Adderall vs. Ritalin: What’s the Difference?

Adderall vs Ritalin

The two first-line treatments for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) are amphetamines and methylphenidate. Two of the most popular brand name medications of these drugs are Adderall (amphetamine) and Ritalin (methylphenidate). There are possibly some significant similarities, as well as differences between the two medicines.

Ritalin Vs. Adderall

Ritalin and Adderall are both CNS (central nervous system) stimulant medications approved for treating the symptoms of ADHD. Though they provide similar control over the symptoms, these have different active ingredients. Ritalin delivers methylphenidate, while Adderall delivers dextroamphetamine/amphetamines.

Adderall and Ritalin have a lot of similarities also. They both are CNS stimulants approved for the treatment of ADHD and narcolepsy. For the patients of ADHD, these stimulants help improve attention and focus and reduce impulsivity and hyperactivity. Both the medications control symptoms by boosting the activity of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.

About 85% of the patients achieve symptom control by amphetamine or methylphenidate. Both have similar effectiveness and side effects. The primary difference between Adderall and Ritalin is that Ritalin works quickly and reaches the peak concentration in the blood faster than Adderall. However, Adderall stays longer in the system and can provide long-term relief.

Ritalin vs Adderall

Research says that Ritalin and Adderall have the same efficacy, response rate, side effects, and cost, in large groups.

Ritalin has active ingredient methylphenidate hydrochloride (MPH), the same ingredient in Metadate, Contempla, Concerta, and Methylin. The FDA first approved MPH was in 1955 for the treatment of hyperactivity, and since the 1990s, it’s one of the most widely known drugs for ADHD treatment.

The response rate of MPH or Ritalin is roughly 70%. That is, about 70% of people get an exceptional level of benefits, and 30% will either have no benefits at all, or the side effects outweigh the benefits. For these people, it is recommendable to try amphetamine as a next step.

Adderall is a combination of amphetamine salts, levoamphetamine, and dextroamphetamine. It is generally known to be more effective in the treatment of ADHD symptoms. Although people abuse and misuse the ingredients of Adderall, it is not habit-forming when taken in prescribed doses. Adderall comes as both immediate-release and extended-release formulations.

According to a survey conducted in 2017, 37.54% of children with ADHD were using Adderall, and the second most common ADHD medication among children was Ritalin with 32.37% usage. Among adults, 53.67% were using Adderall and 33.27% Ritalin.

ADHD Medication Comparison


  1. Compound: amphetamine/dextroamphetamine
  2. Approved Ages: children aged six years and older, adolescents, and adults
  3. Dosages: Adderall 5, 7.5, 10, 12.5, 20, and 30 milligrams. Adderall XR (extended-release) 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30 milligrams
  4. Considerations: possibly slows childhood growth
  5. Effectiveness: immediate-release 4-6 hours and extended-release 8-11 hours
  6. Side Effects: loss of appetite, trouble sleeping, drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, headache, and stomach pain
  7. Generic Version: Available


  1. Compound: methylphenidate
  2. Approved Ages: children aged six years and older, adolescents, and adults
  3. Dosages: short-acting immediate-release tablet in 5, 10, and 20 milligrams. Ritalin SR (sustained-release) 20 milligrams. Ritalin LA (long-acting) extended-release capsules in 10, 20, 30, and 40 milligrams
  4. Considerations: possibly slows childhood growth
  5. Effectiveness: immediate-release 2-3 hours, sustained-release 4-6 hours, extended-release 6-8 hours, and LA extended-release 10-12 hours
  6. Side Effects: nervousness, loss of appetite, nervousness, drowsiness, dizziness, trouble sleeping, nausea, vomiting, headache, and stomach-ache
  7. Generic Version: Available

Symptom Control

Ritalin is a shorter-acting stimulant. People prefer Ritalin as it allows them to control the risks of side effects such as trouble sleeping or loss of appetite. They may take the medication anytime without any noticeable drowsiness or impact on appetite. Adderall is a longer-acting medication. It controls the symptoms without the need for many doses as it lasts longer.

Both medications show almost similar efficacy with some minute differences. The choice of medication depends upon individual patient’s responses and conditions.


Adderall is available in immediate-release as well as extended-release formulations. Immediate-release Adderall comes in 5, 7.5, 10, 20, and 30 mg doses and the extended-release (XR) version comes in 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, and 30 mg doses.

Doctors often prefer to start Adderall treatment with a low dose (5mg) and slowly titrate the dosages to the lowest effective dosage. It is recommendable not to take evening doses of Adderall as it can affect night sleep and cause sleep problems such as insomnia. The FDA approved Adderall XR as only one dose per day. However, physicians may prescribe two doses in 24 hours as some patients may require more than 8-10 hours of symptom relief.

Ritalin is available in three different formulations: immediate-release comes in 5, 10, and 20 mg, sustained-release (SR) comes in 20 mg, and extended-release (LA) comes in 10, 20, 30, 40, and 60 mg doses. Doctors initiate the treatment at low doses and gradually increase the daily dosages to achieve maximum benefit for individual patients. It is recommendable to take one dose in the morning and another dose after lunch for patients taking immediate-release pills. The extended-release lasts longer and often prescribed once in the morning. Physicians prescribe sustained-release pills once or twice a day, depending upon the patient’s need.

Side Effects

The most frequent side effects caused due to Adderall include weight loss, loss of appetite, dry mouth, stomach upset, headache, dizziness, diarrhea, trouble sleeping, and nervousness. Sometimes Adderall may also cause a rise in blood pressure.

Ritalin has similar side effects. Still, its immediate-release version is a shorter-acting stimulant, which is less likely to cause adverse effects such as trouble sleeping and loss of appetite. The most frequent adverse effects caused due to Ritalin use include nervousness, sleeplessness, headache, loss of appetite, rapid heart rate, abdominal pain, and high blood pressure.


Both Ritalin and Adderall are stimulants that include warnings for potential serious but rare cardiovascular conditions. Doctors do not prefer to prescribe Adderall or Ritalin to the children or adults with pre-existing heart abnormalities or cardiac conditions. People should use these medications only when prescribed and under the close supervision of a medical professional.

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