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The Differences Between Ritalin and Adderall

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: Elizabeth Wistrom • updated: 10/31/2010

If your child has ADHD, you’ve likely heard of the controversy of Ritalin vs. Adderall. Although both are stimulants that can alleviate the symptoms of ADHD, they have different potencies and possible side effects.

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    Ritalin: The Granddaddy of ADHD Drugs

    If you’ve heard of ADHD, you’ve likely heard of Ritalin. Ritalin, or methylphenidate, is a stimulant medication that can help relieve some of the symptoms of ADHD (such as impulsivity and hyperactivity), both in children and in adults. Ritalin has been used for decades to help these symptoms, and many doctors prescribe it first without considering the alternatives. If your child or student is on Ritalin, however, you may want to look into whether Adderall could be more effective.

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    The Benefits of Adderall

    In understanding the differences between Ritalin vs. Adderall, it is important to realize their differences in composition. Whereas Ritalin is derived from an amphetamine, Adderall is actually an amphetamine. Numerous studies, both small and large, have shown that Adderall can have an even more beneficial effect on a person with ADHD than Ritalin can. Not only that, but it can be given in lower doses and lasts longer between doses. If you’ve realized that a child’s ADHD symptoms seem to reemerge four or five hours after a dose of Ritalin (but before you can give the child another dose), you may want to consider switching the child to Adderall.

    Adderall has also been found to cause less anxiety and agitation, which is a common side effect of Ritalin. If the child is suffering from these side effects, that might be another reason to switch to Ritalin.

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    The Benefits of Ritalin

    Many people are nervous about using a straight-up amphetamine on a child. These people may prefer to use Ritalin rather than Adderall, as it is one step removed from the amphetamine source. In addition, Adderall has been found to have a side effect of insomnia in some cases, whereas Ritalin is less likely to carry this side effect.

    When deciding whether a child should take Ritalin vs. Adderall, there’s nothing wrong with starting with one of them and switching if necessary. At the same time, the advantages and disadvantages of each should be carefully weighed before switching medication.

    Disclaimer: Make sure to speak with your child's doctor about using either of these drugs, as they both require a prescription.

All About ADHD Medications

If someone you know has been diagnosed with ADHD, you may be overwhelmed with information. This series of article discusses various ADHD medications, most specifically Ritalin.
  1. Physical and Emotional Side Effects of Ritalin in Adults
  2. The Differences Between Ritalin and Adderall
  3. Medicating Hyperactive Kids: The Controversy Behind Ritalin and ADHD