Adderall vs. Ritalin: What’s the Difference?

adderall and ritalin pills

There are many similarities between Adderall and Ritalin, but both drugs can cause dependence and addiction and should be used with caution. In this blog, we’ll explain the primary similarities and differences between the two drugs, including their side effects, withdrawal symptoms, and treatment options for addiction.

What Is Adderall?

Adderall is often compared to meth but it is a prescription stimulant drug and a combination medication that is made of the ingredients amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. It is commonly used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy and is available in tablet form (immediate-release and extended-release).

When it is consumed, Adderall restores the natural chemical balance of neurotransmitters in the brain. As a result, the user is better able to concentrate, listen, focus, and complete tasks.1 Although it is highly effective and is safe when used under the direction of a doctor, Adderall is classified as a Schedule II drug because it has the potential to cause dependence and addiction.2

While the risk of addiction is always present, Adderall is an effective treatment for ADHD and it is one of the most commonly prescribed medications for that purpose. Those who do abuse it usually do so for its stimulating side effects.

Adderall abuse is particularly common among students and young professionals and abuse methods vary. In most cases, people who abuse Adderall will do so in one or more of the following ways. They may:

  • Take larger doses of Adderall than prescribed
  • Take more frequent doses of Adderall than prescribed
  • Get Adderall pills from friends or family members
  • Chew Adderall pills
  • Crush Adderall pills and eat or snort the powder

According to a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry, 16 million Americans over the age of 18 are taking prescription stimulants like Adderall and total prescription stimulant sales for adults has surpassed those for children and teens. Additionally, an estimated 5 million Americans are abusing prescription stimulants like Adderall.3

How Long Does Adderall Stay in Your System?

Adderall will stay in your system for about three days after the most recent dose.4 Depending on certain factors like body weight, age, metabolism, and the amount of water in your body, the timeframe could vary. Your usage habits (how often you use Adderall, how much you take each time, if you abuse Adderall with any other drugs or alcohol, etc.) will also impact the amount of time it takes to clear from your system.

Adderall use may be detectable for a longer duration of time depending on the type of drug test that is used. The chart below contains approximate drug test detection times for Adderall with urine, blood, saliva, and hair tests.

Drug Testing for Adderall

Urine testDetectable for 2-5 days
Blood testDetectable up to 12 hours
Saliva testDetectable for 1-5 days
Hair follicle testDetectable for up to 90 days

Source: https://amphetamines.com/facts/how-long-do-amphetamines-stay-in-your-system/

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    Signs and Symptoms of Adderall Addiction

    Adderall addiction is more common than you might think. If you believe that you or a loved one may have developed Adderall addiction, here are some signs and symptoms to look for:

    • A sudden decline in personal hygiene
    • Paranoia
    • Sudden weight loss
    • Exhaustion
    • Talking quickly
    • Communication problems
    • Incomplete thoughts
    • Aggressive and/or strange behavior
    • Strained relationships
    • Money problems

    Other behavioral signs that may indicate Adderall abuse or addiction include:

    • Frequently missing school or work
    • Seeing more than one doctor to get Adderall prescriptions (“doctor shopping”)
    • Hiding pills from friends and loved ones
    • Faking symptoms to get an Adderall prescription

    Adderall Withdrawal Symptoms

    Long-term abuse of Adderall can lead to dependence and addiction. If you are addicted to Adderall and you suddenly try to stop using it, you may experience uncomfortable physical and psychological symptoms that make it difficult to stop using. This is called withdrawal.

    Common Adderall withdrawal symptoms include:

    • Depression
    • Anxiety
    • Irritability
    • Panic attacks
    • Strong cravings for Adderall
    • Fatigue
    • Sleeping problems
    • Suicidal thoughts5

    Adderall withdrawal is not only uncomfortable, but it can also be dangerous or life-threatening. Depending on the severity of your addiction, you may need medical treatment to safely quit using Adderall.

    A professional drug detox program can provide medical and clinical care in a comfortable and safe environment that is designed to help you heal and recover from your physical dependence on Adderall. Medication-assisted treatment for Adderall detox often includes a slow tapering method that gradually weans you off of the drug, reducing the severity of the withdrawal effects and safely easing you down into sobriety.

