the United States, 9.5 percent of children between the ages of 3 years and 17 years have been
diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD isn’t just
for kids, though. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of
America, about 60 percent of children with ADHD
will still have symptoms as adults. People with ADHD have trouble concentrating
and controlling impulses. They may be fidgety and excitable.
often prescribe stimulant medications to people with ADHD. Two common choices are
Adderall and Ritalin. These drugs can help people concentrate and focus on
tasks better. They also reduce impulsive behavior, which is another hallmark of
and Ritalin work in similar ways to treat ADHD. They also share the same side
effects. However, they have important differences. We’ll explain the basics of
Use the table below to compare Adderall and Ritalin at a glance.
How they work
Both Adderall and Ritalin are central nervous system (CNS)
stimulants. They work by increasing the availability of the neurotransmitters
norepinephrine and dopamine in your CNS connections. This speeds up your brain
works sooner and reaches peak performance more quickly than Adderall does.
However, Adderall stays active in your body longer than Ritalin does. Adderall
works for four to six hours. Ritalin is only active for two to three hours. This
doesn’t necessarily mean that Adderall is a better choice, though. Some people
prefer the shorter-acting Ritalin because they can better control the timing of
side effects, such as loss of appetite and trouble sleeping.
Cost, availability, and insurance
Adderall and Ritalin are brand-name drugs
that are also available as generic drugs. Generic forms tend to cost less than
the brand-name versions.
In general, Adderall and Ritalin cost about
the same. The amount you pay for the drugs will depend on your health insurance
plan. Some health insurance plans only cover the generic versions of the drugs.
If you’re unsure, you can call your insurance provider to find out the
specifics of your plan.
Adderall and Ritalin are usually available at
most pharmacies. However, these drugs can have shortages, so they may not be
available at all times. Call your pharmacy ahead of time to find out if your
medication is available.
Since both drugs work in the same way, these
drugs cause similar side effects.
Common side effects for both Adderall
and Ritalin include:
- trouble sleeping
- loss of appetite
- dry mouth
- increased heart rate
Serious side effects shared by both
medications can include:
- heart rhythm problems
- psychosis, which may cause you to
see things that aren’t real or to feel like bugs are crawling on your skin
- Raynaud’s syndrome
- slowed growth in children
Use with other medical
These two medications can cause effects in people with certain
medical conditions. People with certain health issues may need to avoid taking
these drugs. The chart below lists medical conditions you should discuss with
your doctor before taking Adderall or Ritalin.
Both medications are pregnancy category C drugs. This means animal
studies of the drugs have shown side effects on the fetus. But, there haven’t
been enough studies done in humans for results to be conclusive.
Adderall can pass into breast milk, which means the drug may pass
to your child when you breastfeed them. Some studies show that Ritalin can also pass
from mother to child through breast milk. These
drugs may cause side effects in your child. Talk to your doctor if you take
Adderall or Ritalin. For your child’s safety, you may need to decide whether
to stop breastfeeding or stop taking your medication.
Adderall and Ritalin both interact
with certain other drugs. Make sure you tell your doctor about all of the prescription
and over-the-counter medications, supplements, and herbs you take. This way, your
doctor can watch for drug interactions.
The chart below lists examples of
drugs that may interact with Adderall or Ritalin.
Making a Decision
According to a review of studies spanning 40 years, stimulant
medications are effective in treating 70 to 80 percent of children and adults with ADHD. The general recommendation
is that if one of these drugs doesn’t work for you, you should try the other
one. With that being said, there are some minor differences between the two
drugs, such as how quickly and how long they work in your body. Work with your
doctor to find the best drug for your ADHD.