Ritalin vs. Adderall

adderall--1The drugs mentioned are being used for ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. It is a neurobiological disorder which leads to different structures and connections inside the brain which can lead to attention deficiency and low self-control. Ritalin is the drug which is being used from the beginning of 1955 and it became a number one most used drug for ADHD in the 1990s until Adderall came along, for about 40 years of time. It is a long period for one drug, but the Shire pharmaceutical industry invented a new psychostimulant drug which is widely used nowadays. There are some similarities and differences which we will cover here. They are both psychostimulant drugs with minor differences in functioning mechanism and active ingredients. We will cover most of the drug characteristics and compare them for you. Here is the analysis.

Ritalin vs. Adderall Chart

While Adderall is thought to be more addictive, Ritalin has more side effects. Ritalin stops the neurons from taking the dopamine and norepinephrine, which are the chemicals that affect the focus, attention, motivation. While the cells do not intake these chemicals inside their walls, the concentration rises outside the cells. Adderall does not only block the dopamine from getting inside the cell but also stimulates the cell to let go of the dopamine which is stored inside. Although the both meds have the same effects, there are some minor incompatibilities.

Drug typePsychostimulantPsychostimulant
Approved usesADHD / narcolepsyADHD / narcolepsy
IngredientsMethylphenidateMixed Amphetamine Salts: 75% Dextroamphetamine + 25% Levoamphetamine
FormatsIR (Immediate release) or SR (Sustained Release) or LA (Long acting)IR (Immediate release) or XR (Extended release)
DosagesIR: 5 mg/10 mg/20 mg or SR: 10 mg/20 mg or LA: 10 mg/20 mg/30 mg/40 mgIR: 5 mg/7.5 mg/10 mg/12.5 mg/15 mg/20 mg/30 mg or XR: 5 mg/10 mg/15 mg/20 mg/25 mg/30 mg
ManufacturerNovartis PharmaceuticalsShire Pharmaceuticals
Legal StatusSchedule II (US)Schedule II (US)
Mechanism of actionFunctions by inhibiting catecholamine reuptake – specifically as a dopamine reuptake inhibitor (DRI). It blocks dopamine and norepinephrine transporters – increasing their extracellular concentrations.  It also acts as a 5HT1A receptor agonist.Functions by increasing levels and inhibiting reuptake of stimulatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. It acts as a TAAR1 agonist and VMAT2 inhibitor.
Generic version?Yes.Yes.
Half life1 to 7 hours11 to 13 hours
Common side effectsAbdominal pain. Appetite loss. Dizziness. Headache. Insomnia. Nausea. Nervousness. Vomiting. Weight loss.Abdominal pain. Appetite loss. Diarrhea. Dizziness. Dry Mouth. Fever. Headache. Insomnia. Irritability. Nausea. Nervousness. Vomiting. Weight loss.
Date approved(1955)February 13 (1996)
Effect durationIR: 3 to 4 hours/SR: 6 to 8 hours/LA: 8 hoursIR: 4 to 6 hours/XR: 12 hours
Investigational usesAggression. Bipolar disorder. Criminality. Lethargy. Obesity. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). Treatment-resistant depression.Treatment-resistant depression

Ritalin vs. Adderall

There are a few parameters which can be inspected, so let’s start from the beginning.


Both drugs are efficient and clinically approved for treating ADHD and narcolepsy. They are thoroughly tested before placing into pharmacies. They have passed randomized, double-blinded tests and test where they were used with placebo. According to study which was published in Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Adderall was more effective in a short period of time using a lower dosage. A study was conducted in 1999 were from the same results using a lower dosage of Adderall compared to a higher dosage of Ritalin having the same effect, the Adderall was more convenient on a long run.

Another study was conducted among 25 children using placebo-controlled study. They used Adderall, Ritalin, and placebo. The children had to take the meds in the morning and in the afternoon. The outcomes were the same, leading to same results between those two meds, but better than placebo for productivity and improvement of behavior.

Yet, another study stud against Adderall where they conducted  a double-blind, placebo-controlled study of Adderall and Methylphenidate in the treatment of attention-deficit where they had resulted in Adderall’s favor where it appears to be a better choice for short term doses where it gave better results after individual doses.


