ClickCease Adderall vs Ritalin: What are the differences? - Granite Recovery Centers

Adderall vs Ritalin: What are the differences?

Authored by Granite Recovery Centers    Reviewed by James Gamache    Last Updated: August 28th, 2021


James Gamache Medical Reviewer
Jim is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) and Licensed Masters Level Addictions Counselor (MLADC). He has been working in the field of mental health/addiction treatment since 1995. Jim earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Human Services from Springfield College in 2000, and a Masters Degree in Social Work from Boston University in 2002. In 2002 Jim was hired by the Mental Health Center of Greater Manchester holding the position of Clinical Case Manager. From 2004-2019, Jim was employed at WestBridge Inc. During his time at WestBridge, Jim held the following positions; Clinician, Team Leader, Director, & Chief Operations Officer. In 2019 Jim transitioned employment to GateHouse Treatment Center as the Clinical Director for 10 months. In October of 2020 Jim transitioned to Granite Recovery Centers and is currently serving as the Senior VP of Clinical Services and Quality Assurance.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a medical condition that can affect both children and adults. Those affected may have a hard time focusing on tasks, may have higher than average levels of hyperactivity, and may exhibit a lack of impulse control. While it is normal to feel distracted or lose focus occasionally, people with ADHD experience this in a way that affects their ability to function in their day-to-day lives.

According to the CDC, 6.1 million children in the United States were diagnosed with ADHD in 2016. The majority of these children received both behavioral treatment and medication.

A child with ADHD might:

  • Daydream a lot
  • Have a hard time sitting still
  • Talk constantly
  • Lose and forget things a lot
  • Take unnecessary risks
  • Have a hard time making friends and getting along with others
  • Not be able to resist temptation
  • Not be able to wait their turn

Without treatment, these issues can be even worse. In the case of adults, undiagnosed ADHD may be the cause of underachievement and many other problems. Of course, symptoms in adults may appear different. For example, instead of hyperactivity, adults may exhibit restlessness.

Typically, treatment includes a combination of behavioral therapy and medication. The key is that medication to treat ADHD is not administered without medical supervision and is accompanied by therapies that help the afflicted person learn to modify their behavior. Medicine shouldn’t be given in isolation.

Adderall and Ritalin

The two drugs commonly prescribed for ADHD are Ritalin and Adderall. Both of these may also be prescribed for narcolepsy. What seems counterintuitive is that both Ritalin and Adderall are stimulants, yet they decrease hyperactivity and impulsive behavior in those with ADHD and help them concentrate on tasks.

Of these two drugs, Ritalin has been around longer. Ritalin is the brand name for the nervous system stimulant methylphenidate. It affects the activity of both dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.

Dopamine is known as the pleasure chemical. It’s a neurotransmitter that is often released by the brain during activities such as eating food or having sex. In addition to inducing feelings of pleasure, it also affects movement and attention span. Norepinephrine is also known as adrenaline. It is a stimulant that can cause a fight-or-flight response.

How Ritalin Affects the System

Ritalin is a dopamine reuptake blocker. That means that when you take it, your brain’s neurons are blocked from reabsorbing the chemical. Because this can wreak havoc upon brain function, medical doctors will generally start patients on the lowest possible dose and gradually increase the quantity when necessary.

For those who have ADHD, Ritalin can be a gamechanger. It can help children (and adults) with this condition focus and be more disciplined. This allows for success at both school and work.

Unfortunately, Ritalin comes with potential side effects. For those prone to anxiety, for example, Ritalin may worsen the symptoms. It may also cause seizures in those who have a history of seizures.

Other potential side effects include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Reduction in growth rate for some children
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Headaches
  • Nervousness
  • Increased blood pressure or heart rate

Due to these issues, a doctor must monitor anyone taking Ritalin. For many children, doctors will suggest breaks during the summer months. This would allow the child to grow physically if the growth rate was affected and also allow the doctor to see if it’s possible that the child no longer needs the medication.

Individuals must taper off the dosage during breaks as Ritalin, like other central nervous system stimulants, can be addictive. Withdrawal symptoms can include fatigue, insomnia, and depression.

This is also a reason that unauthorized access is dangerous. When a single large dose of Ritalin is taken, it can induce euphoria, tempting the user to take more. When misused, Ritalin can cause paranoia, mood changes, tremors, confusion, and hallucinations.

How Adderall Affects the System

In recent years, Adderall has overtaken Ritalin as the drug of choice for those with ADHD. It is more effective and longer-lasting. Categorized as a stimulant, Adderall contains amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Like Ritalin, it is used to treat narcolepsy and ADHD.

Also, like Ritalin, Adderall stimulates the central nervous system. The drug’s main components have the same effects on the brain as three naturally occurring neurotransmitters: dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine.

When comparing Adderall to Ritalin, it’s important to realize that they are both powerful drugs that can lead to physical dependence. Individuals should only take these medications under medical supervision.

When someone who does not need these drugs for a medical purpose takes them, particularly in high doses, they can lead to feelings of euphoria as well as a sense of being “wired.” The person taking these drugs feels like they are full of energy. They can feel more productive, more alert, they often stay awake for long periods of time, and their appetite is suppressed. Because of this last effect, some people use these drugs as a weight control tool.

