Ritalin and Adderall: Comparison of Common ADHD Medications
and They both have similar effects, but you may prefer one over the other.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 6 million children in the United States have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This is about 11%. Around 7% of children have been diagnosed worldwide.
It’s not only kids that are affected. More than 4% of U.S. adult sufferers also have ADHD.
People diagnosed with ADHD over the age of 6 are often prescribed medication. Ritalin (r) is a stimulant medication for ADHD. It contains methylphenidate, and Adderall (r) is an amphetamine.
They share many common characteristics, even though they affect your brain differently.
What is the best treatment for your child or yourself? What can you expect with ADHD treatment? Michael Manos, Ph.D., is a pediatric behavioral health specialist.
What is ADHD?
Sometimes we all have difficulty focusing our attention. We all need help following directions, organizing our thoughts, or planning our next steps. It comes and goes.
These impulses do not ebb or flow for those with ADHD. These impulses are almost always present. They can be a nuisance.
This is because ADHD can cause executive dysfunction, which prevents you from controlling your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. People with ADHD have difficulty:
- Control their behavior.
- Overactivity control
- Regulate your mood.
- Keep your focus.
Researchers believe that ADHD was beneficial for early humans. People with ADHD tend to be hyper-aware of the environment. In early societies, this ability was thought to have helped hunters avoid danger and stalk food.
ADHD can be a serious problem in the modern world. This vigilance is not as helpful in modern life.
Kids with ADHD are easily distracted by their environment and can have difficulty concentrating at school. Someone is walking to the side of the classroom. (I need to know what they are doing.
Adults with ADHD can find it hard to accomplish tasks in the workplace and personal life. Or I was remembering what they are supposed to do. (Procrastinating, again? No. (I do my best under pressure.
ADHD is a chronic disorder. Children with ADHD may continue to experience symptoms into adulthood. Adults not diagnosed with ADHD as children may later develop symptoms similar to adult ADHD.
What is the treatment for ADHD?
ADHD is treated primarily with medication. ADHD is not cured by medication, but it can be managed.
Ritalin and Adderall are the two most commonly prescribed stimulant medications to treat ADHD. Both medications are available in different dosages and methods of taking them.
Dr. Manos says there are over 30 different ways to deliver each medication. Many medications include pills, liquids (including patches), gummies, and chewables. Some have a faster action, while others are more long-lasting. There are many variations.”
Both Adderall and Ritalin help you to better communicate with your brain. The way they work is different. Dr. Manos breaks down the differences.
What is Ritalin?
Ritalin is the brand name of a class called methylphenidate. This medication has been used since 1950 to treat ADHD symptoms. Other brands in the class are:
- Metadata (r).
Ritalin, among other methylphenidates, works in the same way:
Synapses are a series of connections your brain uses to send messages throughout your body. The words travel from one synapse to another to produce coherent thoughts and actions.
There is a tiny gap between each synapse. That’s normal. In the brain of someone with ADHD, however, messages may get lost when they try to pass through these gaps.
Imagine it as a rickety suspension bridge suspended by ropes over a valley. There’s a huge drop below. The hero always has to jump over broken planks to reach the castle.
The hero, in the case of someone with ADHD, does not cross the gap. They turn around and return the same way.
This is called synaptic uptake in your brain. The message is returned to the original synapse instead of sent to the next. The message needs to make it to plank number two on the bridge.
Ritalin or Adderall will both prevent reuptake. They won’t allow the hero to turn around. They don’t let the hero turn around.
Neurotransmitters transmit the messages.
Ritalin blocks the reuptake of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and Norepinephrine. These neurotransmitters are responsible for attention, impulse control, and other things.
When someone with ADHD takes Ritalin, dopamine or Norepinephrine cannot turn around when they reach a gap in the bridge planks. They continue to move forward. This helps you to concentrate more and manage impulsive behaviors and other ADHD symptoms.