Both drugs are used for ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and narcolepsy. Some doctors also prescribe them as drugs of choice for obesity and depression. Since they block the norepinephrine and dopamine to get inside the brain cell, it increases the concentration between the synapses, outside the cells resulting in changing the mood and the nervous system function since it is a neurotransmitter. As psychostimulant drugs, they can result in psychological euphoria state of mind if taken in higher dosage. They are also used for other conditions such as postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome for Ritalin and Adderall for sleep cycle disorder.

Active Ingredient

As we presented in the previous chart, the drugs do have similar effects but have different active ingredients. Adderal is a mixture of an amphetamine salt, where the Ritalin has an active ingredient called methylphenidate. Since these ingredients are not the same, they have also a different time of release. Therefore, they are produced in different forms. Ritalin has three forms of meds: Instant Release (IR) which lasts about 3-4 hours, Sustained Release (SR) which lasts 6-8 hours and lastly, Long-Acting (LA) which lasts for about 8 hours. Adderall has only two formats: Instant Release which lasts about 4-6 hours and Extended Release (XR) that lasts for 12 hours. So we see here that Adderall has longer lasting effect, which is better in individual doses results.

Abuse Potential

They are both thought to have a high potential for drug abuse. They belong to the group “Schedule II” controlled drugs. This basically means that if you take more than prescribed amount, it can end up in a psychological euphoria which is considered sort of “high” state of mind. This is due to a high dose of dopamine which is released and prevented to enter the brain cells. It is not rare that people abuse these medicines to achieve the “high” state and even through the nose by insufflation, snorting or sometimes injection. This is also consumed among the students which do intake these meds to improve their academic accomplishments by increasing their concentration and attention. Tolerance is low and both drugs develop fast dependency. Adderall has more abuse incidence over Ritalin since it has more efficiency with its “rush” effect.

Side Effects

Ritalin can cause insomnia, nervousness, drowsiness and some other less frequent side effects like chest pain, loss of appetite, euphoria, headache, nausea, high blood pressure, dizziness, loss of hair, abdominal pain, somnolence. It can also cause psychotic changes in children who intake Ritalin for a few months or years. There were cases where the patients who were on Ritalin developed schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Adderall can also cause headaches, loss of appetite, insomnia, anxiety but also muscle rigidity, irritability, increased risk of cardiac diseases. It can affect the flow of height development but it does not affect the final height in adult stages.


Both Adderall and Ritalin should not be taken during pregnancy. Adderall can cause serotonin syndrome when taken at the same time with serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Ritalin should not be combined with adrenergic drugs, which can cause the damage of the liver and also Zoloft and Lexapro which can cause high blood pressure, convulsions and low body temperature. It can also cause arrhythmia, high blood pressure, and liver damage when taken with tricyclic antidepressants.


The cost is similar and it is different depending on the format and the dosage of the medication. They are both relatively expensive going to a 95$ for Immediate Release for Ritalin and 300$ for Immediate Release for Adderall. The extended release is surprisingly cheaper for Adderall with a price of 220$, but the Ritalin is going up to 218$. It is cheaper to buy generic versions of both medications. For Ritalin,that would be methylphenidate and for Adderal mixed amphetamine salts. The price here goes fairly similar for each, about 50$ each for 30 days supply.


Nowadays, Adderall is positively number one medication on the market for psychostimulant needs. About 38% of all prescribed psychostimulant meds goes to Adderall, as it is estimated in 2013. Ritalin has 23% rate holding for only the branded one, not the methylphenidate generic ingredient. Even though the Ritalin was a number one in the past, from the 1999s, the Adderal changed the roles. Now Adderall is more popular with millions of people using it, in comparison to Ritalin which has about a few thousand or hundreds users worldwide. This can be attributed to the newer age medication since the people trust more the newer technology and believe in better results from it.

Legal Status

Both of these medications are used only with a prescription. They are illegal to have without a prescription and it is considered an abuse substance property. They are not refillable medications unless you have a prescription from a medical staff.


Sometimes, these meds can be withdrawn when a person experiences some side effects such as low energy, dizziness, fatigue, depression, nausea and any other side effect. It can be also withdrawn if a person starts being depended due to a high dosage.