Dosages and Available Forms of Adderall and Ritalin

One advantage that Adderall has over Ritalin is that, in general, smaller doses are required, and the doses last for longer periods. A 5 mg dose of Adderall will typically have the same effect as a 10 mg dose of Ritalin. There are also extended-release versions of Adderall, and there is a wider range of dosage options.

Studies have shown that a low dose of Adderall was proven as effective as higher doses of Ritalin and that the levels were more stable. Whereas with Ritalin, the drug seemed to have higher peaks and lower valleys, Adderall provided a gentler plateau. Additionally, Adderall seems to have fewer side effects, such as stomach upsets, making it difficult for some people to use Ritalin.

The Side Effects of Adderall vs. Ritalin

Because both of these drugs interact with the central nervous system and interfere with the normal functioning of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine, their side effects are similar. Both can cause sleep and appetite problems, headache, dizziness, nausea, irritability, anxiety, and increased heart rate. Both can interfere with normal growth in children and can lead to addiction.

However, there are also some differences. Adderall is more likely to cause heart disease, high blood pressure, hyperthyroidism, and arteriosclerosis. Ritalin is more likely to cause agitation, anxiety, glaucoma, motor tics, and Tourette’s syndrome.

Is It Safe to Take Both Adderall and Ritalin?

While there are no known specific interactions between the two substances, it’s not a good idea to take both. When you are diagnosed with ADHD, your medical care provider will discuss treatment options and decide if prescribing one or the other would be helpful. If you are taking these substances without a doctor’s authorization, taking them together increases your chances of having an overdose since they both affect the same areas of the brain.

Can You Take Adderall or Ritalin With Alcohol?

Because both Adderall and Ritalin are stimulants while alcohol is a depressant, there is a misconception that taking the two together will create a balance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, what often seems to happen is that the chances of an overdose increase when the user takes Adderall or Ritalin along with alcohol.

The Dangers of Taking Adderall or Ritalin Without Medical Supervision

These are powerful substances that individuals should not take without a doctor’s guidance. Even when taken for the actual condition they are meant to treat, they can cause issues. When taken recreationally, the effects can be disastrous.

Upon taking Adderall or Ritalin, the user will feel euphoric, self-confident, and energized. Many people use these drugs for losing weight, accomplishing tasks, pulling all-nighters, and increasing focus and concentration.

However, both of these drugs can be highly addictive. Someone might set out to use one of these drugs only “as needed” and quickly find the situation spiraling out of control. When this happens, it’s essential that the user not blame themselves for not having enough willpower to control their usage. Instead, they should understand the effects of these drugs on brain chemistry and how that leads to addiction.

Why Are Ritalin and Adderall So Addictive?

The reason that these drugs are addictive is explained by neuroscience. Both Ritalin and Adderall are dopamine reuptake inhibitors; this means that dopamine released by the brain stays around longer. Both drugs also interfere with the natural functioning of norepinephrine in the brain, which enhances focus.

The brain will attempt to achieve homeostasis. When it detects too much dopamine, it will try to regulate this in two ways. It will produce less dopamine, and it will shut down some of the dopamine receptors.

Then, a vicious cycle begins. The addict requires even higher doses to get the same degree of reaction. They’ll increase their dosage, which leads their brain to shut down dopamine production further and reduce the number of receptors. If they stop taking the drug, they will be craving a normal level of chemicals that their brain can no longer supply.

Treatment Options

For those stuck in the Adderall or Ritalin usage cycle, the good news is that recovery is possible, and help is available. If you’ve only taken a few doses of either drug, then you can probably quit on your own. However, if you’ve been taking one of them for a long period of time, you may need help as you will experience cravings.

It’s important to understand the physiology of addiction so that you realize the issue is not a lack of discipline on your part but a change in your brain’s physiology. Fortunately, our compassionate professionals at Granite Recovery Centers understand the brain chemistry of dopamine addiction. We can provide a full spectrum of treatment options in an individualized program that best fits your needs.

Mental Health Treatment During Recovery

One of the most important facets of treatment for Adderall or Ritalin addiction may be mental health. That is because many of those taking these drugs for a long time find it incredibly frightening when they stop taking them. Granite Recovery Centers provides medical detoxification for people who do not need immediate medical intervention, are not a danger to themselves, and are capable of self-evacuation in the event of an emergency.

They will have a hard time focusing, and life will seem to lack all pleasure. It may be hard to think or function in a normal manner. In extreme cases, people going through the early phases of withdrawal may even contemplate suicide.

Thankfully, treatment at Granite Recovery Centers can give users a sense of hope. Instead of being isolated as they fight their disease alone, they will participate in group activities with others going through the same journey. They will have access to holistic therapies and individual sessions as well. All of these modalities work together to provide a unique climate of healing for clients.

If you or someone you love is dealing with Adderall or Ritalin addiction, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. You will be treated in a non-judgmental, compassionate, and professional manner by our expert staff.

At Granite Recovery Centers, we want to provide accurate information about health and addiction so that our readers can make informed decisions.

We have credentialed medical doctors & clinicians who specialize in addiction treatment review the information on our website before it is published. We use credible sources such as government websites and journal articles when citing statistics or other medically related topics.