Individuals with ADHD may find Concerta or Adderall to be helpful for managing their condition. Learn more about each of these CNS stimulants and how genetic testing for ADHD may help you determine which one is right for you.
Similarities And Differences
How Concerta and Adderall are similar:
- They are both approved to treat symptoms of ADHD like focus, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
- They are roughly equally effective when studied across a general population.
- They are both central nervous system stimulants, influencing the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.
- They can both cause difficulty sleeping and decreases in appetite.
How Concerta and Adderall are different:
- They have different active ingredients, which can be processed differently by the body. This leads to individual differences in how likely side effects will be and how well the medication may work.
- They offer different approaches for how the medication is released and how long it is likely to remain active each day.
- Although head-to-head studies are limited, Concerta appears more likely to cause upset stomach, and Adderall may be more likely to cause appetite loss and sleep disruption.1
Understanding the differences between the two will help you and your doctor determine whether Concerta or Adderall is best for you. The way individuals respond to these medications depends on a number of factors. Genetic testing for ADHD medications can provide very helpful insight and may also help predict your response.
Concerta vs Adderall
If you or a loved one are managing an ADHD diagnosis, you may wonder, what is the best treatment for your needs? You are not alone in asking this question or in facing some of the frustrations that come with finding the right treatment options.
A highly prevalent mental health condition, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 4-5% of US adults and 6 million children.2 Medications like Concerta and Adderall are anti-ADHD agents that may help people with ADHD manage symptoms related to focus issues, attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.
While the two are similar, Concerta and Adderall are not the same.
What Is The Difference Between Concerta And Adderall?
These medications contain similar but different active ingredients.
- Concerta contains methylphenidate.
- Adderall contains a standardized mixture of various amphetamine salts. These include dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine, among others.
Concerta and Adderall are central nervous system stimulants (CNS stimulants), both of which may be used as part of a treatment plan for children, adolescents, and adults managing ADHD. Concerta and Adderall are similar in that they both work by increasing concentrations of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain. Norepinephrine and dopamine are two vital neurotransmitters that help send messages to and from the different synapses within the brain. Increasing their levels may help improve symptoms of ADHD.
In addition to being treatment medications for ADHD, both Adderall and Concerta may also help with narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder that is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and suddenly falling asleep.
The effectiveness and how each drug interacts with individuals depends on many factors, including symptoms, dosage, body chemistry makeup, height, weight, other medications, and more.
There are different formulations available, and it’s important to consider how these options differ from one another.
What is Concerta?
Methylphenidate (Concerta) is a Schedule II controlled substance. This CNS stimulant works by modifying the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine in the brain.
Concerta provides methylphenidate specifically in an extended-release formulation designed to keep the medication active for longer periods of time during the day.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is also a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant as well as a Schedule II controlled substance. It contains four amphetamine salts:
- Dextroamphetamine Saccharate.
- Amphetamine Aspartate.
- Dextroamphetamine Sulfate.
- Amphetamine Sulfate.
Similar to Concerta, Adderall works by helping to balance out the chemicals within the brain to help with attention span, focus, behavioral problems, organization, and other challenges that may be associated with ADHD.
Adderall is available in both regular-release tablets and extended-release capsules. The tablets release medication quickly and produce a sharper peak in drug levels. The extended-release capsules are intended to release the medication more slowly over the course of the day, similar to Concerta.
Are Stimulants Actually Effective For ADHD?
Using stimulants like Adderall and Concerta for managing ADHD has been commonplace for decades, and prescribing rates have also grown over the years. This has led to some important questions related to the strength of the clinical studies supporting their use. A primary concern is related to the longer-term effects of stimulants, particularly because many trials only last for a period of six months or less, and people tend to take these medications for longer periods.
The primary question when considering any new therapy is whether the benefits of therapy will outweigh the risks. Comprehensive reviews of multiple trials help to pull together data from multiple sources, and these have been completed for both amphetamine salts and methylphenidate.6,7 These studies suggest that over the short term, both medications are effective but carry risks of side effects.
Concerta vs Adderall: Common Side Effects
Introducing a new medication of any kind into your body comes with its own set of side effects, many of which affect people in unique ways. Consulting with your doctor is crucial for determining whether your individual needs are likely to be met and the benefits of therapy are likely to outweigh the risks.
Side Effects Common with Concerta
Some people who take Concerta may experience the following side effects:
- Increased nervousness
- Dry mouth
- Trouble sleeping/insomnia
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Stomach pain
- Empty tablet shell in stool
Concerta tends to cause higher rates of stomach upset and may increase depression symptoms.1
Although rare, some men and boys may also experience a prolonged erection for 4+ hours. Please consult a healthcare professional if you experience severe side effects from Concerta or if side effects last for more than several weeks.
Side Effects Common with Adderall
Taking Adderall may come with the following side effects:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Dry mouth
- Upset stomach
- Trouble sleeping
- Increased anxiety
Adderall tends to cause higher rates of insomnia and loss of appetite.1
Because Concerta and Adderall are stimulant medications, taking them also comes with a high risk of misuse/abuse and dependence. This could be in the form of physical dependence as well as psychological dependence. Please exercise caution when taking these medications.
Is Adderall Or Concerta More Likely To Be Abused?
Both medications carry an abuse potential, which is why they are Schedule II controlled substances. There are no direct studies evaluating the potential for abuse between the two medications, so it’s difficult to confirm whether one may be more likely to be problematic. It’s worth noting that Adderall tablets provide a sharper peak in drug levels, making it potentially preferable for those intending to abuse stimulants.
Concerta vs Adderall: Dosage
How people take Concerta vs Adderall may differ depending on their treatment plan. Always take the medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor and pharmacist.
