Concerta vs. Adderall: The Differences Explained

Concerta and Adderall are medicines children and adults can take to 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 two chemicals in your brain, dopamine and norepinephrine. 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 Adderall or Concerta. 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 you 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.

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Concerta Dosage: How Much Do You Take?

For Concerta, dosages depend on whether you’re currently taking a form of methylphenidate.

Recommended dosages of Concerta for people new to methylphenidate:

  • Children 6-12
    • Starting dosage: 18 mg/day
    • Range: 18-54 mg/day
  • Teens 13-17
    • Starting dose: 18 mg/day
    • Range: 18-72 mg/day
  • Adults 18-35
    • Starting dosage: 18 mg/day or 36 mg/day
    • Range: 18-72 mg/day

Recommended dosages of Concerta for people already taking methylphenidate:

Previous dosage: 5 mg methylphenidate 2 or 3 times daily
Starting dosage:  18 mg every morning

Previous dosage: 10 mg methylphenidate 2 or 3 times daily
Starting dosage:  36 mg every morning

Previous dosage: 15 mg methylphenidate 2 or 3 times daily
Starting dosage:  54 mg every morning

Previous dosage: 20 mg methylphenidate 2 or 3 times daily
Starting dosage:  72 mg every morning

Adderall Dosage: How Much Do You Take?

You’ll start this drug at the lowest dose and then go up until it starts to work for you. Don’t take it at night -- it can keep you awake. It isn’t recommended for children under 3. Take the first dose when you wake up and the rest every 4 to 6 hours until you've taken the last pill for the day.

Immediate release:

Children 3-5: Start with 2.5 mg daily; raise it by 2.5 mg a week.

Dosage range: 2.5-40 mg/day

Children 6 and older: Start with 5 mg once or twice daily; raise it by 5 mg a week

Dosage range: 5-40 mg/day

Adults: Start with 5 mg once or twice daily; raise it by 5 mg a week.

Dosage range: 5 mg/day to 60 mg/day

 

Extended release:

Children 6-12:

Starting dosage: 5-10 mg daily; raise it by 5-10 mg a week

Dosage range: 5-30 mg/day

Already on a different stimulant: 10 mg/day; raise it by 5-10 mg a week

Dosage range: 5-30 mg/day

Already on amphetamine salts: Same dose as current meds; don’t go over 30 mg/day

 

T eens

Starting dosage 10 mg/day; raise it by 10 mg a week

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Dosage range: 10-20 mg/day

Already on another stimulant: 10 mg/day; raise it by 10 mg a week

Dosage range: 10-20 mg/day

Already on amphetamine salts: Same dose as current meds; don’t go over 20 mg/day

 

Adults

Starting dosage: 20 mg/day

Dosage range: 20 mg/day

Already on another stimulant: 20 mg/day

Dosage range: 20 mg/day

Already on amphetamine salts: Same dose as current meds; don’t go over 20 mg/day

Side Effects

The most common side effects from both Adderall and Concerta 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.

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.

Less common side effects for both include:

Men also may notice changes in their sex drives, impotence, or frequent erections that last longer than usual. Some people who take it might have hair loss or a serious condition called rhabdomyolysis, which causes your muscles to break down.

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 medicine more slowly.

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Concerta vs. Adderall

 

Concerta

Adderall

What is the generic name?

Methylphenidate

Dextroamphetamine and amphetamine

Is a generic version available?

Yes

Yes

What does it treat?

ADHD

ADHD and narcolepsy

What form(s) does it come in?

Extended-release oral tablet

Immediate-release oral tablet

Extended-release oral capsule

What strengths does it come in?

18 mg

27 mg

36 mg

54 mg

Immediate-release tablet: 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 30 mg

Extended-release capsule: 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, 30 mg

What’s the typical length of treatment?

Long-term

Long-term

How do I store it?

At a controlled room temperature between 59-86 F (15 C and 30 C)

Between 68-77 F (20 C and 25 C)

In a light-resistant container

Is this a controlled substance?

Yes

Yes

Is there a risk of withdrawal with this drug?

Yes

Yes

Does this drug have potential for misuse?

Yes

Yes

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on June 03, 2019

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

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

Dailymed: “LABEL: CONCERTA- methylphenidate hydrochloride tablet, extended release.”

Physicians’ Desk Reference: “amphetamine aspartate monohydrate/amphetamine sulfate/dextroamphetamine saccharate/dextroamphetamine sulfate - Drug Summary.”

MedLine Plus: “Dextroamphetamine and Amphetamine,” “Methylphenidate.”

FDA: “ADDERALL (CII),” HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION  [Adderall XR],” “HIGHLIGHTS OF PRESCRIBING INFORMATION [Concerta],” “Questions and Answers Regarding Methylphenidate Hydrochloride Extended Release Tablets (generic Concerta) made by Mallinckrodt and UCB/Kremers Urban (formerly Kudco).

Learning Disabilities Association of America: “Medications for ADHD/ADD.”

UpToDate: “Methamphetamine: Acute intoxication,” “Pharmacotherapy for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in adults.”

Child Mind Institute: “What We Know About the Long-Term Effects of ADHD Medications.”

Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry: “Methylphenidate Abuse and Psychiatric Side Effects.”

 

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