With the focus strictly on opioids, we have failed to discuss the elephant in the room—rising stimulant deaths—proving we could be on the verge of another potential crisis that could equal or surpass the current epidemic. Although the primary culprit behind this disturbing trend is attributed to more potent illicit drugs like crystal meth, many people start using drugs like Ritalin or Adderall. When prescribed by a physician, people are much less intimidated by it and are more willing to experiment with it. As a teenager, if someone offered you crystal meth, you’d likely decline. However, you’re more likely to oblige if they offer you a pill like Adderall or Ritalin.

We’re so used to hearing about the opioid crisis that we’ve almost become numb to the issue. We must work to prevent something similar with stimulants. Opioid use disorder (OUD) continues to rise at an unconscionable pace, but deaths involving stimulant drugs are on the way to matching this total. One reason this is happening is that tolerance to stimulants develops rapidly, leading the user to use larger doses over short periods to maintain the positive effects. Although Ritalin and Adderall produce therapeutic effects and help those with ADHD, they’re extremely addictive and can lead to behavioral changes, mood changes, psychoses, and other severe issues.

We know the dangers of stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall, but why are they prescribed? What’s the difference? Which is more potent? Which drug is better? Well, first, let’s begin with why stimulants are even considered for use despite their reputation. Ritalin and Adderall are used to treat one of the most common mental disorders affecting adults and children, known as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The most common symptoms are hyperactivity (excessive moment inappropriate for the setting), inattention (an inability to focus, and impulsivity or careless actions done without much thought).

The condition is more common in boys than girls. However, symptoms in females manifest themselves differently and are often overlooked, even by the most seasoned professionals. It’s estimated that 8.4 percent of children and 2.5 percent of adults have ADHD. It’s easily spottable in school children because they’re disruptive in the classroom, can’t pay attention, or may have slipping grades. Many children are labeled as troublemakers, slackers, or “bad kids,” when in reality, it’s their condition that is causing the problems. These are treatable with prescription medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall.

Adderall was first introduced to the general public in 1996, whereas Ritalin was introduced several decades ago in 1954. It was initially prescribed to treat chronic fatigue and depression but was later found to help those with ADHD. The legal production of these two drugs has continually soared since the 1990s. According to a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), an estimated 119 million Americans over age 12 used prescription drugs in the previous year, equating to 44.5 percent of the population. Of those, 17.2 million used stimulants, accounting for 6.4 percent. Since then, these figures have been on the rise.

In 2019, dextroamphetamine, also known as Adderall, was the 24th most prescribed medication in the United States. Doctors wrote more than 24 million prescriptions that year to more than 3.5 million patients, according to ClinCalc DrugStats Database. In 2018, doctors wrote 17,467,265 prescriptions of methylphenidate, also known as Ritalin, to 2,569,210 patients. In 2019, the figure was lower at 14,233,405 prescriptions to 2,173,470 patients. Ritalin ranked at No. 51 of all prescriptions in the United States that year. The sheer volume of stimulant prescriptions is startling. Ritalin and Adderall are widely used and accepted by the population, but is that the right move?

Many kids are prescribed these drugs in their youth, only to outgrow them as they get older. Once they reach college, they don’t see a need to use them anymore. Many college students, who don’t have a formal ADHD diagnosis, will seek out Ritalin or Adderall to help them do “all-nighters” and cram for midterms and finals. While many of them will never use these medications again, others will become dependent on them, needing more and more to avoid withdrawal or function normally. This is one of the first stages of developing stimulant use disorder.

If you and your doctor have discussed using Ritalin or Adderall, you might want to know which one is better. Below, we’ll examine their differences in potency and effectiveness.

What Is Ritalin?

What Is Ritalin?

Ritalin, also known by its generic name methylphenidate, is a central nervous system stimulant. Similar to Adderall and other stimulant drugs, it affects the chemicals in our brains that contribute to impulse control and hyperactivity. The drug is primarily used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, but many people use it off-label for weight loss. Please note that your doctor will never prescribe this for that reason, and you shouldn’t take it to lose weight. The outcome could be an addiction, which is more challenging to overcome than a weight problem.

Ritalin comes in extended-release tablets, extended-release capsules, chewable tablets, extended-release chewable tablets, and extended-release orally disintegrating tablets. You can also find it as a transdermal patch, oral solution, and oral suspension. Ritalin is a controlled substance, and your doctor will closely monitor you while prescribed the medication.

Ritalin increases the amount of norepinephrine and dopamine in your brain, which send signals to other parts of your body. Ritalin helps control these functions, enabling you to focus in school or at work.

