and Ritalin are stimulant medications used to treat attention deficit
hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They’re both different brand-name versions of
the same drug, called methylphenidate hydrochloride. While these two
medications have similar effects on the brain, their differences lie in
strength, dosage, and how long you take the medication.
Learn more: Recognize the symptoms of ADHD in children and adults »
Drug features at a glance
table below compares several basic features of these two drugs side by side.
Concerta vs. Ritalin in your body
are among the most commonly prescribed drugs for ADHD. According to the Cleveland
stimulants work to treat the condition in 70 percent of adults. They’re also
effective for 70 to 80 percent of children with ADHD. Stimulants like Concerta
and Ritalin may help reduce symptoms such as fidgeting, hyperactivity, short
attention span, and more.
the name of this class of drugs, stimulants actually have calming effects on
the brain. They work by increasing levels of the brain chemicals dopamine and
norepinephrine. These chemicals play a role in ADHD.
Learn more: ADHD and the role of dopamine »
Concerta and Ritalin have the same active ingredient, they work in different
ways. Concerta is a long-acting drug: It increases dopamine steadily. This
means that you only need to take it once per day for all-day symptom relief.
According to the Cleveland
Concerta works for 10 to 12 hours. In most cases, symptoms get better
throughout the day, so it’s best to take this medication first thing in the
morning. The effects may wear off by the end of the day.
the other hand, Ritalin is a short-acting, immediate-release stimulant. This
means that it works quickly in your body. It increases dopamine and
norepinephrine levels almost immediately. Ritalin is especially helpful for people
who need symptom relief right away. Because Ritalin does not work steadily like
Concerta, Ritalin is taken two to three times per day. It’s best to take the
drug 45 minutes before eating to make sure your body fully absorbs it.
has a long, steady release pattern, while the short-acting Ritalin releases
more quickly and the level drops between doses. This creates more hills and
valleys in your blood level. Some people do better with the long release of
Concerta while others may need the quicker action of Ritalin.
versions of Ritalin may work similarly to the long-acting benefits of Concerta.
These include intermediate-acting Ritalin SR and long-acting Ritalin LA. But
Ritalin LA does not last as long as Concerta. Recall that Concerta can act for
up to 10-12 hours. The Cleveland
Clinic estimates that long-acting Ritalin
works for six to eight hours.
Cost, availability, and insurance
There is a cost difference between the once-daily
dosage of Concerta and the several doses per day you take of immediate-release
Ritalin. In general, Ritalin costs more because you need to take it more often.
Both medications are available as generic drugs.
Generic forms tend to cost less than brand-name versions of the same
medications. Generic forms of Ritalin tend to cost less than generic forms of
Concerta. The cost to you depends on your health insurance plan. Your plan likely
covers generic forms of both drugs. Also, Concerta and Ritalin are both usually
stocked at most pharmacies.
Stimulants like Concerta and Ritalin carry
the risk of side effects. Both drugs may affect growth in children or cause
weight loss. Some doctors have people take “drug holidays.” For instance, your child’s
doctor might have your child stop taking the drug over the summer between
school terms to reduce the risk of side effects.
Because they contain the same drug, Concerta
and Ritalin share the same side effects. Common side effects can include:
- dry mouth
- trouble sleeping
- nausea, vomiting, or upset
- loss of appetite
- faster heart rate
Serious side effects can include:
- slowed growth in children
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- cold or numb fingers or toes that turn white or
- increased violence or violent thoughts
- auditory hallucinations (voices telling you to do
- painful erections that last several hours
Use with other medical conditions and drugs
drugs are not right for everyone. People with some health problems should not
take Concerta or Ritalin. You may also need to avoid the drugs if you take
certain medications. Make sure you tell your doctor about all over-the-counter
and prescription drugs, supplements, and herbs you’re taking. In particular,
you should not use a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI)
within 14 days of starting Concerta or Ritalin.
you take either drug, tell your doctor if you have a history or current
- coronary artery
- heart disease
- hypertension (high
- irregular heart rate
- hyperthyroidism (overactive
- severe anxiety
and Ritalin can be abused. Even if you take the drugs as prescribed, they can
cause dependence. The risk of dependence is greater in people with a
history of substance abuse. If you have a history of drug or alcohol abuse, you
should discuss your risk of dependence with your doctor before taking Concerta
medications are category C pregnancy drugs. Animal studies have shown side
effects in the fetus, but there haven’t been enough studies in humans to draw
conclusions yet. Tell your doctor if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning
to become pregnant.
Talk with your doctor
Concerta and Ritalin work in similar ways to help improve ADHD symptoms. The
two medications also carry similarities in terms of benefits, risks, and how
well they work. The greatest consideration in deciding between the two
drugs may be whether a long-acting or short-acting version is best. This choice
depends on the severity, frequency, and timing of your symptoms. Your doctor
can help you choose which drug is best for you.