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Concerta vs. Adderall: A Side-by-Side Comparison

Similar drugs

Concerta and Adderall are medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These drugs help activate the areas of your brain that are responsible for focusing and paying attention.

Concerta and Adderall are the brand names of generic medications. The generic form of Concerta is methylphenidate. Adderall is a combination of two generic drugs: amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.

A side-by-side comparison of these two ADHD medications shows that they’re similar in many ways. However, there are some differences.

Drug features

Concerta and Adderall help reduce hyperactivity and impulsive actions in people with ADHD. They’re both central nervous system stimulant drugs. This type of drug helps control the constant activity in ADHD, such as fidgeting. It also helps control impulsive actions that are common in people with certain forms of ADHD.

The table below compares features of these two drugs.

 ConcertaAdderall
What is the generic name?methylphenidateamphetamine/dextroamphetamine
Is a generic version available?yesyes
What does it treat?ADHDADHD
What form(s) does it come in?extended-release oral tablet—immediate-release oral tablet
—extended-release oral capsule
What strengths does it come in?—18 mg
—27 mg
—36 mg
—54 mg
—immediate-release tablet: 5mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg
—extended-release capsule: 5mg, 10mg, 15mg, 20 mg, 25mg, 30mg
What's the typical length of treatment?long-termlong-term
How do I store it?at a controlled room temperature between 59°F and 86°F (15°C and 30°C)at a controlled room temperature between 59°F and 86°F (15°C and 30°C)
Is this a controlled substance?*yesyes
Is there a risk of withdrawal† with this drug?yesyes
Does this drug have potential for misuse?¥yesyes
 
*A controlled substance is a drug that is regulated by the government. If you take a controlled substance, your doctor must closely supervise your use of the drug. Never give a controlled substance to anyone else.

If you've been taking this drug for more than a couple weeks, do not stop taking this drug without talking to your doctor. You will need to taper off the drug slowly to avoid withdrawal symptoms such as anxiety, sweating, nausea, and trouble sleeping.

¥This drug has a high misuse potential. This means you can get addicted to this drug. Be sure to take this drug exactly as your doctor tells you. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your doctor.

Dosage

Concerta is only available as an extended-release tablet. Adderall is available as an immediate-release and extended-release drug. In the immediate-release form, the tablet releases the drug into your system right away. In the extended-release form, the capsule slowly releases small amounts of medication into your body throughout the day.

If your doctor prescribes Adderall, they may start you on the immediate-release form at first. If you take the immediate-release form, you’ll likely need more than one dose per day. Eventually, they may change you to the extended-release form.

If you take an extended-release drug, you may only need one dose per day to manage your symptoms.

Tolerance and addiction
Always take your dosage as prescribed. If you routinely take too much, you may need more of your drug for it to be effective. These drugs also carry the risk of addiction.

The standard dosage of each drug starts at 10-20 mg per day. However, your dosage depends on certain factors. This includes your age, other health issues you have, and how you respond to the drug. Children often take a smaller dosage than adults.

How to take the medications

Swallow either drug whole with water. You can take it with or without food. Some people prefer to take their medication with breakfast so it won’t upset their stomachs.

If you have trouble swallowing Adderall, you may open the capsule and mix the granules with food. Do not cut or crush Concerta, however.

Learn more: Other ADHD medication options »

What are their side effects?

Concerta and Adderall share many potential side effects. Some are serious. For instance, both drugs can slow growth in children. Your child’s doctor may watch your child’s height and weight during treatment. If your doctor sees negative effects, they may take your child off the drug for a period of time.

If you have side effects from one drug, your doctor may change your medication or adjust your dosage. Common side effects of Concerta and Adderall include:

  • headache
  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • nausea, vomiting, or upset stomach
  • irritability
  • sweating

Serious side effects of both drugs can include:

Call your doctor
If you have any serious side effects, call your doctor right away.
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • cold or numb fingers or toes that turn white or blue
  • fainting
  • increased violence or violent thoughts
  • auditory hallucinations (hearing voices telling you to do certain things)
  • slowed growth in children

Concerta may also cause painful erections that last several hours in men.

Who should avoid Concerta or Adderall?

Perhaps the biggest difference between the drugs is who should avoid each one. Concerta and Adderall aren’t right for everyone. There are many drugs and health conditions that can change the way the medications work. For this reason, you may not be able to take one or both of the drugs.

Do not take either Concerta or Adderall if you:

  • have glaucoma
  • have anxiety or tension
  • are easily agitated
  • are hypersensitive to the drug
  • take MAOI antidepressants

Do not take Concerta if you have:

  • motor tics
  • Tourette’s syndrome
  • a family history of Tourette’s syndrome

Do not take Adderall if you have:

  • symptomatic cardiovascular disease
  • advanced arteriosclerosis
  • moderate to severe high blood pressure
  • hyperthyroidism
  • a history of drug addiction or misuse

Both drugs can also affect your blood pressure and how your heart works. They may cause sudden death in people with undiagnosed heart problems. Your doctor may check your blood pressure and heart function during treatment with these drugs. Talk to your doctor to learn more.

Also, both medications are pregnancy category C drugs. This means that some animal studies have shown harm to a pregnancy, but the drugs haven’t been studied enough in humans to know if they’re harmful to a human pregnancy. If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or planning to become pregnant, talk to your doctor to see if you should avoid either of these drugs.

Cost, availability, and insurance

Concerta and Adderall are both brand-name drugs. Brand-name drugs tend to cost more than their generic versions. In general, Adderall extended-release is more expensive than Concerta, according to the Baylor review. However, the generic form of Adderall is less expensive than the generic form of Concerta.

Drug prices depend on many factors, though. Insurance coverage, geographic location, dosage, and other factors can all affect the price you pay. You can check GoodRx.com for current prices from pharmacies near you.

Keep reading: Reduce ADHD costs with patient assistant programs »

Final comparison

Concerta and Adderall are very similar in treating ADHD. Some people may respond better to one drug than the other. It’s important to share your full health history with your doctor. Tell them about all medications, vitamins, or supplements you take. This will help your doctor prescribe the right drug for you.

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