Ritalin Side Effects

Like all drugs, Ritalin causes side effects. Before using the medication, you must talk to your doctor about concerns, medical history, and other medications you’re taking. The most common Ritalin side effects include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness

Fortunately, these side effects will be minor. Your doctor will start you on the lowest possible dose as your body adjusts to its presence in your system. Then, they may gradually increase the dose as you tolerate it more. Most side effects will subside as your body adjusts. However, there is a possibility they worsen as you increase the dose. You could also encounter severe side effects. You must call your doctor immediately if you have an adverse reaction. If you believe it’s a medical emergency, call 911 right away.

Severe Ritalin side effects can include what’s listed below.

Heart Problems

  • Pain in your left arm, chest, jaw, or between the shoulders
  • A dramatic increase in blood pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Significant increase in heart rate


Ritalin can cause a stroke. These symptoms will appear in the form of slurred speech and weakness in one side of your body.

Liver Problems

Ritalin can lead to unusual liver function. This can present itself as mild or severe. However, it can lead to severe liver damage.

Mental Health

  • Aggression
  • Hostility
  • Manic symptoms, including feelings of power, excessive energy, or racing thoughts
  • Hallucinations (seeing or hearing something that doesn’t exist)
  • Feeling overexcited
  • Paranoia


Ritalin can cause seizures within the first 30 days of treatment. Should you experience a seizure, you must seek immediate medical attention. These can be serious.

Ritalin Withdrawal

Like other stimulant drugs, Ritalin withdrawal will cause a host of psychological symptoms. While the condition is not dangerous, these symptoms can push you to relapse, which can be fatal if your tolerance has decreased from not using it. You should never stop using the medication without your doctor’s approval. You can expect to experience the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Hyperactivity
  • Irritability
  • Loss of focus
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Changes in heart rate
  • Changes in blood pressure
  • Mood swings
  • Inability to sleep or sleeping too much

Depression can be severe and lead to suicidal thoughts. Please reach out for help if you’re thinking of hurting yourself.

What Is Adderall?

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a potent central nervous system (CNS) stimulant used primarily to treat the symptoms associated with ADHD. It can help increase the ability of the individual to stay focused, pay attention, and have an interest in areas they couldn’t before. Adderall will also help your ability to organize tasks and listen. In some cases, the medication is used to treat narcolepsy, a sleep disorder, and enables you to stay awake. Even if you don’t have ADHD, Adderall will have similar effects as those with the condition.

Adderall is a combination of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine, and it alters naturally occurring chemicals in the brain. It does this by enhancing the effects of norepinephrine and dopamine. Adderall was primarily designed to improve attention span, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior. The Cleveland Clinic found that stimulants like Adderall are effective in 70  percent to 80 percent of children and 70 percent of adults. These effects are greater when used in conjunction with behavioral therapies.

Before using Adderall, you must consult with your doctor and discuss pre-existing mental health conditions or other prescriptions you’re using. If you use Adderall for anything other than its intended purpose, it’s crucial to understand that side effects can occur. In some cases, they can be severe. Although Adderall will produce positive effects in those using it as prescribed, it can be dangerous for those same people if they abuse it.

Adderall Side Effects

When you take Adderall as your doctor intended, the effects on your central nervous system will be positive, leading you to feel more awake during the day and able to focus. However, there are still side effects, whether positive or negative and include a variation of the following:

  • Restlessness
  • Nervousness
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Inability to fall asleep or stay asleep
  • Slowed speech
  • Changes in vision
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hives
  • Blistering skin
  • A rash

If your child is prescribed Adderall, you should be aware that it can affect their growth. Adults might notice changes in their sexual performance and sex drive. More serious side effects include weakness, fever, or numbness in your limbs. This is considered a medical emergency—seek immediate help.

Other severe Adderall side effects include the following:

  • Paranoia, hallucinations, or issues with your thoughts
  • Tics, uncontrollable shaking, or seizures
  • Depression or anxiety that turns into suicidal thinking

Adderall Withdrawal

If you’ve been using Adderall for a prolonged period or abusing it in high doses for a short period, you’re prone to developing withdrawal symptoms. While Adderall withdrawal isn’t dangerous like other drugs, it can be extremely uncomfortable and lead to suicidal thoughts. These include the following:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of energy
  • Insomnia

What Are the Differences Between Ritalin and Adderall?

What Are the Differences Between Ritalin and Adderall?

Now that we’ve covered the basics between the two, it’s hard to determine the differences. Both are central nervous system stimulants, cause similar symptoms, treat the same condition, and are both addictive, but what is the difference? At first glance, it seems like nothing. However, there is quite a bit of difference between the two. When you first start using Ritalin and Adderall, you’ll experience these side effects:

  • Insomnia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Upset stomach
  • Nervousness
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness

As was mentioned earlier, stimulant drugs are notorious for the ability to cause tolerance rapidly. When you become tolerant to a drug like this, dependence shortly follows, and soon after, you’ll become addicted. If these are misused or abused, you’ll experience similar withdrawal effects when they’re stopped. So, what’s the difference?