    Quitting Adderall cold turkey on your own may be tempting, but it’s not worth the risk. In most cases, detoxing at a detox center is much more effective, safe, and comfortable.

    What Is Ritalin?

    Ritalin, much like Adderall or Vyvanse, is also a prescription stimulant drug that is used to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. It is the brand name for the drug methylphenidate. Other brand names include:

    • Concerta
    • Methylin
    • Metadate6

    Ritalin works by changing the balance of natural chemicals found in the brain, which affects hyperactivity and impulses. As a result, it helps users stay focused, listen, concentrate, and complete tasks.7 It is available in instant-release, sustained-release, and long-acting tablets.

    Ritalin is a Schedule II drug and can cause dependence and addiction, especially if it is abused. Due to its stimulating effects, it may be more likely to be abused than other prescription drugs and people who have had substance abuse problems in the past may be advised against taking it because of the risk.

    Street names or slang terms for Ritalin include:

    • Johnny
    • Pineapple
    • Mind candy
    • Vitamin R
    • Ritty
    • Rit

    Ritalin addiction may be more common among students, as it may be used to increase attention and focus when studying, to stay awake for longer hours, or to increase energy while partying. Common forms of Ritalin abuse include:

    • Taking larger doses of Ritalin than prescribed
    • Taking more frequent doses of Ritalin than prescribed
    • Taking a friend or family member’s Ritalin tablets
    • Chewing Ritalin tablets
    • Crushing Ritalin tablets and snorting or eating the powder

    In the 1990s, prescriptions for Ritalin increased dramatically and in 1996, the DEA found that 30 to 50 percent of adolescents in addiction treatment misused Ritalin alongside their primary drug of abuse.8 Prescription stimulant abuse remains high in the U.S., especially among students. However, Ritalin remains to be a common treatment for ADHD. According to a 2017 study, about 32 percent of children with ADHD took Ritalin and about 33 percent of adults with ADD took Ritalin at some point.9

    How Long Does Ritalin Stay in Your System?

    Certain variables can affect how long Ritalin stays in your system, such as your age, weight, metabolism, hydration, and body fat, among others. Even your usage habits (like how much Ritalin you normally take, polysubstance abuse, etc.) can play a role. Regardless, Ritalin is generally metabolized very quickly and should clear out of your system within a few days of your last dose.10

    Although Ritalin won’t show up on a standard five-panel drug test, it can be detected by an amphetamines test. The table below provides approximate drug test detection times for Ritalin.

    Drug Testing for Ritalin

    Urine testDetectable for 1-2 days
    Blood testDetectable up to 12 hours
    Saliva testDetectable for 1-2 days
    Hair follicle testDetectable for up to 90 days

    Source: https://www.verywellmind.com/how-long-does-ritalin-stay-in-your-system-80322

    Signs and Symptoms of Ritalin Addiction

    Signs and symptoms of Ritalin addiction are very similar to signs of Adderall addiction, as many of the same behaviors occur with all types of prescription drug abuse. If you or a loved one has developed an addiction to Ritalin, you may notice the following physical symptoms or behavioral trends:

    • Hallucinations
    • Paranoia
    • Hyperactive behavior
    • Anxiety
    • Talkativeness
    • Inflated confidence
    • Sudden weight loss
    • Sleeping problems
    • Relationship problems
    • Missing work or school frequently
    • Taking pills frequently
    • Hiding pills from friends or family members
    • “Doctor shopping”
    • Faking symptoms to get Ritalin prescriptions
    • Using Ritalin with alcohol or other drugs

    Ritalin Withdrawal Symptoms

    Ritalin withdrawal doesn’t always require medical treatment, but it can become severe enough to require it. Many severe instances of Ritalin withdrawal involve severe feelings of depression and suicidal thoughts, which should always be taken seriously and treated immediately. In these cases, Ritalin withdrawal treatment at a detox center may be the most effective option for detoxing.

