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Ritalin vs. Adderall: What Is the Difference?


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Two of the most common medications for treating ADHD are Ritalin and Adderall. While both medications act as stimulants and may seem interchangeable, Adderall and Ritalin each have unique properties that contribute to their effectiveness. Adderall is a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, while Ritalin is methylphenidate hydrochloride. Understanding how each medication works is the first step towards finding the right one for you.

Your psychiatric care provider will review your medical history and prescribe the best medication for your ADHD symptoms. Book an appointment with an experienced medical provider today to discuss your options!

How Ritalin and Adderall Work

Ritalin and Adderall are both central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that affect neurotransmitters in the brain. They both increase the effectiveness of norepinephrine, but Ritalin affects dopamine while Adderall affects serotonin. These neurotransmitters assist in an individual’s alertness and focus, and because ADHD is often associated with a lack of being able to focus, these medications can have a significant effect on those with the condition.

Dosage, Price, & Interactions

Both Adderall and Ritalin come in a range of doses and forms, with immediate-release and extended-release formulas that allow the medication to be released over a longer period of time. Adderall is often the cheaper alternative, but Ritalin can be a similar price under certain circumstances. These medications can also have serious interactions with other medications and should only be taken under the supervision of a licensed clinician.

Because Ritalin and Adderall are both stimulants, they can have adverse effects for those with heart or blood pressure conditions. Individuals with any related conditions should exercise extreme caution when taking these medications. If, after taking either of these drugs, you experience a severe headache, anxiety, chest pain, uneven heartbeat, or shortness of breath, you should stop taking them and contact your doctor immediately.

DEA Schedule

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), both Ritalin and Adderall are Schedule II narcotic drugs. Due to their addictive nature, these medications should be taken with extreme caution to avoid substance abuse. The medications are restricted on a varying basis state by state.

Which is More Effective?

Ritalin and Adderall have varying degrees of effectiveness, as Ritalin works faster but Adderall stays active in the body longer. Adderall’s increased duration of effectiveness is one of the main reasons why it is often considered a first-choice treatment and is widely prescribed for ADHD treatment.

If you believe you have ADHD, proper medication could be the answer. Schedule a call to discuss your situation online with an experienced doctor who can diagnose you and, if indicated, help you with ADHD treatment.

Ritalin Overview

Forms and Dosages

Ritalin is available in many forms, and a doctor will determine which one is best for an individual. It can be found in 5 mg, 10 mg, or 20 mg tablets, as well as a transdermal patch and liquid syrup. Both immediate and extended-release forms of Ritalin are available.

Indications and Conditions Treated

Ritalin is primarily used to treat ADHD, but it is also known to treat narcolepsy (falling asleep during the day). Generally, it can help individuals maintain focus and better control behavioral issues.


The cost of generic Ritalin (Methylphenidate) ranges from a discounted price of $14 for a 60 count of 5 mg tablets, to as high as the retail price of $100 for 60 tablets of the 20 mg dosage. 300 ml of the oral medication can range from $52 to $282. The average cost for 60 of the 20 mg tablets often falls around $95, and most insurances will cover the medication.

Check with your insurance provider for your exact cost for this medication. In addition, your medical provider may be able to help you find coupons and will consider medication costs while developing your treatment plan.

Side Effects

The most common side effects of taking Ritalin include the following:

  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache

Ritalin may also raise blood pressure, which should be carefully considered by those with any blood pressure issues.

More serious side effects include:

  • Blood flow problems in the fingers or toes
  • Unusual wounds on the fingers or toes
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Behavior changes
  • Uncontrolled muscle movements
  • Sudden outbursts of words or sounds
  • Vision changes

Contact your doctor immediately if any of these side effects occur.

Warnings for Use

Ritalin can be habit-forming, and should only be taken at the discretion of a doctor. If used by children in long-term situations, this medication could affect a child’s growth rate, final adult height, and overall weight. Ritalin can worsen the effects of psychosis or bipolar disorder in those with those conditions, and it should only be used during pregnancy when absolutely necessary.

Adderall Overview

Forms and Dosages

Adderall comes in many different dosages, ranging from 5 mg to 30 mg tablets that can be taken two to three times a day. Adderall’s extended-release form, Adderall XR, also ranges from 5 mg to 30 mg and only needs to be taken once a day.

Indications and Conditions Treated

Adderall is FDA-approved to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, but it also has several other uses. It has been known to treat symptoms relating to depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder.


Without insurance, brand-name Adderall often costs $8 per 5 mg tablet, with a 30-day supply of the medication costing as much as $237. Adderall also has a generic form, which can cost much less depending on the release formula. Generic Adderall can range from $13 for a 30-day supply of 5 mg pills, to $85 for 30 days of maximum dosage of the extended-release pills.

Most insurances cover Adderall, but check with your provider for your exact cost. There may also be coupons that can help with cost—ask your medical provider for assistance with locating coupons. We at Klarity are dedicated to helping you. Your provider will consider medication costs while developing your treatment plan.

Side Effects

The side effects of Adderall can be similar to Ritalin, including:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping

Notify your doctor immediately if you experience more serious side effects such as:

  • Blood pressure complications
  • Behavioral changes
  • Shortness of breath
  • Seizures.

Warnings for Use

Much like Ritalin, Adderall can also be habit-forming and should only be used at the discretion of a licensed professional. In some cases, Adderall may stop working and the dosage will have to be adjusted.

Which ADHD Medication Will Best Treat You?

Before you’re prescribed an ADHD medication it is vital to speak to your doctor about your medical history and all the medications you take to avoid any serious side effects or drug interactions. You should also review the list of foods to avoid when taking Ritalin or Adderall.

There are also more side effects than those listed here which, while rare, you need to know about before starting Ritalin or Adderall.

Although Ritalin and Adderall are very similar medications, there are differences that make them distinct. It’s important to have a complete evaluation with a physician who specializes in ADHD treatment before starting these medications. Experienced in treating ADHD, licensed and certified providers on Klarity will develop the best treatment plan for you and, if indicated, will prescribe the medication that will work best.

Start today, and discuss your symptoms with a specialist who can help.

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