Ritalin vs. Adderall: Differences and Interactions

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on July 18, 2022.

Prescription medications can do significant good for individuals managing various conditions. They can help people lead a normal life and reduce or eliminate uncomfortable or bothersome symptoms a person may experience. However, it's also possible to misuse these medications, leading to dependence and addiction.

Ritalin and Adderall are two medications with the potential for abuse. A person may start taking them as part of a treatment plan but misuse them or buy the drugs illegally and take them for recreational purposes.

If you've recently been prescribed Ritalin or Adderall or use the medications for another reason, it's essential to understand the difference between the two drugs and how they interact with other substances. Understanding the differences and interactions can better prepare you and reduce your risk of addiction. Learn more about Ritalin and Adderall below and how the medications compare.

Ritalin vs. Adderall

Knowing the differences and interactions between these two medications is essential to understanding how they assist with conditions like ADHD and how a person can become addicted to one or both of these drugs.

Ritalin and Adderall are both a type of stimulant medication that block the reuptake of various neurotransmitters, such as dopamine. These medications help individuals improve their attentiveness, focus and wakefulness. Individuals with ADHD can use these medications to help them focus on tasks at work or school. People with narcolepsy can also use Ritalin or Adderall to stay awake during the day. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves both Adderall and Ritalin to treat various conditions.

While these medications work similarly, they have distinct differences in dosage and ingredients. Each of these medications also works at different speeds, and its effects last for a varied amount of time. Both drugs are effective at treating narcolepsy and ADHD. However, one of these medications may be more effective at treating specific conditions in certain individuals based on how their body responds to the drug.

Understanding how these medications work can help you determine which medication is right for you. You'll learn more about the addictive potential of these medications to know if it's time to seek professional help.


Ritalin Overview

One of the main ingredients in Ritalin is methylphenidate hydrochloride, but it's not an amphetamine. Some prescribed users describe Ritalin as milder than Adderall, but its effects vary. Ritalin is mainly used to treat ADHD and can help individuals increase their focus and attention, allowing them to manage essential tasks throughout their day and be more productive. Ritalin can also decrease impulsiveness in individuals with ADHD, allowing for more calculated decisions.

Ritalin can also be used to treat narcolepsy. Since the drug is a stimulant, it can help keep individuals with the condition awake so they can live a normal life.

While Ritalin can be used to treat different conditions effectively, it's also a controlled substance as a Schedule II drug. This means that, while it has a significant impact in the medical field, it also has the potential for abuse, which could lead to addiction. If you've ever been dependent on a substance, including alcohol or other prescription drugs, talk with your doctor before taking Ritalin.

When you start taking Ritalin, you may notice some side effects. You may have additional or worsening side effects if you misuse them and become dependent on the drug. Side effects could include:

  • Headaches
  • Anxiety or nervousness
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Tingling or numbness in your extremities
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Sweating or skin rashes
  • Agitation
  • Sleep disturbances

An individual won't experience all of these side effects, but it's essential to be aware of them when taking the medication to know how they may impact you. Taking more than prescribed or misusing these medications can increase your likelihood of experiencing unwanted side effects.

When a person takes Ritalin, they feel the effects within an hour after taking the drug. However, it has a short half-life and only lasts about three or four hours. Long-lasting Ritalin is also available, which lasts about eight.


Adderall Overview

Adderall's main ingredients are a combination of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. This drug is a medication predominantly used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. Its stimulating effects can help increase attention and focus in individuals with ADHD while decreasing hyperactivity and impulsiveness. It can also help individuals with narcolepsy stay awake during the day, allowing them to focus on daily tasks and live fulfilling lives.

The federal government considers Adderall a Schedule II drug, making it a controlled substance. While Adderall has medical applications, it also has a high potential for abuse, dependence and addiction. If you have a history of substance abuse, talk with your doctor before starting the medication.

There are common side effects of Adderall many people experience, including reduced appetite, stomach ache and nervousness. Taking Adderall could also result in severe side effects, especially if you start misusing the drug. Some of the severe side effects include:

  • Slowed growth in children
  • Seizures, especially in those with a history of seizures
  • Blurred vision or changes in eyesight

Adderall abuse or accidental overdose can also cause serotonin syndrome, especially when taken with other medications. Serotonin syndrome can become life-threatening in certain situations. Some of the side effects a person may experience with serotonin syndrome include:

  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Muscle twitches
  • Increase heart rate and blood pressure
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Changes in mental functioning

The risk of severe side effects increases if you misuse your prescription or abuse the drug. Adderall can also limit particular abilities in specific people. For example, Adderall can make driving dangerous for adolescents. Other activities can also become hazardous, such as operating other heavy machinery, such as for work.

Some people misuse Adderall to improve focus and performance at work or school, even if they don't have ADHD. Adderall is a common drug among college students seeking new ways to keep up with their workloads. However, those who abuse Adderall in this way put themselves at risk of developing an addiction.

