Learn about the differences between Ritalin and Adderall and how to choose the best medication for your needs.
Ritalin vs. Adderall: What Are They?
In the United States alone, over 6 million children have been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Characterized by hyperactive and impulsive behavior, ADHD can lead to fidgeting, absent-mindedness, and difficulty focusing. To address these symptoms, most doctors will prescribe one of two drugs: Ritalin or Adderall.
Both Ritalin and Adderall are common stimulants that treat ADHD by altering chemicals in the person’s brain. Because of these similarities, many people falsely assume that the two drugs are interchangeable. However, both medications have their own unique dosage requirements and effects — what works for one person may not work for another. If you’re wondering which treatment option is best for you, read through our guide on Ritalin vs. Adderall.
Ritalin and Adderall are brand names for two different types of drugs — Ritalin is a form of methylphenidate, while Adderall is a form of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Both are central nervous system stimulants that treat ADHD by increasing the levels of neurotransmitters or signaling molecules usually used in the treatment of children, in the brain. More specifically, they affect the following neurotransmitters:
- Dopamine: Dopamine is responsible for mood regulation, concentration, and memory recall.
- Norepinephrine: Norepinephrine can increase alertness and reaction times while lowering aggression.
While they have similar functionalities, both drugs work at different speeds. Typically, Ritalin kicks in faster — however, the effects of Adderall are long-acting. This difference in speed can influence the adverse effects you may experience.
It is important to keep in mind that both forms of these stimulant medications have immediate release and extended or sustained release forms. Therefore, it is important to keenly observe how each form and dose affects your daily rates of behaviors related to concentration and function.
When experiencing dramatic lifestyle changes it might warrant a change in the medication dosing and the form that you are taking. Some might need 4 hours of concentration for a school exam and others could use 8 hours for an entire work shift. The better you are at daily rates of behaviors with the least side effects and having consistency in your concentration is key to a successful regimen.
Ritalin vs. Adderall: Weight Loss and Other Side Effects
Like any drug, both Ritalin and Adderall come with the risk of significant side effects. Since they affect the brain in similar ways, many of these effects overlap. It’s common for users to experience the following:
- Weight loss: Stimulants can lower hunger and make your body burn calories faster.
- Difficulty sleeping: By increasing concentration and alertness, Ritalin and Adderall may make it harder to fall asleep.
- Increased blood pressure: Stimulants can increase your heartbeat, which in turn boosts blood pressure.
- Vision problems: Both Adderall and Ritalin have been linked to blurry vision and minor eye issues.
- Anxiety: Changing the level of neurotransmitters in your brain can sometimes trigger anxiety or nervousness.
The adverse effects you experience (as well as their extent) varies depending on your metabolism. For example, if you tend to break down drugs quickly, you might metabolize them before they even get a chance to work — in this case, you’ll need medication that can last for a long time (such as Adderall).
Conversely, if you break down drugs too slowly, they’ll remain in your system for longer than usual (which increases the chance of experiencing side effects). In this situation, you’ll want a medication that acts quicker (such as Ritalin).
Sometimes ADHD stimulant medications are given a bad rep as being street drugs, but these medications are studied extremely well and have had a long track record for safety when compared to different forms found on the street. A recent 2019 meta-analysis will bring relief to parents and patients alike that there were “no deaths reported” in relationship to methylphenidate (Ritalin) when reviewing multiple studies about the maximum-dose build-up in clinical settings. When dosed properly these medications are safe and effective. This is why it is important to follow your doctor's instructions about these medications when prescribed and to have the most accurate information about yourself to help avoid any unnecessary side effects.
If you have hypertension, cardiac disease, liver disease, glaucoma, alcohol abuse, psychiatric or neurological disorders, it is vital to work with your healthcare team to ensure both of these ADHD medications do not worsen these conditions or place you at risk of more adverse effects too.
Ritalin vs Adderall: Dosage
When choosing between Ritalin and Adderall, it’s important to consider the different dosages available. As mentioned earlier, the two drugs are not interchangeable — they work at different speeds, which means the doses of Ritalin do not reflect the doses of Adderall. Here’s a quick breakdown of the options you’ll find.
When prescribing Ritalin, research shows most doctors choose between the following types:
- Instant release
- Duration: 3 to 4 hours
- Available dosages: 5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg
- Duration: 6 to 8 hours
- Available dosages: 10 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg, 40 mg, 60 mg
- Sustained release
- Duration: 8 hours
- Available dosages: 20 mg
The instant release works quicker than the other forms, but will also wear off the fastest.
There are two main general recommendations for Adderall acknowledged by the medical community:
- Instant release
- Duration: 4 to 6 hours
- Available dosages: 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg
- Duration: 12 hours
- Available dosages: 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, 30 mg
In comparison to Ritalin, Adderall has more dosage amount options.
Ritalin vs. Adderall Dosage Conversion
It goes without saying that the higher the dosage amount, the stronger a drug is. However, doses of Ritalin are not equal to Adderall. If you plan to switch from Ritalin to Adderall (or vice versa), you must consider the following factors.
The efficacy of Adderall is approximately twice as strong as Ritalin — 5 mg of Ritalin is about equivalent to 2.5 mg of Adderall. Thus, if you plan to switch from Ritalin to Adderall, you’ll likely need to decrease your dosage. Similarly, if you want to switch from Adderall to Ritalin, your dosage will increase. But, always keep in mind the dosage duration forms when it comes to equivalency.
It’s always important to consider how long a drug takes to kick in. If you’re transitioning from a short-acting, fast drug to a slow-acting, long-lasting drug, the dosage amount should be increased to compensate for the new decrease in speed.
Completing The Conversion
Ultimately, determining the right dosage amount isn’t an exact science — doses vary for each individual. To help determine the right medication and dosage for your needs, consider trying pharmacogenetic testing.
When taking ADHD medications, it is important to pay attention to the side effects and duration of effectiveness. Taking your medication in a consistent matter helps develop better habits to not miss a dose and to let your body equilibrate to the changes it induces. The fewer variables you change, the better it is for you and your clinical team to truly establish cause. Both medications will have similar effects overall in a broad sense, but it is important to start off with the best medication possible when initiating therapy.
When it comes to mental health problems it is vital to get the right medications with the least amount of conflicting or additive interactions that could lead to drug interactions. Interactions are also very important to keep in mind, especially when it comes to a combination of antidepressants. This test can yield vital information related to a person having potential greater retention of certain antidepressant medications and if in combination with this stimulant medication class, one could even experience a very serious reaction called serotonin syndrome. The reason for the interaction is due to the similar effect going on in the brain with too many neurostimulation chemicals being present and causing effects such as increased heart rate, seizures, excessive sweating, fever, tremors, and vomiting. Always consult your pharmacist to avoid potential drug interactions.
Choosing The Best Medication
Selecting the right ADHD medication isn’t easy. How do you know which dosage and duration is right for you? How do you know which medications will (or won’t) cause significant side effects? That’s where ClarityX comes in.
ClarityX offers two types of tests:
- Mindwell test: This test is designed for mental health medications, which cover conditions including ADHD, depression, and anxiety.
- Max Rx: This test evaluates your response to over 265 FDA-approved medications and covers an additional 21 therapeutic areas, including psychiatry, cardiology, pain, rheumatology, and many more.
After providing a simple, at-home saliva sample, you’ll receive a personalized report detailing your unique medication response. With this information, you and your doctor can make better, safer choices for your health. Get started by clicking here!