Strattera and Ritalin are prescription medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). They help decrease hyperactivity and increase focus. Although they both treat ADHD, they do so in different ways. This contributes to some differences in interactions and side effects between these two drugs.
The active ingredient in Strattera is atomoxetine hydrochloride. It’s a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor that affects the chemical messenger norepinephrine. It’s thought that Strattera helps keep more norepinephrine available in the brain. This can help improve focus and concentration.
Strattera does not lead to dependence and is not likely to be abused.
Strattera is only available as a brand-name drug in immediate-release capsules. It comes in these strengths:
- 10 mg
- 18 mg
- 25 mg
- 40 mg
- 60 mg
- 80 mg
- 100 mg
Ritalin’s active ingredient is methylphenidate hydrochloride. This is a central nervous system stimulant. It’s thought that this drug helps keep more dopamine available to the brain to help stimulate brain cells. This stimulation can improve attention and focus.
Ritalin is a federally controlled substance because it can be habit-forming and is sometimes abused.
This drug is available as both a brand-name and generic drug. Ritalin comes in several forms, listed below:
- immediate-release tablet: 5 mg, 10 mg, 20 mg
- extended-release capsule: 10 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg, 40 mg, 60 mg
- extended-release tablet: 10 mg, 18 mg, 20 mg, 27 mg, 36 mg, 54 mg
- chewable immediate-release tablet: 2.5 mg, 5 mg, 10 mg
- chewable extended-release tablet: 20 mg, 30 mg, 40 mg
- oral liquid: 5 mg/5 mL, 10 mg/5 mL
- oral extended-release suspension: 300 mg/60 mL, 600 mg/120 mL, 750 mg/150 mL, 900 mg/180 mL
- transdermal patch: 10 mg/9 hr., 15 mg/9 hr., 20 mg/9 hr., and 30 mg/9 hr.
Strattera is taken once or twice per day, with or without food. However, it needs to be taken at the same time each day. Strattera is rapidly absorbed, and maximum concentration occurs one to two hours after it’s taken. After you first start taking it, Strattera typically takes two to four weeks to have its maximum effect.
Immediate-release Ritalin is taken two to three times per day, 30 to 45 minutes before a meal. However, don’t take it right before you want to go to bed. It can interfere with sleep.
Ritalin LA is taken once per day in the morning, with or without food. For convenience, your doctor may switch you from immediate-release Ritalin to Ritalin LA if this drug seems to be working for you. After you first start taking it, Ritalin typically takes four weeks to have its maximum effect.
The exact dosage for either drug varies based on several factors. These include your weight, age, and the form you take.
Both Strattera and Ritalin can interact with other drugs. It’s important to tell your doctor about all of drugs you take, including:
- over-the-counter drugs
- herbal remedies
You shouldn’t take either Strattera or Ritalin with MAO inhibitors, a type of antidepressant. You also shouldn’t take Strattera with pimozide, and don’t take Ritalin with alcohol.
Learn more: The effects of combining Ritalin and alcohol »
For more information on specific interactions, review the following Healthline articles about Ritalin and Strattera interactions.
Both Strattera and Ritalin can cause the following mild side effects:
- upset stomach
- decreased appetite
- changes in sleep habits, including insomnia
Additionally, each drug has the potential for more severe side effects. For example, they can cause slowed growth in children. Some doctors may advise discontinuing your child’s use of the drug for a few months each year to help counteract this effect. Both drugs can also increase the risk of heart problems.
Possible severe side effects of Strattera
There are other possible severe side effects specifically from Strattera. Taking Strattera can increase your risk of liver damage. Suicidal thoughts can occur in children and teens who take this drug. This risk is higher earlier in treatment or when the dosage is adjusted.
Contact your doctor immediately if your child takes Strattera and exhibits signs of depression, anxiety, or suicidal thinking.
Find out: What are depression warning signs? »
Possible severe side effects of Ritalin
There are also some severe side effects that are specific to Ritalin.
People who take Ritalin can become dependent on it and have difficulty stopping their use. People who stop taking Ritalin suddenly may experience symptoms of withdrawal, which can lead to serious depression. These symptoms may worsen if you’re used to taking a high dose. It’s best to taper off the medication slowly under a doctor’s care.
Some people who have taken Ritalin have also experienced blood circulation problems in their fingers and toes. New or worsening psychiatric symptoms have also been reported.
Both Strattera and Ritalin treat ADHD. However, most of their similarities end there. There are several differences between how the drugs work, the forms and strengths they come in, and their unintended effects. Talk to your doctor. With your medical history and the list of drugs that you currently take, your doctor can help you see if one of these drugs or an alternative is best for you.