall is 4 to 6 hours, while the extended-release formulation of Adderall can last up to 12 hours.

What should you expect from taking Ritalin? 

Ritalin and Adderall are prescription stimulant medications that can be habit-forming. Both medications are classified as schedule-II controlled substances by the FDA due to their high risk of potential abuse and misuse, leading to addiction and complications from withdrawal. Abruptly discontinuing stimulant medications increases the risk of withdrawal symptoms. It is very important to take Adderall and Ritalin under the supervision of a healthcare professional. 

Given that Ritalin and Adderall have a potential for abuse, many people wonder—what happens if you take Ritalin without ADHD? Or, what does Adderall do to a person without ADHD? Research has shown that these drugs cause changes in brain chemistry and lead to trouble sleeping, risk-taking behaviors, and other undesirable side effects especially for those with a history of cardiovascular disease or uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure).

Is Ritalin better for you than Adderall?

Ritalin vs. Adderall is a question best answered by a healthcare provider. Both Adderall and Ritalin are effective prescription drugs used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy (daytime sleepiness). These medicines are sometimes also used off-label in people with depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. One medicine is not intrinsically better or preferable over the other. Extensive studies have shown a similar response rate, efficacy, common side effects, and cost for Ritalin and Adderall.

Nonetheless, considering safety and efficacy, research has found that Ritalin may be a better option in children and adolescents and Adderall a better choice in adults for the short-term treatment of ADHD. More research is needed to evaluate the long-term effects of Ritalin vs. Adderall.

Some studies have shown that Adderall, which is longer acting, might have an advantage over immediate-release Ritalin because it demonstrates similar effectiveness but a longer duration of action. However, there are people who prefer Ritalin’s shorter duration of action because they can have better control of the two major side effects of stimulants, which are trouble sleeping and loss of appetite. 

These study findings, while important, should not be the main source that guides treatment choices. To achieve the best efficacy and safety, it is important to be thoroughly examined, get the advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a medical professional before deciding between Adderall or Ritalin. Your doctor will assess your medical history while taking into account your personal preference to decide which medication is a better fit for you. The good news is that 85% of patients can obtain ADHD symptom control by using these two medicines. 

Adderall vs. Ritalin: Which is the best treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

As noted, Ritalin and Adderall are both effective treatments for ADHD and narcolepsy. However, one of these two medicines might work better for you, depending on your body’s response to the drug. Using an immediate release vs. extended-release formulation can also affect how you feel while taking the medicine. 

Some people prefer Ritalin, which is a faster-acting and shorter-acting medication. It may allow better control over common side effects such as trouble sleeping and decreased appetite. For example, you might be able to take the medicine during school or work hours without experiencing side effects at night. Other people might prefer Adderall, which is a longer-acting medication. This means it can control symptoms for longer without needing to take multiple doses.

The right drug for each individual, Ritalin vs. Adderall, is a personal choice. There is no way to predict how you will respond to a particular drug. Other people’s experiences with Adderall vs. Ritalin should not influence your decision to take either medicine. You should work with your doctor or your child’s doctor to identify the medicine, Ritalin or Adderall, that works best for you. You might need to try different medications or dosing regimens before finding the right one for you.

Frequently Asked Questions about Adderall and Ritalin

Can you take Ritalin or Adderall while pregnant?

Adderall and Ritalin are not recommended in women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor about other ADHD treatment options during pregnancy and nursing.

Can you drink alcohol while on Ritalin or Adderall?

Consumption of alcohol while on Ritalin or Adderall treatment increases the risk of serious side effects. In addition, alcohol and stimulant drugs can lead to unpredictable side effects. Therefore, doctors do not recommend drinking alcohol while on Ritalin or Adderall.

Do Ritalin and Adderall feel the same?

Both Ritalin and Adderall are central nervous system stimulants and produce similar effects, such as wakefulness, alertness, and increased focus. 

Is Ritalin like “speed”? Do Adderall and Ritalin make you happy?

Speed is the street name for a commonly abused drug called methamphetamine, which is a stimulant. Ritalin contains methylphenidate, which is also a stimulant. Therefore, Ritalin can produce effects similar to ”speed”, especially at higher doses. Ritalin and Adderall can also lead to feelings of euphoria. However, these drugs should never be used without a prescription and supervision of a healthcare provider because they lead to habits forming when misused.


  1. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/index.html
  2. https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(18)30269-4/fulltext
  3. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170515154802.htm