Ritalin and Adderall work similarly to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They differ in how quickly they work and how long they’re effective.

People with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have trouble concentrating and managing their impulses. They may be fidgety and excitable.

Doctors often prescribe stimulants to help treat ADHD. Two common choices are Ritalin and Adderall. These drugs can help people concentrate and focus on tasks better. They also reduce impulsive behavior, which is another hallmark of ADHD.

Based on data from 2019, 8.8% of U.S. children between the ages of 3 and 17 years old have been diagnosed with ADHD. ADHD is not just a diagnosis in kids. One 2016 study found that 60% of children with ADHD still have symptoms as adults.

Ritalin and Adderall work in similar ways to treat ADHD. They share many of the same side effects. However, they have important differences as well. Read on to learn the basics about both drugs.

Use the table below to compare Ritalin and Adderall at a glance.

What‘s the generic name?methylphenidateamphetamine/dextroamphetamine
Is a generic version available?yesyes
What forms does it come in?short-acting tablets (as Ritalin), extended-release capsules (as Ritalin LA)short-acting tablets (as Adderall), extended-release capsules (as Adderall XR)
What’s it used for?ADHD (Ritalin and Ritalin LA), narcolepsy (Ritalin only)ADHD (Adderall and (Adderall XR), narcolepsy (Adderall only)
What strengths does it come in (in milligrams)? Ritalin: 5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg

Ritalin LA (only for children 6 to 12 years): 10 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg, 40 mg
Adderall: 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg

Adderall XR: 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, 30 mg
What’s the starting dose (in milligrams) for ADHD?Adults: 10 mg twice or three times daily (Ritalin)

Children and teens 6 years and older: 5 mg twice daily (Ritalin)

Children 6 to 12 years: 20 mg once daily (Ritalin LA)
Adults: 5 mg once or twice daily (Adderall), 20 mg once daily (Adderall XR)

Children and teens 6 to 17 years:
5 mg once or twice daily (Adderall), 10 mg once daily (Adderall XR)

Children 3 to 5 years: 2.5 mg once daily (Adderall)
What’s the maximum total daily dosage (in milligrams) for ADHD?Adults: 60 mg (Ritalin)

Children and teens 6 years and older: 60 mg (Ritalin)

Children 6 to 12 years: 60 mg (Ritalin LA)
Adults: 40 mg (Adderall), 20 mg (Adderall XR)

Teens 13 to 17 years: 40 mg (Adderall), 20 mg (Adderall XR)

Children 6 to 12 years: 40 mg (Adderall), 30 mg (Adderall XR)

Children 3 to 5 years: 40 mg (Adderall)
What’s the typical length of treatment?long-termlong-term
How do I store it?at room temperature between 68°F and 77°F (20°C and 25°C)at room temperature between 68°F and 77°F (20°C and 25°C)
Is it a controlled substance? **yesyes
Is there a risk of withdrawal from this drug? ***yesyes
Does this drug have potential for misuse? ****yesyes

** A controlled substance is a drug that’s 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 longer than a few weeks, do not stop taking it without talking with your doctor. You’ll 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 to. If you have questions or concerns, talk with your doctor.

Both Ritalin and Adderall are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants. They work by increasing the availability of the neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine in your CNS connections. This speeds up your brain activity.

Ritalin works sooner and reaches peak performance more quickly than Adderall does. However, Adderall stays active in your body longer than Ritalin does.

Ritalin immediate-release tablets peak in your blood after about 2 hours. Ritalin LA takes about 5 hours.

Adderall tablets peak after about 3 hours, while Adderall XR capsules can take about 7 hours.

This does not necessarily mean that Adderall is a better choice, though. Some people prefer shorter-acting Ritalin because they can better control the timing of side effects like loss of appetite and insomnia.

Your doctor will be able to prescribe and adjust the medication that’s best for you based on your needs and response.

Ritalin and Adderall are brand-name drugs that are also available as generic drugs. Generic forms tend to cost less than brand-name versions.

In general, Ritalin and Adderall cost about the same. The amount you pay for the drugs will depend on your health insurance plan. Some health insurance plans only cover the generic versions of the drugs. If you’re unsure, you can call your insurance provider to get your plan details.

Ritalin and Adderall are usually available at most pharmacies. However, these drugs can have shortages, so they may not be available at all times. Call your pharmacy ahead of time to find out if your medication is available.

Since these drugs work in the same way, they cause similar side effects.

Common side effects of Ritalin, Ritalin LA, Adderall, and Adderall XR include:

Serious side effects shared by these drugs can include:

These drugs may not be suitable for people with certain health conditions.

Discuss the following with your doctor before taking Ritalin:

  • pregnancy

Discuss the following with your doctor before taking Adderall or Adderall XR:

Ritalin and Adderall can both pass into a parent’s milk, which means the drug may pass to a breastfed or chestfed child. These drugs may cause side effects in the child.

Talk with a doctor if you take Ritalin or Adderall. For your child’s safety, you may need to decide whether to stop nursing or stop taking your medication.

Ritalin and Adderall can both interact with other drugs.

Make sure you tell your doctor about all of the prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications, supplements, and herbs you’re taking. This way, your doctor can watch for drug interactions.

Ritalin may interact with the following medications:

Adderall and Adderall XR may interact with the following medications:

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), a group of antidepressants, are contraindicated with Ritalin, Adderall, and Adderall XR due to the risk of dangerously high blood pressure. People currently taking MAOIs should not use these medications.

According to a 2013 review of studies spanning 40 years, stimulants are effective in treating 70% to 80% of children and adults with ADHD.

The general recommendation is that if one of these drugs does not work for you, you can talk with your doctor about trying the other one.

That being said, there are some minor differences between the two drugs, like how quickly and how long they work in your body. It’s important to work with your doctor to find the best drug for treating your ADHD.