Medications for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are divided into stimulants and nonstimulants.

Nonstimulants seem to have fewer side effects, but stimulants are the most common medication used in treating ADHD. They have also been shown to be more effective.

Vyvanse and Ritalin are both stimulants. While these drugs are similar in many ways, there are some key differences.

Read on for information about similarities and differences that you can discuss with your doctor.

Vyvanse contains the drug lisdexamfetamine dimesylate, while Ritalin contains the drug methylphenidate.

Both Vyvanse and Ritalin are used to treat ADHD symptoms such as poor focus, reduced impulse control, and hyperactivity. However, they’re also prescribed to treat other conditions.

Vyvanse is prescribed to treat moderate to severe binge eating disorder, and Ritalin is prescribed to treat narcolepsy.

These drugs both work by increasing the levels of certain chemicals in your brain, including dopamine and norepinephrine. However, the drugs remain in your body for different amounts of time.

Methylphenidate, the drug in Ritalin, enters the body in its active form. This means it can go to work right away, and doesn’t last as long as Vyvanse. Therefore, it needs to be taken more often than Vyvanse.

However, it also comes in extended-release versions that are released into the body more slowly and can be taken less often.

Lisdexamfetamine dimesylate, the drug in Vyvanse, enters your body in an inactive form. Your body has to process this drug to make it active. As a result, the effects of Vyvanse may take 1 to 2 hours to appear. However, these effects also last longer throughout the day.

You can take Vyvanse less often than you would take Ritalin.

Little research has been done to directly compare Vyvanse and Ritalin. Earlier studies that compared other stimulant drugs with the active ingredient in Vyvanse found that it’s about equally effective.

A 2013 analysis of children and teens found the active ingredient in Vyvanse to be much more effective at relieving ADHD symptoms than the active ingredient in Ritalin.

For reasons that aren’t fully understood, some people respond better to Vyvanse and some people respond better to Ritalin. Finding the drug that works best for you may be a matter of trial and error.

The following table highlights the features of both drugs:

VyvanseRitalin
What’s the generic name of this drug?lisdexamfetamine dimesylatemethylphenidate
Is a generic version available?noyes
What forms does this drug come in?chewable tablet, oral capsuleimmediate-release oral tablet, extended-release oral capsule
What strengths does this drug come in?• 10-mg, 20-mg, 30-mg, 40-mg, 50-mg, or 60-mg chewable tablet
• 10-mg, 20-mg, 30-mg, 40-mg, 50-mg, 60-mg, or 70-mg oral capsule
• 5-mg, 10-mg, or 20-mg immediate-release oral tablet (Ritalin)
• 10-mg, 20-mg, 30-mg, or 40-mg extended-release oral capsule (Ritalin LA)
How often is this drug usually taken?once per daytwo or three times per day (Ritalin); once per day (Ritalin LA)

Vyvanse

Vyvanse is available as a chewable tablet and as a capsule. Doses for the tablet range from 10 to 60 milligrams (mg), while doses for the capsule range from 10 to 70 mg. The typical dose for Vyvanse is 30 mg, and the maximum daily dose is 70 mg.

The effects of Vyvanse can last up to 14 hours. For this reason, it’s meant to be taken once per day, in the morning. You can take it with or without food.

The contents of Vyvanse capsules can be sprinkled on food or in juice. This might make it easier to take for children who don’t like to swallow pills.

Ritalin

Ritalin is available in two forms.

Ritalin is a tablet that comes in doses of 5, 10, and 20 mg. This short-acting tablet may only last in your body for 4 hours. It should be taken two or three times per day. The maximum daily dose is 60 mg. Children should start with two daily doses of 5 mg.

Ritalin LA is a capsule that comes in doses of 10, 20, 30, and 40 mg. This extended-release capsule may last in your body for up to 8 hours, so it should be taken just once per day.

Ritalin shouldn’t be taken with food, while Ritalin LA can be taken with or without food.

As a generic drug and under other brand names such as Daytrana, methylphenidate is also available in forms such as a chewable tablet, oral suspension, and patch.

Vyvanse and Ritalin can have similar side effects. The more common side effects for both drugs include:

Both drugs can also have more serious side effects, including:

Ritalin has also been known to cause headaches and is more likely to cause increased heart rate and high blood pressure.

The 2013 analysis of also concluded that lisdexamfetamine dimesylate, or Vyvanse, was more likely to cause symptoms related to loss of appetite, nausea, and insomnia.

ADHD DRUGS AND WEIGHT LOSS Neither Vyvanse nor Ritalin is prescribed for weight loss, and these drugs shouldn’t be used for this purpose. These drugs are powerful, and you should take them exactly as prescribed. Only use them if your doctor prescribes them for you.

Vyvanse and Ritalin are both powerful drugs. Before using them, you should be aware of certain risks.

Controlled substances

Both Vyvanse and Ritalin are controlled substances. This means they have the potential to be misused, or used improperly. However, it’s uncommon for these drugs to cause dependence, and there’s little information on which one might have more of a dependence risk.

Even so, if you have a history of alcohol or drug dependence, you should talk to your doctor about it before taking either of these drugs.

Drug interactions

Vyvanse and Ritalin can interact with other medications. This means that when used with certain other drugs, these medications can cause dangerous effects.

Before you take Vyvanse or Ritalin, tell your doctor about all other medications you take, including vitamins and supplements.

Also, be sure to tell them if you’ve recently taken or are taking a monoamine oxidase inhibitor (MAOI). If so, your doctor may not prescribe Vyvanse or Ritalin for you.

Conditions of concern

Vyvanse and Ritalin aren’t right for everyone. You may not be able to take either of these drugs if you have:

In addition, you shouldn’t take Ritalin if you have the following conditions:

Both Vyvanse and Ritalin treat ADHD symptoms such as inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.

These drugs are similar, but different in a few key ways. These differences include how long they last in the body, how often they need to be taken, and their forms and dosage.

Overall, the most important factors are your personal preferences and needs. For instance, do you or your child need the drug to last all day — such as for a full school or work day? Are you able to take multiple doses during the day?

If you think one of these drugs could be a good choice for you or your child, talk to a doctor. They can help you decide what treatment plan may work best, including whether it should involve behavioral therapy, medication, or both.

They can also help you decide which of these drugs, or a different drug, may be more helpful.

ADHD can be a confusing condition to manage, so be sure to ask your doctor any questions you may have. These might include:

  • Should I or my child consider behavioral therapy?
  • Would a stimulant or nonstimulant be a better choice for me or my child?
  • How do I know if my child needs medication?
  • How long will treatment last?