Do Ritalin and Adderall Work the Same?

Ritalin and Adderall work differently. Although both come in short and long-acting formulations, here are the differences:

  • Ritalin starts working in three to four hours.
  • Adderall starts working in four to six hours.

The extended-release versions of both medications differ quite a bit as well.

  • Ritalin lasts anywhere from four up to eight hours after ingestion.
  • Adderall lasts roughly 10 to 12 hours after ingestion.

Ritalin starts working faster than Adderall in the body, meaning you’ll need to take more doses of it throughout the day. Does that mean Adderall is stronger than Ritalin?

Is Ritalin or Adderall Stronger?

You can’t say one drug is stronger than the other. Both are potent central nervous system stimulants that are highly effective in treating ADHD in children and adults. However, Adderall remains in your system much longer than Ritalin and contains amphetamine. Ritalin works quicker than Adderall, but because of the ingredient amphetamine in Adderall, it carries the potential for more adverse side effects. These include heart palpitations and irregular heartbeat.

One drug will work better than the other. That is due to the unique chemistry we possess in our brains. While one person says Ritalin works exceptionally for them, it may not work for you, and vice versa. For some, Adderall may appear stronger than Ritalin, and vice versa. Only you and your doctor can make the determination which is best for you. You may start using Adderall only to end up using Ritalin because Adderall didn’t work.

Ritalin Vs. Adderall: Which Is Strong for Children?

If you went to the doctor and learned that your child has ADHD, you might be anxious when choosing a medication. Which one works best? Which drug is safer? Is Adderall too strong for my child? A study from the National Library of Medicine found that a low dose of Adderall was “functionally more potent” than the same dose of Ritalin. The lower dose of Adderall was comparable to a high dose of Ritalin.

It’s always challenging to find the right medication to solve your issues. It takes some trial and error. However, a study from ADDitude Magazine found that an estimated 85 percent of patients will achieve symptom control using Adderall or Ritalin. No matter what you and the doctor decide, the odds of managing the condition are high. If you find that one drug doesn’t work, you can always try the other.

Is Ritalin or Adderall Better for Adults?

Again, this goes back to your unique chemistry. It’s hard to say because of this. However, the well-respected Lancet reported that Adderall is often more effective in adults than Ritalin. However, Ritalin would be a better first choice for children and young adults. You should always discuss these decisions with your doctor. They have a better understanding of your background and can lead you in the right direction.

The Dangers of Stimulant Drugs

Stimulant drugs are so accepted in our society that we forget about their dangers. Ritalin and Adderall seem as safe as caffeine, but that’s not true. People who abuse these drugs can prematurely age their cardiovascular system, and experts aren’t sure if the damage is reversible. Stimulant abuse can lead to aneurysms, stroke, and cardiac arrhythmias. Since amphetamines are prescribed and abused, this can be a serious issue.

With stimulant abuse becoming so prevalent in our society, it’s easy to overlook these issues. When your doctor prescribes it to you, there’s no way it could be dangerous. When you’re given a stimulant drug, doctors prescribe the safest dose. Once you cross that threshold into abuse, you’re damaging your body in ways you cannot comprehend. The drugs may increase your academic performance or give you a nice buzz, but these risks are real.

We are truly facing another wave of the drug epidemic in the United States. With stimulants overshadowed by opioids, we’re not paying attention to the effects like elevated heart rate and blood pressure, the increased risk of stroke, heart attack, or an aneurysm rupture. We must pay close attention to the dangers of stimulants and how they affect our bodies.

Stimulant Addiction Treatment

If you’ve been using Ritalin or Adderall and you’re fearful of the damage to your body, it’s important to stop using immediately. However, it’s not as simple as saying you want to stop and follow through. Drug addiction is a disease that requires professional addiction treatment. Since stimulants can produce such severe psychological symptoms, stopping without help isn’t the best option.

The first step in your journey toward sobriety is medical detox. You will spend three to seven days on-site at our facility during this stage. You’ll be given medication that relieves your withdrawal symptoms and depression and receive round-the-clock care. Each case is different, meaning you could need more time. Once finished, you’ll move into the next stage of care.

Depending on the severity of your substance use disorder, it could mean you end up living on-site in residential (inpatient) care or opt for outpatient treatment. No matter which direction you end up going, putting the time into yourself will pay off in the end. Stimulant addiction can be fatal without the right care. Don’t become a statistic—get the help you need.

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