Adderall Vs Ritalin

Adderall and Ritalin are both prescription medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

Adderall and Ritalin are both prescription medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy.

Both prescription stimulants increase the activity of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain, and, in turn, decrease your symptoms of ADHD. They increase attention and decrease hyperactivity and impulsiveness.

These two ADHD medications are similar but they also have some key differences as well.

Similarities Between Adderall & Ritalin

There are a number of similarities between Adderall and Ritalin. From the types of drugs they are to their side effects and how they work, the two ADHD medications have a lot in common.

Central Nervous System Stimulants

Both Adderall and Ritalin are central nervous system stimulants that are used in the treatment of ADHD. This means they work primarily in the central nervous system and speed up certain processes in the brain.

How They Work

Adderall and Ritalin both work on the same part of the brain and the same neurotransmitters.

Both stimulant medications increase the amount of neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in the central nervous system, and, with these increases, impulsiveness and hyperactivity are decreased while attention and focus are increased.

Who They’re Prescribed For

Ritalin and Adderall can be prescribed to adults and adolescents. The dosage or formulation of the drug may be different due to the difference in age and size, but because both adults and children struggle with ADHD, these medications are appropriate for them.

Side Effects

Because the two drugs work in a similar way, they also have very similar side effects. Some of the side effects are on the milder side while others are more serious and may lead to treatment or stopping the medication altogether.

The most common side effects of Ritalin and Adderall include:

  • increased heart rate
  • high blood pressure
  • irritability
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • nausea
  • trouble sleeping
  • dry mouth
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • mental health problems like anxiety or depression
  • restlessness
  • withdrawal symptoms after stopping use


Adderall and Ritalin also have negative interactions with similar drugs.

Both medications react badly with:

  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • blood pressure medications
  • caffeine

If you are on any of these medications or drinking coffee on a regular basis, let your doctor know before starting these drugs.


Both medications come in two forms: short-acting/immediate-release tablets and long-acting/extended-release tablets. The short-acting tablets last about four hours while the long-acting versions (Adderall XR/Ritalin LA) last anywhere from 6-12 hours.

Your ADHD symptoms will likely determine which one your healthcare provider prescribes.

Potential For Abuse

Ritalin and Adderall are both classified as schedule II controlled substances by the DEA. This means they have a relatively high potential for abuse and can lead to both psychological and physical dependence.

Both drugs are often abused and that abuse can lead to serious life-threatening issues like addiction and overdose.

The potential for abuse in the extended-release or long-acting forms of these medications is less high because the drugs are designed to be released slowly.

Differences Between Adderall & Ritalin

Despite these many similarities, Adderall and Ritalin differ in a few areas, including what they’re made of and how long they stay in the body.


The main difference between Ritalin and Adderall is what they’re made of. Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate hydrochloride. This ingredient can be found in Concerta as well.

Adderall is the brand name for a mixture of amphetamine salts, but mostly consists of amphetamine/dextroamphetamine.

How Long They Stay In Your System

Adderall and Ritalin have different half-lives which means one stays in the body longer than the other. Adderall has a half-life of about 10-13 hours while Ritalin’s half-life is about 3-4 hours.

That being said, the long-acting form of Ritalin can stay in the body for longer at 8 hours.

When They Reach Peak Levels

Ritalin starts working faster than Adderall does. Ritalin can reach its peak levels within an hour of taking the prescription drug while Adderall takes around 3 hours to have the same effects.

If you or a loved one lives with stimulant abuse or any form of drug abuse, you don’t have to go through it alone. Northeast Addiction Treatment Center offers a variety of treatment options including outpatient services, medication-assisted treatment, and specialized therapy.

For more information, please call our helpline today.

Written by
Northeast Addition Editorial Team

Published on

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This page does not provide medical advice.

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