Concerta may be taken with or without food, but always as directed by your doctor. Tablets should be swallowed whole and not crushed, chewed, or divided. Most people take Concerta 1x/day in the morning. It is not recommended to take Concerta in the evening. Taking Concerta late in the day may interfere with your sleep.
This anti-ADHD agent is available as an oral extended-release (ER) tablet in the following strengths:3
- 18 mg.
- 27 mg.
- 36 mg
- 54 mg.
Most healthcare providers will increase the dosage of Concerta in 18 mg increments at weekly intervals for patients who exhibit the need for a higher dosage. It is not recommended to exceed 54 mg/day of Concerta for children and 72 mg/day for adolescents or adults.
The dosage for Adderall and Adderall XR (extended-release version of Adderall) varies from person to person. Always take Adderall and Adderall XR only as prescribed by your doctor or pharmacist.
It may be taken with or without food. Adderall tablets are available in the following doses:
- 5 mg.
- 7.5 mg.
- 10 mg.
- 12.5 mg.
- 15 mg.
- 20 mg.
- 30 mg.
Adderall XR capsules are extended-release and comes in:
- 5 mg.
- 10 mg.
- 15 mg.
- 20 mg.
- 25 mg.
- 30 mg4
Adderall tablets are typically taken 2-3x/day, with the first dose taken in the morning. Adderall XR capsules are intended to be taken once daily and in the morning. It is not advised to take Adderall in the evening as it is a stimulant, and taking it in the evening may interfere with sleep.
Immediate-release Adderall may be taken multiple times during the day; this differs from Concerta, which should be taken just one time per day.
Those who have trouble swallowing tablets and/or capsules also have the option of opening the capsule, pouring its contents into a fluid (water is recommended) or applesauce/yogurt, and consuming it immediately.
Your doctor will prescribe the dose of Adderall or Adderall XR they feel is best based on your circumstances and a variety of factors. Do not exceed the recommended dose or frequency. Should you decide to discontinue taking Adderall, please do so under the care and supervision of a healthcare professional so the dose can be reduced in a safe manner. Discontinuing the use of Adderall suddenly may cause withdrawal symptoms, including loss of energy, cravings, panic attacks, tremors, body aches, mood swings, and short-term memory loss.
Please take note that both Concerta and Adderall may be habit-forming and may become less effective over time. Always speak with a trusted healthcare professional before making any changes to your medication.
Concerta vs Adderall: How Long Does It Take to Start Working?
Both Concerta and Adderall take effect within a short time of ingestion. Concerta has an advanced trilayer formulation that enables it to begin working within 1 hour of the tablet’s first layer dissolving. Concerta continues to gradually release its contents over the next 6-10 hours.5
Adderall tends to work even faster than Concerta, activating within 30 minutes to an hour of consumption. Please bear in mind that both Concerta and Adderall are stimulant medications with a high risk of misuse that may cause them to be habit-forming.
Can Concerta and Adderall Be Taken Together?
No, Concerta and Adderall should not be taken together. Taking Concerta with Adderall may lead to an increased risk of side effects.
What about the costs of Concerta and Adderall?
Both Adderall and Concerta are also available in generic form from multiple manufacturers. It’s likely your pharmacy will use a generic version of the medication unless the brand name is specifically requested by either you or your doctor. Generic medications are generally less expensive than their brand-name counterparts and will be more likely to be covered by insurance.
Your out-of-pocket cost for the medication will depend heavily on your insurance coverage. The cost of medications without insurance coverage can vary widely between pharmacies. A rough estimate of costs for a 30-day supply, assuming you use one dose per day, would be:
- Brand name Adderall XR: $228.
- Generic amphetamine salts ER: $150.
- Generic amphetamine salts regular release tablets: $90.
- Brand name Concerta: $270.
- Generic methylphenidate ER: $210
Do Any Studies Directly Compare Concerta To Adderall?
The studies that compare Concerta and Adderall directly are limited and date back to the 1990s. Crossover studies can be particularly helpful because these involve the same patient groups using both medications over time. Interestingly, while many of the overall findings did not find one medication to be clearly superior, some individuals were more likely to respond to one medication over the other.1 This highlights the need for solutions promoting personalized therapy.
Concerta vs Adderall: Which One Should I Take?
Your healthcare provider will prescribe the anti-ADHD agent they feel is best for you based on your condition, symptoms, circumstances, and needs. Genetic testing for ADHD may also help determine the best anti-ADHD medication for you. There are several reasons to take Concerta vs Adderall, many of which come down to how your body may react to them.
The primary difference between Concerta and Adderall is that Concerta contains methylphenidate, and Adderall contains a combination of amphetamine salts and dextroamphetamine. When compared to Adderall, Concerta's effects tend to last longer and release more slowly over time. Please consult a trusted healthcare professional before making any decisions about your medication.
Concerta vs Adderall: Similarities and Differences
ClarityX: DNA Testing for Medication
The DNA found in our bodies contains valuable information that could help determine how we will respond to certain medications and treatment plans. ClarityX examines DNA to uncover this information and provide patients with detailed reports on how they may react to taking certain drugs. We look for variations with the cytochrome 450 enzymes (which metabolizes over 70% of drugs). ClarityX offers two testing options with our pharmacogenetic testing:
- Mindwell test: his focuses on treatments for mental health conditions that include but are not limited to depression, anxiety, ADHD, OCD, and more.
- Max Rx test: This covers 31 therapeutic areas to test how an individual may respond to more than 265 medications.
Both the Mindwell and Max Rx tests may help determine how you will react to Concerta and Adderall. This could help you and your healthcare provider make more informed decisions about your treatment plan. Click here to learn more.