Home Adderall Ritalin vs. Adderall

Ritalin vs. Adderall

Ritalin and Adderall, two medications that treat ADHD, are equally effective but act differently. Adderall stays in your body longer than Ritalin, but Ritalin works more quickly to reach peak effect.

Last Modified: January 26, 2024
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How Do These Medications Treat ADHD?

Doctors often prescribe Adderall or Ritalin for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Both of these medications are considered stimulants. Studies show these stimulants improve symptoms for more than 70% of children and adults when used for ADHD.

Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate. Adderall is the brand name for amphetamine-dextroamphetamine.

Methylphenidate increases the action of neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine by blocking their reabsorption into the brain’s neurons, decreasing restlessness and improving attention.

Amphetamine and dextroamphetamine stimulate activity in the central nervous system, releasing dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline (norepinephrine) to bring the brain to a more regulated state of stimulation.

How Are Ritalin and Adderall Different?

Although Ritalin and Adderall both come in short- and long-acting methods, the primary difference is that Adderall typically works for four to six hours, while Ritalin stays active for two to three hours.

This table describes the major differences between Ritalin and Adderall.

Main IngredientsAmphetamine and dextroamphetamineMethylphenidate
Available Dosages (Strengths)Adderall:
  • 5 mg
  • 7.5 mg
  • 10 mg
  • 12.5 mg
  • 15 mg
  • 20 mg
  • 30 mg
  • Adderall extended release (XR):
  • 5 mg
  • 10 mg
  • 15 mg
  • 20 mg
  • 25 mg
  • 30 mg
  • Short acting, immediate-release tablet:
  • 5 mg
  • 10 mg
  • 20 mg
  • Ritalin SR (sustained release):
  • 20 mg
  • Ritalin SR (sustained release):
  • 20 mg
  • Ritalin LA (Long acting) extended-release capsule:
  • 10 mg
  • 20 mg
  • 30 mg
  • 40 mg
  • Beginning EffectsAdderall starts to work within 30-60 minutes.Once the doctor has found the right dose, methylphenidate starts to work within 20-30 minutes.
    Duration of Effects
  • Adderall (IR) adult 5-8 hours
  • Adderall (XR) adult 10-12 hours
  • Adderall (IR) children’s 4-6 hours
  • Adderall (XR) children’s 8-10 hours
  • Ritalin (IR) adult 4-6 hours
  • Ritalin XR adult – 10-14 hours
  • Ritalin children’s 3-4 hours
  • Ritalin-LA children’s – 6-8 hours
  • Time in the Body3-4 days Adderall is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract and appears in the urine within a few hours.1-3 days Ritalin lasts in both the urine and the saliva.

    The two ADHD medications are similar because they’re potent nervous system stimulants that work in the same ways in the brain with near-identical side effects and benefits. Although some may experience side effects, they are both generally well tolerated. However, if these medications are not taken appropriately, both can be addictive and lead to dependence.

    Is Adderall or Ritalin Stronger?

    Because of the unique chemistry in everyone’s brain, it’s not accurate to say that one medication is stronger than the other. People in the same family may experience different results from the medications.

    One study of children showed that low doses of Adderall produced effects comparable to those of a higher dose of Ritalin. Another study reported that Adderall might be a better choice for adults, while Ritalin might deliver better results for children and adolescents. Despite these studies, your doctor may choose to switch to another medication if your current medication is not working.

    Side Effects

    Adderall and methylphenidate side effects are similar because both drugs are stimulants. One consideration for parents of children with ADHD is that both medications may slow childhood growth. However, each drug can produce side effects that the other drug doesn’t.

    Common Adderall Side Effects
    • Loss of appetite
    • Nervousness and mood changes
    • Trouble sleeping
    • Dizziness
    • Headache
    • Drowsiness
    • Nausea
    • Stomach ache

    Adderall is also known to cause less common side effects that include painful menstrual cramps, constipation, teeth grinding, confusion, shivering and loss of coordination.

    Ritalin has many of the same regular side effects as Adderall but has a few that are different.

    Common Ritalin Side Effects
    • Back pain
    • Chest pain
    • Tiredness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Sweating
    • Skin rash
    • Numbness or tingling in the feet or hands
    • Frequent and painful erections (priapism)

    The medications can also produce more serious side effects. Adderall side effects can include sudden death in children and teenagers, especially in children and teenagers with heart defects or other serious heart problems.

    Other serious side effects include seizures (mainly in patients with a history of seizures), eyesight changes, blurred vision, serotonin syndrome and new behavioral problems such as aggression or paranoia. Serotonin syndrome is a potentially life-threatening situation that stems from an abnormal change in serotonin levels.

    Contact your doctor immediately if you or your child experiences chest pain, shortness of breath or fainting while taking Adderall.

    Drug Interactions

    Adderall drug interactions include acidifying agents (gastrointestinal and urinary), adrenergic blockers, alkalinizing agents, tricyclic antidepressants, serotonergic drugs such as SSRIs and antidepressants, tryptophan and St John’s Wort.

    Taking Adderall with CYP2D6 inhibitors such as paroxetine and fluoxetine can increase the risk of serotonin syndrome. Taking Adderall with monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOs) can cause a hypertensive crisis (spiked blood pressure) or death.

    Drugs that can trigger Ritalin interactions include blood thinners, clonidine, dobutamine, epinephrine and isoproterenol. Cold and allergy medications that contain phenylephrine (a decongestant), potassium citrate, sodium acetate, sodium bicarbonate, citric acid and potassium citrate, sodium citrate and citric acid can also interact with methylphenidate .

    Serious Ritalin interactions may occur with medications to treat high or low blood pressure, stimulant medications, diet pills, seizure medicines or antidepressants.

    Always tell your doctor what other medications you take prior to taking either Ritalin or Adderall.

    Should I Take Ritalin or Adderall?

    Years of clinical trials and specific drug studies show that complementary approaches to ADHD treatment and medication for ADHD improve the disorder’s core symptoms of impulsivity, hyperarousal and distractibility.

    Three factors specific to everybody determine optimal dosages:
    • How well the body absorbs the medication
    • How efficiently the drug gets metabolized
    • How efficiently it passes the blood-brain barrier

    Over time, your body adjusts to the medications. The dosage that provides the most effectiveness can change over time. It”s important to communicate symptoms and side effects that you experience to determine whether and how to adjust your dosage.


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    Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.