Concerta and Adderall: What’s the Difference?

Concerta and Adderall are medicines children and adults can take to help manage their ADHD symptoms. They're both stimulants -- the most common type of drug used to treat the disorder.

All stimulant drugs boost your levels of dopamine and norepinephrine -- chemicals that carry messages between nerve cells -- in your brain. They help you plan, organize, and pay attention. Having more of them can help you focus.

About 80% of people who take stimulant drugs notice that their symptoms get better. About half of them get the same benefit whether they take either Concerta or Adderall. The other half does better on one drug than the other. This is because they work on your brain in slightly different ways and can have different benefits and side effects.

Your doctor can help figure out the best ADHD treatment for you. It can take some trial and error to find the right medicine and dose. If the first one you try doesn't work, you can switch to a different one.

How Long Do They Last?

Concerta is the brand name for methylphenidate hydrochloride extended-release tablets. The medicine gets into your system slowly, and the effects can last up to 12 hours. One pill in the morning is meant to help manage your ADHD symptoms through the whole school or work day.

Adderall is the brand name for a mix of two stimulants called amphetamine-dextroamphetamine. It comes in both regular and extended-release forms. You take the regular version 2 or 3 times a day -- once every 4 to 6 hours. The extended-release form is a capsule that also can last up to 12 hours. Each capsule holds tiny beads. Half the beads start to work right away, while the others release slowly into your body.

Side Effects

The most common side effects from both Concerta and Adderall include:

It’s rare, but they also can be linked to heart problems, mental health issues, seizures, blurred vision, and circulation problems in your fingers and toes.

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Stimulant drugs also may lead to higher chances of stroke and heart attack in a very small number of people who take them. You shouldn’t take them if you have serious heart problems.

Other possible side effects of Concerta include:

Other possible side effects of Adderall include:

Men also may notice changes in their sex drives, impotence, or frequent or erections that last longer than usual. Some people who take it might have hair loss or rhabdomyolysis, when muscle breaks down and gets weaker.

Cost

The prices can be different, depending on your health insurance coverage and your local pharmacy. In general, the longer-acting forms are more expensive than the shorter-acting forms. And the generic versions can cost much less than brand names.

Are They Addictive?

If you use these drugs for a long time, you may start to depend on them. This is because they raise the level of dopamine in your brain. That helps you focus better, but it also triggers feelings of pleasure. Too much can make you feel intense excitement and happiness, and eventually, you might want to take more and more to get the same feeling. This can be especially true if you’ve had a problem with drug or alcohol abuse in the past.

You may be less likely to become dependent on the longer-acting forms because they release their active chemicals more slowly.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on September 25, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

CHADD: "Medication Management."

Child Mind Institute: "Understanding ADHD Medications."

FDA: "Concerta (methylphenidate HCL Extended-release Tablets)," "Highlights of Prescribing Information: Adderall XR."

National Institute on Drug Abuse: "Stimulant ADHD Medications: Methylphenidate and Amphetamines."

National Institutes of Health: "Adderall Drug Label Information," "Adderall XR Drug Label Information," "Concerta Drug Label Information."

Pediatrics Child Health: “Extended-release medications for children and adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.”

U.S. National Library of Medicine:  “Adderall XR Drug Label,” “Adderall XR Medication Guide,” “Concerta Drug Label.”

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