Ritalin and Adderall both provide appropriate treatment options for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Over the past decade, however, these prescription drugs have been widely misused as recreational stimulants for non-medical purposes.
When used incorrectly, these drugs cause increased neural activity in an individual’s central nervous system. This results in feelings of euphoria, increased energy and stamina, and improved focus and cognition. These effects are why students misuse Adderall and Ritalin, referring to them as “study drugs.”
However, both Ritalin and Adderall pose high potential for abuse and addiction, and have been classified as Schedule II controlled substances.
That’s what these two drugs have in common. But what about the specific differences?
Let’s start with some basic definitions.
What is Adderall?
Adderall is the brand name for dextroamphetamine, a stimulant that works by increasing the dopamine and norepinephrine levels in the central nervous system.
Increased dopamine causes “feel good” effects, which are recorded in the brain’s reward system. The increased norepinephrine speeds the brain’s response time to stimuli for people who don’t suffer with ADHD or narcolepsy. On the other hand, someone with ADHD does not experience these stimulant effects.
What is Ritalin?
Ritalin is the brand name for methylphenidate, another central nervous system stimulant. Ritalin works differently than Adderall — it blocks the reuptake of dopamine at the synapses, acting as a re-uptake inhibitor.
This produces similar effects as Adderall through a different method. The subtle differences in approach to regulating brain chemistry can produce slight variations in effectiveness for individuals with ADHD, which is why they’re both available as options.
Both drugs act as stimulants on the central nervous system, with Adderall being an amphetamine while Ritalin is not. Ritalin is the medication most often prescribed for treating children and adolescents with ADHD.
Dangers of stimulants
Prescription stimulants may seem as if they would be safe to consume, since young kids are prescribed these drugs on a long-term basis. However, individuals who do not have ADHD or narcolepsy and use these medications incorrectly are putting their health at risk.
Consider these possible long-term effects of Adderall or Ritalin misuse:
- Stimulant use disorder: When individuals misuse Adderall, it produces a state of euphoria by increasing dopamine production in the brain. The reward center of the brain records this as a pleasant experience, puting the individual at risk for addiction. Symptoms of stimulant abuse or addiction include:
- Weight loss
- Incomplete thoughts
- Sleep disturbances
- Cardiac arrhythmia: An irregular heartbeat is a serious adverse effect that can occur when Ritalin or Adderall are used recreationally or for non-clinical purposes. These include mixing the stimulants with other substances for an enhanced high, or using these drugs for weight loss or enhanced performance at work or school.
- Mental health issues: Mental health complications are a possible side effect of long-term misuse of Adderall or Ritalin. The individual may experience hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, depression, mania, mood swings, or mental confusion.
- Stroke: Because these drugs cause the body systems to speed up, it can result in such symptoms as the heart pumping faster, blood pressure increasing and breathing rates increasing. This can cause a stroke.
Can you overdose on Adderall or Ritalin?
Just as with any substance, if an individual ingests more than their system can safely metabolize, it may result in toxicity. A stimulant overdose can occur with or without another substance being involved. Signs of a Ritalin or Adderall overdose might include:
- Profuse sweating
- Muscle twitches
- Rapid breathing
- Heart palpitations
- Mental confusion
- Dry mouth
- Blurred vision
- Convulsions or seizures
As with all prescription drugs, Adderall and Ritalin should only be used by individuals under the care of a physician, as they may be potentially harmful.
Ashley Addiction Treatment, formerly Father Martin’s Ashley, is a nationally recognized nonprofit leader in integrated, evidence-based treatment for substance use disorders. Our programs are accredited by The Joint Commission, and result in frequent publications of ongoing research into effective treatment methodologies. We offer holistic care that encompasses the mind, body and spirit through inpatient and outpatient treatment, provide drug detox, relapse prevention plans, family wellness programs and a variety of other services tailored to each patient’s unique needs. Our driving principle — “everything for recovery” — reinforces our mission to transform and save lives through the science of medicine, the art of therapy and the compassion of spirituality, and is complemented by our philosophy of healing with respect and dignity. For information about our comprehensive programs, please call 866-313-6307.