How Ritalin and Adderall Interact

Many people often wonder if mixing Ritalin and Adderall together is safe. While there is no known interaction between the medications, combining the two could result in a potential overdose. Both drugs have the same effect on the body, meaning taking both simultaneously can amplify their effects. This creates a dangerous situation, making it more likely to overdose. You could also increase your risk of cardiovascular complications or extreme blood pressure fluctuations. Coming down from the effects can result in increased levels of anxiety and depression.

People might mix these drugs to experience a euphoric and energetic high, but the risk of side effects and a potential overdose make it dangerous. Ritalin and Adderall can also have dangerous interactions with other medications.

When Adderall mixes with certain medications, it can become life-threatening. If you take Adderall to treat ADHD, narcolepsy or another condition, your doctor may switch some of your other medicines to reduce the chance of harmful interactions. Different medications Adderral interacts with include:

  • Antidepressants, particularly MAOIs
  • Blood thinners
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Seizure medications
  • Stomach acid medications
  • Decongestant medications

You should always talk to your doctor before starting Adderall to ensure it won't have any severe interactions with your medications.

Ritalin also interacts with medications, including nonprescription ones. Some interactions can be severe, putting your health at risk. You may need to adjust your dosage to ensure interactions don't occur. Some medications that interact with Ritalin include:

  • Antidepressants, such as MAOIs
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Seizure medications
  • Blood thinners

Ritalin can also decrease the effectiveness of certain medications, such as those used to treat hypertension. While the interaction may not be immediately dangerous, it's essential to talk to your doctor about alternatives.

Ritalin vs. Adderall Dosage

Interactions will vary based on your dosage, and each medication is effective at different doses. Each drug also has various forms. For example, Ritalin has long-acting, sustained release and instant release. On the other hand, Adderall has extended and instant release. Ritalin and Adderall also have different potencies, requiring different doses.

A 5mg dose of Adderall is about the same as 10mg of Ritalin. Understanding the difference between these doses can help prevent an overdose if you switch from one medication to the other. You won't have to take as much Adderall to experience the same effects as Ritalin.

If your doctor gives you Ritalin or Adderall, taking the medication as prescribed is essential to reduce the risk of misuse and addiction. Instant release Adderall is usually only taken two or three times a day, depending on your dose. Doses for Adderall range from 5mg to 30mg. Ritalin is also taken two or three times a day, but the medication is only available at 5mg, 10mg and 20mg doses.

If your doctor prescribes these medications, they may start with the lowest dose to see how your body reacts. If you need more of the drug to improve your symptoms, your doctor will slowly increase the dosage until you find one that works for you. It's essential to take your medication as prescribed and no more than the recommended daily amount to prevent addiction. Always talk with your doctor if you feel you're becoming dependent on the drugs.


How to Seek Help if You or a Loved One is Struggling With Addiction

If you or a loved one struggles with Ritalin or Adderall addiction, help is available. Some addiction treatment centers specialize in treatment for prescription medications, including these two medications used for ADHD.

If you're looking for help for a loved one, there are a few ways you can encourage them to seek treatment:

  • Consult an addiction specialist: An addiction specialist can provide the tools you need to help your loved one through their addiction. They'll educate you about the effects of addiction so you can identify the signs in your loved one and get them the help they need. You'll also learn how to communicate with your loved one without coming across as judgmental or accusatory, which is essential to ensure they feel supported.
  • Stage an intervention: When you consult an addiction specialist, they can help you stage an intervention and decide on the best approach. An intervention can help your loved one see the reality of their situation and how their addiction affects the people they care about. It can also help them realize they need professional help to overcome their addiction.
  • Be honest: When you talk with your loved one about their addiction, be honest about how it affects them and your relationship. They may not see how their substance use affects their life or damages the relationship between you. Being honest can also encourage your loved one to seek professional help to mend your relationship and improve their quality of life.
  • Remember addiction is a disease: Once addiction takes hold, it becomes challenging for an individual to regain control without outside help. Remember to withhold judgment and blame when interacting with your loved one. The substance has taken hold of their body and mind, making it difficult to function without the drug. The best thing you can do is be supportive without enabling their addiction. Have an honest discussion with them and encourage them to seek treatment, outlining how their life will improve once they overcome their addiction.
  • Help them find resources: When a person is addicted to a substance, finding the resources they need to battle their addiction can be challenging. Help your loved one by researching addiction treatment centers closest to you and consult with a specialist if necessary. You can give this information to your loved one so they can decide on their care. You're taking a significant burden off their shoulders by helping them find the resources they need for their care, which could help them seek treatment sooner.

If you're looking for help for yourself, research treatment centers in your area. You can also speak with an addiction specialist to determine your level of care. Various treatment options are available to help you reach sobriety, such as residential inpatient programs or outpatient programs. You can also participate in various therapies to address the root cause of your addiction and learn skills to manage stressful situations and prevent relapse.


