People who have been diagnosed with ADHD may find Focalin or Adderall to be helpful anti-ADHD agents. Learn more about each of these CNS stimulants and how genetic testing for ADHD may help you determine whether Focalin vs Adderall is better for you.

Focalin vs Adderall

As a highly prevalent mental health condition, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 4-5% of US adults and 6 million children.1 Anti-ADHD agents such as Focalin and Adderall may be viable treatment options for those who have been diagnosed with ADHD. These medications may help people with ADHD better manage symptoms as they relate to focus, attention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.

Both Focalin and Adderall are central nervous system stimulants (CNS stimulants). These two medications work on the brain by modifying the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. Despite their similarities, Focalin and Adderall are not the same. Focalin is an isomer of methylphenidate, whereas Adderall is a combination of four different amphetamine salts and contains dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine. Understanding the differences between Focalin and Adderall will help you and your doctor determine which anti-ADHD agent is best for you. Additionally, genetic testing for ADHD medications may also help.

Focalin vs Adderall: What are They?

Adderall and Focalin are anti-ADHD agents that may be useful for helping treat children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD. The effectiveness and the ways in which each drug interacts with individuals depends on many factors including symptoms, dosage, body chemistry makeup, height, weight, other medications, and more.

What is Focalin?

Dexmethylphenidate (Focalin) is a Schedule II controlled substance that may be used to treat ADHD. Focalin has been approved as an effective treatment option for ADHD, primarily for children and adolescents. This CNS stimulant works by blocking the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine into the presynaptic neuron and increasing the release of these monoamines into the extraneuronal space. This is said to help manage ADHD symptoms.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is also a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant and a Schedule II controlled substance. Unlike Focalin, Adderall contains four amphetamine salts: Dextroamphetamine Saccharate, Amphetamine Aspartate, Dextroamphetamine Sulfate and Amphetamine Sulfate. By balancing certain chemicals in the brain, Adderall may help improve attention span, focus, behavioral problems, organization, and other challenges that may be associated with ADHD.

In addition to being a treatment medication for ADHD, Adderall may also help with narcolepsy, a chronic sleep disorder that is characterized by excessive daytime sleepiness and suddenly falling asleep. Focalin is not approved for narcolepsy.

Focalin vs Adderall: Common Side Effects

Introducing a new medication of any kind into your body comes with certain risks of side effects, many of which affect people differently. Read on to learn about some of the most common side effects associated with Focalin and Adderall.

Side Effects Common with Focalin

Some people who take Focalin may experience the following side effects:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Sore throat
  • Migraines

Please consult a healthcare professional if you experience severe side effects from Focalin 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
  • Unpleasant taste
  • Nausea / vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Increased anxiety

The risk of experiencing side effects may increase with higher doses of both Focalin and Adderall. In general, side effects will start to dissipate over time. If you experience lasting side effects or unusual side effects, please consult a healthcare professional.

PLEASE NOTE: Because Focalin 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.

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Focalin vs Adderall: Dosage

The dosage at which people take Focalin vs Adderall may differ depending on their treatment plan and their needs. This will vary based on height, weight, medical history, symptoms, and many other factors. Your doctor will prescribe the dose and frequency of the anti-ADHD agent they feel is best for you. Do not alter your treatment plan. Always take medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor and pharmacist.

Focalin Dosage

Focalin 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. There are two forms of Focalin: the immediate-release tablet and Focalin XR, which are the extended-release tablets. Most people take Focalin XR 1x/day in the morning and Focalin 2x/day, once in the morning and another tablet 4 hours later. Taking Focalin late in the day may interfere with your sleep.

The immediately-release tablet form of Focalin comes in strengths of 2.5 mg, 5 mg, and 10 mg. It typically reaches maximum concentration in the bloodstream within 1-1.5 hours with total effects lasting up to 4 hours. Focalin XR (the extended-release tablet form of Focalin) comes in strengths of 5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, 30 mg, 35 mg, and 40 mg. Focalin XR is taken 1x/day. Its effects may last as long as 12 hours.2

Always take Focalin exactly as prescribed. Do not skip or double doses.

Adderall Dosage

The dosage for Adderall and Adderall XR (the 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 is available in 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, and 30 mg oral tablets. Adderall XR extended-release comes in 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, and 30 mg capsules.3 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.

Those who have trouble swallowing tablets and/or capsules also have the option of opening the capsule, pouring its contents into fluid (water is recommended) or applesauce/yogurt and consuming it immediately.

Your doctor will prescribe the dose of Adderall or Focalin they feel is best based on a variety of factors. Do not exceed the recommended dose or frequency. Should you decide to discontinue taking Adderall or Focalin, please do so under the care and supervision of a healthcare professional. Discontinuing the use of Adderall and Focalin 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 Focalin and Adderall may be habit-forming and may become less effective over time. Both medications come with a high risk of chronic abuse. Always speak with a trusted healthcare professional before making any changes to your medication.

Focalin vs Adderall: How Long Does It Take to Start Working?

Both Focalin and Adderall take effect within a short time of ingestion. Focalin typically begins to work within 30 minutes of taking the medication. Similarly, Adderall also starts to take effect within 30 minutes to an hour of consumption. Please bear in mind that both Focalin and Adderall are stimulant medications with a high risk of misuse that may cause them to be habit-forming.

Can Focalin and Adderall Be Taken Together?

No, Focalin and Adderall should not be taken together. Taking Focalin with Adderall may lead to an increased risk of side effects.

Focalin 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 Focalin vs Adderall, many of which come down to how your body may react to them.

The primary difference between Focalin and Adderall is that Focalin contains methylphenidate and Adderall contains a combination of amphetamine salts and dextroamphetamine. Some people find that Focalin may be better suited for children and adolescents, whereas Adderall may be the preferred ADHD medication option for adults.4 Additionally, anecdotal evidence suggests that Focalin yields fewer side effects than Adderall. Individuals tend to report fewer jitters with Focalin than with Adderall. Please consult a trusted healthcare professional before making any decisions about your medication.

Focalin vs Adderall: Similarities and Differences




Drug group

Anti-ADHD Agent/ CNS stimulant

Anti-ADHD Agent/ CNS Stimulant


  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

  • Narcolepsy

Intended duration of use

Short or long-term

Short or long-term

Available in generic form 



May be habit forming?



Available forms

Immediate-release oral tablet and extended-release oral tablet.

Immediate-release oral tablet and extended-release capsule. 

Safe for use with alcohol?

Not recommended 

Not recommended 

ClarityX: DNA Testing for Medication

The DNA we have in our bodies contains valuable information that could help determine how we will respond to certain medications and treatment plans. ClarityX examines DNA to gain a better understanding about this information and provide patients with detailed reports on how they may react to taking certain drugs. We look for variations with the cytochrome P450 enzymes (which metabolizes over 70% of drugs). The cytochrome P450 enzyme that impacts Focalin and Adderall is CYP2D6, which is responsible for the metabolism (activation or elimination) of these medications in the body. ClarityX offers two pharmacogenomic testing options that can foreshadow if either of these medications are right for you based on your genetic profile:

  • Mindwell test: This 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 respond to Focalin and Adderall. This could help you and your healthcare provider make more informed decisions about your treatment plan. Click here to learn more.





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