Today, there are several options to treat ADHD. Stimulant medications, for example, increase levels of certain neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) to improve concentration and focus and to reduce hyperactive and impulsive behavior.
Lisdexamfetamine (Vyvanse) and mixed salts amphetamine (Adderall) are two popular stimulants used to treat ADHD. Both drugs can be effective, but the differences in some of their features may make one of them a more appealing choice for you.
Adderall has been around longer than Vyvanse. The FDA approved Adderall in 1996, and Vyvanse has been available since 2007. Still, Vyvanse and Adderall are both amphetamines (a type of stimulant medication), so they work in much the same way. They stimulate the nervous system and increase the amount of neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain.
Vyvanse and Adderall are both approved to treat ADHD in people 6 years and older. In fact, they’re both included in the group of drugs used as first-line treatments for children with ADHD to focus their attention in the classroom and studying.
That said, Adderall and Vyvanse are both considered controlled substances. They carry the risk of addiction if they’re taken for a long time.
However, Vyvanse is less likely to be abused than Adderall. This is because the body needs to break Vyvanse down before it can start to work. With amphetamines, there is also a concern about the potential for misuse to get a sense of euphoria — in other words, to get high. Unlike other stimulants, Vyvanse can’t be injected or inhaled to get high. This may help to make it less likely than Adderall to be misused.
The way you take these drugs and the way they’re released into your body can lead to the significant differences between them.
Adderall comes in two forms:
Immediate-release tablet: You take this form two or three times per day. The effects of each tablet last three to four hours.
Extended-release capsule (Adderall XR): You take this form only once per day, and the effects last 10 to 12 hours. The capsule is filled with beads. Half of the beads work right away, and the other half start to work later. In this way, the extended-release capsule provides two doses in one pill.
On the other hand, Vyvanse only comes in a delayed-release capsule that you take each morning. The form is inactive as it enters your body. As you digest it, your body slowly converts the drug into its active form. Once it becomes active, the effects can last up to 14 hours.
Adderall and Vyvanse are both effective in improving ADHD symptoms. Yet it’s hard to tell whether one of these drugs works better than the other. Few head-to-head studies have compared Adderall XR and Vyvanse.
It may come down to the fact that everyone reacts differently to medication. Vyvanse may work well for one person, while another may respond better to Adderall.
The brand-name versions of both drugs are similar in cost. Adderall is also available as a generic drug, but Vyvanse is not. Generic drugs are often much less expensive than brand-name drugs.
Many factors can affect prescription drug prices, including insurance coverage and coupon discounts. It’s usually best to take a drug based on how it works for you rather than what it costs, though. Changing to another drug to save costs may require dosage changes and adjustments, which can affect costs in the end, anyway.
Because Adderall and Vyvanse are both stimulant drugs, they share similar side effects. These include:
- dry mouth
- loss of appetite
- stomach pain
- trouble sleeping
- weight loss
Less common side effects of both drugs include:
- hallucinations (seeing or hearing something that isn’t really there)
- increased heart rate
- high blood pressure
- mania (periods of intense excitement)
- paranoia (a feeling as though someone is out to get you)
- shortness of breath
In rare cases, both of these drugs can increase the risk for heart problems such as high blood pressure and increased heart rate, heart attack, stroke, and even death. Before starting Vyvanse or Adderall, get a heart checkup and tell your doctor about any history of high blood pressure or heart problems.
Considering your other medications may help you decide which ADHD drug is right for you. Adderall and Vyvanse can both interact with certain other medications or chemicals. A few examples include:
Acidifying agents: These include ascorbic acid and fruit juices. These acidic ingredients might lower the amount of drug that gets absorbed by your body.
Alkalinizing agents: These include sodium bicarbonate, the main ingredient in baking soda. Alkalizing agents are the opposite of acids, and they might increase the absorption of either drug.
Vyvanse and Adderall have both been shown to be effective for treating ADHD. The biggest differences between the two drugs are in the forms, how often you take them, and especially their potential for misuse.
Work with your pediatrician, primary care doctor, or psychiatrist to choose the medicine that will work best for you or your child. Picking the right ADHD drug is sometimes a matter of trial and error. If the first drug you choose doesn’t work or comes with too many negative side effects, you can talk to your doctor about trying a different medication.