Contact Us for Rehab Services in Northern California and Sacramento

If you or a loved one struggles with Ritalin or Adderall addiction, Diamond House Detox is here to help. We have various addiction therapy services to ensure you find the level of care you need. We also specialize in co-occurring disorders. If you have an underlying mental health condition contributing to your substance use, we'll treat you for both conditions simultaneously to ensure a complete recovery and reduce the risk of relapse.

We use evidence-based treatments to ensure you're participating in a program that's proven effective against addiction. When you enroll in our treatment center, we'll create a personalized treatment plan that targets your specific needs. You'll be under constant supervision from our medical staff, guaranteeing your safety and comfort while you work through your treatment program.

Call Now

Take the first step in the battle against addiction — call (800) 205-6107 or contact us online to learn more.

Linked sources:

  1. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/nda/2002/11-522S030_Adderall.cfm
  2. https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/nda/2002/21-284_Ritalin.cfm
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2518387/
  4. https://www.rxlist.com/adderall_vs_ritalin/drugs-condition.htm#:~:text=Methylphenidate%20(also%20sold%20as%20Concerta)%20isn%27t%20an%20amphetamine%20and%20its%20effects%20tend%20to%20be%20milder%20than%20those%20of%20Adderall.
  5. https://www.dea.gov/drug-information/drug-scheduling#:~:text=methaqualone%2C%20and%20peyote.-,Schedule%20II,hydromorphone%20(Dilaudid)%2C%20meperidine%20(Demerol)%2C%20oxycodone%20(OxyContin)%2C%20fentanyl%2C%20Dexedrine%2C%20Adderall%2C%20and%20Ritalin,-Schedule%20III
  6. https://www.verywellmind.com/how-long-does-it-take-for-adhd-medication-to-work-4140394#:~:text=Ritalin%20and%20Ritalin%20LA%20(methylphenidate)%3A%20Ritalin%20takes%2020%20to%2030%20minutes%20after%20swallowing%20before%20it%20starts%20to%20work.%20Short%2Dacting%20Ritalin%20lasts%20three%20to%20five%20hours%20and%20long%2Dacting%20(Ritalin%20LA)%20lasts%20for%20approximately%20eight%20hours.5
  7. https://www.rxlist.com/adderall-drug.htm#description:~:text=dextroamphetamine%20and%20amphetamine
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4309786/#:~:text=Second%2C%20amphetamines%20can%20increase%20serotonin%20release%20and%20inhibit%20reuptake%3B%20concurrent%20use%20of%20amphetamines%20with%20SSRIs%20can%20lead%20to%20dangerously%20high%20extracellular%20serotonin%20levels%20(serotonin%20syndrome)
  9. https://www.drugs.com/drug-interactions/adderall-with-ritalin-190-1645-1606-979.html#:~:text=Interactions%20between%20your%20drugs,found%20between%20Adderall%20and%20Ritalin.
  10. https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adderall-vs-ritalin#:~:text=Both%20Adderall%20and%20Ritalin%20are,more%20quickly%20than%20Adderall%20does.
  11. https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/news/20211028/use-of-ritalin-other-stimulants-can-raise-heart-risks-for-older-adults#:~:text=THURSDAY%2C%20Oct.,a%20large%20new%20study%20suggests.
  12. https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adderall-crash#adderall-crash
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3489818/#:~:text=Indeed%2C%20many%20consider%20stimulants%20%E2%80%93%20whether%20obtained%20by%20prescription%20or%20illicitly%20%E2%80%93%20a%20convenient%20option%20to%20improve%20performance%20or%20to%20induce%20euphoria%20(get%20%E2%80%9Chigh%E2%80%9D).
  14. https://www.webmd.com/add-adhd/long-term-risks-adhd-medications
  15. https://www.drugwatch.com/adderall/#:~:text=Adderall%20may%20interact%20with%20the%20following%20substances%3A
  16. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-9475/ritalin-oral/details/list-interaction-medication
  17. https://publications.aap.org/pediatrics/article-abstract/103/4/e43/66007/A-Comparison-of-Ritalin-and-Adderall-Efficacy-and?redirectedFrom=fulltext#:~:text=This%20indicates%20that%20a%205%2Dmg%20dose%20of%20Adderall%20(or%20slightly%20less)%20is%20equivalent%20to%20a%2010%2Dmg%20dose%20of%20Ritalin%2C%20indicating%20that%20Adderall%20is%20twice%20as%20potent%3B
  18. https://www.goodrx.com/conditions/adhd/whats-the-difference-between-adderall-and-adderall-xr
  19. https://www.rxlist.com/ritalin-drug.htm
  20. https://reference.medscape.com/drug/ritalin-sr-methylphenidate-342999#:~:text=Dosage%20Forms%20%26%20Strengths,20mg
  21. https://diamondhousedetox.com/residential-stabilization-for-drug-and-alcohol-abuse/
  22. https://diamondhousedetox.com/outpatient-treatment/
  23. https://diamondhousedetox.com/addiction-therapy/
  24. https://diamondhousedetox.com/contact-us/
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet