Ritalin vs Adderall – Key Differences and Similarities

White pills redischarge out of a bottle on a wooden table

When examining Ritalin vs Adderall for a better understanding of each, it’s important to note that both are prescription medications that act as central nervous system stimulants, (CNS stimulants).

They each work by increasing dopamine levels in the brain, which in turn helps to improve attention and reduce impulsive behavior among people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – a neurological condition that impairs neurotransmitter activity.

When both are used as prescribed by people who have been diagnosed with ADHD, these drugs are generally effective and safe.

However, like all types of CNC stimulants, they are popular street drugs among people who use them to improve their athletic performance, pull all-nighters before exams, or lose weight.

The Similarities of Ritalin vs Adderall

Ritalin and Adderall have a number of similarities, including:

  • Both are listed as Schedule II controlled substances in the U.S. – the same level as morphine, cocaine, and opium
  • Each is mainly used to treat ADHD, but can also be prescribed to treat narcolepsy
  • These drugs are available in short-acting and slow-release tablets
  • They have a potential for misuse and addiction

The Differences Between Ritalin vs Adderall

The major differences between Ritalin vs Adderall are as follows:

  • Ritalin contains methylphenidate, while Adderall contains a mix of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.
  • They are both CNS stimulants but Ritalin works quicker, although Adderall is active for a longer period of time.

Ritalin vs Adderall – A Side By Side Comparison

Here is a side by side comparison chart between Ritalin and Adderall.

They are very similar but with some key differences. Because Adderall is amphetamine-based, it has a tendency towards greater dependency than Ritalin. Also, weight gain or loss is another key factor, as shown in the chart below.

Ritalin vs Adderall Side by Side Comparison Chart

For most people, it depends on how they plan to use the drug. People who have actually been diagnosed with ADHD and take prescription medication to manage the symptoms of their condition tend to respond better to methylphenidate-based medications such as Ritalin.

This is because it’s effective at boosting neurotransmitter activity without many of the physiological side effects that come with amphetamines.

By contrast, people without ADHD who use prescription drugs to get high often use Adderall, the amphetamine-based drug, since it stimulates both neurological and physiological systems to provide a whole-body boost.

For example, one of the biggest complaints medical users have about Ritalin is unwanted weight gain. Ritalin tends to act as an appetite suppressant for a while, but once patients develop a tolerance, they can actually end up experiencing ‘rebound’ symptoms often characterized by overeating.

By contrast, people who take Adderall report loosing weight on the drug. This is because Adderall contains amphetamine, a.k.a. “speed,” which amps up the body’s metabolic rate by increasing heart rate.

This makes Adderall a popular street drug among people looking to shed excess pounds.

One mother remarked, “My son takes Adderall for ADHD and lost a lot of weight. We have to MAKE him eat most of the time.”


Both of these drugs come with some serious, and potentially dangerous, side effects.

Like all CNS stimulants they’re known to be highly addictive, and when taken for recreational purposes, Adderall and Ritalin can cause vomiting, speeding heart rate, seizures, and shortness of breath.

Because Adderall is often the drug of choice among people looking for a stimulant to improve their academic, professional, or athletic performance, it is sometimes mixed with mega-doses of caffeinated beverages like energy drinks – this can have deadly consequences for users.

Combining amphetamines with other stimulants (known as ‘stacking’) can lead to cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, or other life-threatening side effects.