What is Adderall?
Adderall belongs to a group of drugs called amphetamines. Amphetamines help to get messages across the bridge in a different way.
- Prevents reuptake. Adderall, like Ritalin, prevents the reuptake of dopamine and Norepinephrine.
- Inhibits autoreceptors. Our brains usually meter the number of neurotransmitters released at a given time. Adderall allows for more messages to be sent at once.
- Increases neurotransmitter availability. Amphetamines create a whole army to cross the bridge.
- Increases the postsynaptic receivers. Amphetamines ensure the castle gates are opened on the other side of the bridge. The welcome mat is rolled out so the messages are more easily received.
Amphetamines affect your brain’s messaging system in four different ways. Ritalin only works by blocking reuptake. Adderall may be more potent, but it is not more effective. All it takes is how your body and brain respond.
Dr. Manos says, “The true value of medicine is if it works for the individual.” As physicians, we are looking at what can make a difference in the life of our patients. It’s about something other than what each medication class does. “It’s not about what each class of medication does to you.”
Since about 1960, amphetamines have been used in the United States to treat ADHD. Other amphetamine brands that are used to treat ADHD, in addition to Adderall, include:
Ritalin or Adderall? Which is right for you
It’s not easy to say whether Adderall or Ritalin will be better for your child or you.
Ritalin is a better choice for some people. Some people respond better to Adderall. Research has not yet determined which medication will be more effective for a particular person.
It’s not easy to say that one is better suited to children. It’s more complex to say that one is better for kids or adults. One is better for people with hyperactivity than those who are more inattentive.
The healthcare provider will use their best judgment to prescribe the medication. Then, they monitor the effects of each medication over time. They may adjust the dosage or try another delivery method if the side effects seem too severe.
Dr. Manos is currently working with others on a study that will help eliminate some guesswork in prescribing ADHD medication.
Dr. Manos says doctors will decide on their criteria for using one medication over another based on their experiences. “We are analyzing why one medication is more effective in certain situations than another. What are the specific characteristics of the individual or condition that is more likely to respond to Adderall versus Ritalin? “And vice versa.”
Do they have an addictive quality?
Dr. Manos explains that it is common for people to worry that ADHD medications could be addictive. When used by the prescribed people, neither Adderall or Ritalin is addictive.
The problem is that they can be misused.
Dr. Manos says these are the drugs most commonly found on college campuses. “Use them to do an all-nighter to finish a paper or to prepare for finals. “That’s the problem.”
Ritalin and Adderall are not chemically addictive like cocaine which hijacks the pleasure centers of your brain. People can be psychologically addicted. You enjoy the way the medicine makes you feel enjoy focusing on your work, accomplishing more, and finishing projects without distraction. You take more, and you want to do more.
Researchers have found that misusing ADHD medications like Ritalin and Adderall can lead to serious side effects.
- Heart Attack.
- Sudden death.
Ritalin, Adderall, and other controlled substances are deemed dangerous due to the potential for misuse. Some states limit the amount of medication you can buy at one time. This is an attempt to reduce overuse.
ADHD Treatments Other than medication
Although stimulant drugs like Ritalin or Adderall may be the most popular treatment for ADHD, these are not the only options.
Some people with ADHD can manage their symptoms using non-stimulant prescription medications such as norepinephrine or alpha-2 adrenergic antagonists. Some antidepressants are also effective for certain people.
Antidepressants and non-stimulant medications can be combined with stimulants such as Ritalin or Adderall.
Behavioral therapy, with or without medication, can also help some people manage the effects of ADHD. Families with children diagnosed with ADHD often recommend behavior management training for parents.
There are many other options to manage the symptoms of ADHD. Ritalin is one of them. They’re also effective. It’s normal to try new medications or ways of managing symptoms if you or your child has been diagnosed with ADHD. Different people may experience different effects from different medications. You’ll probably find the solution you need with patience.