Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral disorder that is often diagnosed in children between 4 and 6 years old. While some adolescents and adults may develop ADHD, and fail to receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment until they are older, a better medical understanding of the condition means that more children are receiving treatment, including medication and behavioral therapy, early in life.
With more children receiving a diagnosis of ADHD, prescription medication is being given to more children. People who have ADHD react well to medications like Adderall or Ritalin because their brain’s neurochemistry reacts differently to stimulants, increasing attentiveness and physical control. However, these prescription stimulants are more likely to be diverted for nonmedical abuse among peers.
About 80 percent of people with ADHD do well with a combination of stimulant medications and behavioral therapy. About half of these people get similar results from either stimulant; provided they are on the right dose, there is little difference in their effectiveness. However, for the other half, one of these medications will be more effective and appropriate than the other.
This medication is a combination of two stimulants, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. In addition to being prescribed to treat ADHD, Adderall is sometimes prescribed to treat narcolepsy, although this is an off-label use. While Adderall was approved for prescription use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the 1960s, it has become increasingly more popular in the past few decades. Between 2002 and 2010, Adderall prescriptions among children with ADHD rose 45 percent.
- Stomach aches
- Trouble sleeping
- Dry mouth
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Nervousness and restlessness
- Low appetite and weight loss
Like Adderall, Ritalin is a prescription stimulant medication; however, it is the brand name for methylphenidate hydrochloride, a chemical distantly related to methamphetamine. Like Adderall, it is used to treat ADHD, and it is sometimes used on an off-label basis to treat narcolepsy. Ritalin was approved by the FDA in 1955, but there was a surge in prescriptions in the 1990s as ADHD symptoms and treatment became better understood.
Side effects from Ritalin may include:
- Decreased appetite
- Trouble sleeping
- Nervousness or jitteriness
Ritalin may also cause serious side effects, especially if it is abused for recreational reasons in large doses. These include:
- Rapid weight loss
- Abdominal pain
- Heart palpitations
- Irregular heartbeat
- Blurry vision
Similarities and Differences
Ritalin and Adderall are very similar, as they are both stimulants, and they both come in short-acting and long-acting prescription doses. The long-acting versions are slightly different. While Ritalin lasts for 6-12 hours in the extended-release formula, Adderall lasts for 10-12 hours.
People who abuse either drug will notice some different negative side effects. For example, Adderall affects sex drive more than Ritalin, causing erections that may last longer than usual or impotence. Ritalin, on the other hand, is more likely to cause abdominal problems, including cramping and nausea; it also causes insomnia and nervousness more often.
These drugs interact differently with different pre-existing conditions. Adderall negatively impacts medical conditions like arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, other forms of heart disease, and hyperthyroidism. Ritalin increases symptoms and harm from various conditions, including anxiety, glaucoma, Tourette’s syndrome, and other physical or verbal tics. Both may negatively impact pregnancy, and they can trigger addiction or substance abuse in those with a risk for these conditions.
People who struggle with stimulant abuse or addiction need to find medically supervised detox and evidence-based rehabilitation. With many adolescents who abused these drugs as “study drugs” in school becoming adults and continuing this dangerous form of addiction into adulthood, it is extremely important for rehabilitation programs to screen for and treat prescription substance abuse, including abuse of Ritalin and Adderall.