    Common Ritalin withdrawal symptoms include:

    • Depression
    • Difficulty sleeping
    • Fatigue
    • Cravings
    • Irritability
    • Anger
    • Anxiety
    • Increased appetite
    • Ritalin cravings
    • Mood swings
    • Return of ADHD/ADD symptoms11,12

    Adderall vs. Ritalin: Uses

    Adderall and Ritalin are both prescription drugs that are intended to be used for the medical purpose of treating ADHD and narcolepsy. However, they are both frequently abused prescription drugs that are misused for various reasons like to lose weight or to increase focus, alertness, and performance at school or work.

    Abusing Adderall or Ritalin in any way can cause dependence and addiction, especially if they are abused on a long-term basis. Neither Adderall or Ritalin is more dangerous than the other and they are both effective treatment methods for ADHD. Generally, when one medication does not work for a person, a doctor will recommend they try the other.

    Overall, these two drugs are very similar. However, the main difference between Adderall and Ritalin is that Ritalin works faster than Adderall does, but Adderall stays active in the body longer than Ritalin does.13

    Adderall vs. Ritalin: Addiction and Dependence

    Both Adderall and Ritalin are highly addictive if they are misused and chronic abuse of prescription stimulants, in general, can easily lead to addiction and dependence. If you have a history of substance abuse, Adderall or Ritalin may not be the right ADD/ADHD medication for you.

    Due to the stimulating effects of Adderall and Ritalin, many people abuse these drugs for various purposes, such as:

    • To lose weight
    • To increase physical performance
    • To increase productivity at school or work
    • To increase energy and wakefulness

    According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, prescription stimulant abuse in the U.S. is increasing, with 18.1 million people abusing prescription stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Adderall sometime in the past year.14

    Adderall vs. Ritalin: Side Effects

    Since Adderall and Ritalin work the same way in the body, the side effects are also very similar.

    Side Effects of Adderall AbuseSide Effects of Ritalin Abuse
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Increased blood pressure
    • Increased heart rate
    • Increased body temperature
    • Abdominal cramps
    • Hallucinations
    • Tremors
    • Confusion
    • Restlessness
    • Overactive reflexes
    • Delirium15
    • Decreased appetite
    • Irritability
    • Memory problems
    • Anxiety
    • Increased heart rate
    • Dehydration
    • Paranoia
    • Depression
    • Fatigue
    • Hyperactivity
    • Dilated pupils
    • Mood swings
    • Aggressiveness16

    Get Adderall Addiction Treatment or Ritalin Addiction Treatment Today

    Adderall addiction and Ritalin addiction are serious issues that can cause severe physical problems, psychological problems, and behavioral issues. Fortunately, treatment for prescription stimulant addiction is available for those who need it.

    A well-rounded approach to addiction treatment often includes detox, rehab, IOP, and aftercare services like sober living or peer support and monitoring programs. At Briarwood Detox Center, we will help you through detox and withdrawal and provide personal referrals for ongoing care so you can stay sober long after detox is over.

    If you are suffering from prescription stimulant addiction to Adderall or Ritalin, the staff at Briarwood Detox Center is here to help. Call today to learn more about our individualized prescription drug detox program.


    1. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-63163/adderall-oral/details
    2. https://www.dea.gov/drug-scheduling
    3. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/apr/16/16-million-us-adults-prescription-stimulants-study/
    4. https://www.mayocliniclabs.com/test-info/drug-book/pod/DrugBook.pdf
    5. https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adderall-crash#adderall-crash
    6. https://www.psycom.net/ritalin-methylphenidate
    7. https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-9475/ritalin-oral/details
    8. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/medicating/drugs/ritalinstats.html
    9. https://www.additudemag.com/adderall-ritalin-adhd-medication-comparison/
    10. https://toxnet.nlm.nih.gov/cgi-bin/sis/search2/f?./temp/~as3OLK:3
    11. https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682188.html
    12. https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/prescription-stimulants
    13. https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adderall-vs-ritalin#how-they-work
    14. https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/nsduh-ppt-09-2018.pdf
    15. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1524735/
    16. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC181133/

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