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Ritalin vs. Strattera for ADHD

Reviewed by Smitha Bhandari, MD on July 02, 2020

Strattera and Ritalin are medicines that children and adults can take to manage ADHD symptoms. Both drugs improve focus and attention, but in different ways.

Ritalin is the brand name of a stimulant drug called methylphenidate. Stimulants increase levels of the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine in your brain. They help you focus, stay organized, and pay attention. Up to 80% of people with ADHD who take stimulant drugs say their symptoms get better.

Strattera is a nonstimulant drug. It boosts levels of norepinephrine in your brain to help with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive behavior.

Strattera often doesn't work as well for ADHD as Ritalin and other stimulant drugs. Your doctor might prescribe it only if a stimulant medicine doesn’t help your symptoms. Strattera starts to work more slowly than Ritalin. You may need to take it for 4 to 6 weeks before you see any effect.

Your doctor can help you find the best ADHD treatment for you. It may take a few tries to get the medicine and dose right. If the first drug you take doesn't work, they can switch you to a different one.

How Long Do They Last?

Ritalin is a short-acting drug. Its effects last for about 3 to 4 hours. One pill in the morning and one at lunchtime can manage your symptoms for the whole school or workday. Ritalin LA is an extended-release form that lasts for 6 to 10 hours.

Strattera works longer than Ritalin. Its effects can last for up to 24 hours.

Ritalin Dosage: How Much Do You Take?

The doctor will start you at the lowest dose and then slowly increase the dose until the drug starts to control your symptoms.

Ritalin tablets:

  • Children age 6 and older
  • Starting dose: 5 milligrams twice a day (before breakfast and lunch)
  • Increase the dose by 5 to 10 milligrams each week, if needed
  • Adults
    • 20 to 30 milligrams two or three times a day

You can switch to Ritalin-SR extended-release tablets if you're taking 20 milligrams of Ritalin every 8 hours and you want to take only one pill that lasts longer.

Ritalin-LA:

  • If you’re just starting methylphenidate
    • 20 milligrams daily
    • Increase the dose by 10 milligrams each week, if needed
  • If you already take Ritalin
    • The dosage is based on your current Ritalin dose

Strattera Dosage: How Much Do You Take?

The recommended dosage depends on your weight and how long you've been taking Strattera. The doctor will start you at the lowest dose and then slowly increase it until the drug starts to control your symptoms.

Recommended dosages:

  • Children and teens who weigh up to 70 kilograms (154 pounds)
    • Starting dose: 0.5 milligrams per kilogram each day
    • Target daily dose: 1.2 milligrams per kilogram each day
  • Children, teens, and adults who weigh 70 kilograms (154 pounds) or more
    • Starting dose: 40 milligrams per day
    • Target dose: 80 milligrams per day

Side Effects

The most common side effects from Ritalin include:

It's rare, but Ritalin is also linked to heart problems, mental health issues, circulation problems in your fingers and toes, painful erections that last longer than usual, and slow growth.

Continued

It could also raise your chances of stroke and heart attack. Don’t take Ritalin if you have a serious heart problem.

The most common side effects from Strattera in children include:

In rare cases, children and teens who took Strattera had suicidal thoughts or behaviors. The doctor should monitor your child closely while they take this drug.

The most common side effects of Strattera in adults include:

Sometimes Strattera is linked to liver or heart problems, mania symptoms, or painful erections that last longer than usual. You or your child shouldn't take Strattera if you have a severe heart problem.

If you’re allergic to Strattera, the drug can cause:

Cost

How much these drugs cost depends on your health insurance coverage and your local pharmacy. In general, the longer-acting forms cost more than the shorter-acting forms. Higher doses are more expensive than lower doses. Generic versions often cost less than brand-name versions.

Are They Addictive?

In general, stimulant drugs like Ritalin can lead to dependence. That's because they raise the level of dopamine in your brain, which triggers feelings of pleasure. You may need to take more and more of the drug to get the same feeling. When you try to stop, you can have withdrawal symptoms like depression, tiredness, and trouble sleeping.

People with ADHD are more likely to have addiction problems because of the disorder. But studies of long-term stimulant use for ADHD found the meds had no effect on the likelihood of alcohol or substance use disorders.

Strattera doesn't affect dopamine levels. It doesn't seem to cause dependence like stimulant drugs.

Ritalin vs. Strattera

Ritalin

Strattera

What is the generic name?

Methylphenidate hydrochloride

Atomoxetine hydrochloride

Is a generic version available?

Yes

Yes

What does it treat?

ADHD and narcolepsy

ADHD

What forms does it come in?

Immediate-release oral tablet

Extended-release oral tablet

Extended-release oral capsule

Oral capsule

What strengths does it come in?

Immediate-release tablet: 5 milligrams, 10 milligrams, 20 milligrams

Extended-release tablet: 20 milligrams

Extended-release capsules: 10 milligrams, 20 milligrams, 30 milligrams, 40 milligrams

10 milligrams

18 milligrams

25 milligrams

40 milligrams

60 milligrams

80 milligrams

100 milligrams

What's the typical length of treatment?

Long-term

Long-term

How do I store it?

Between 68-77 F in a light-resistant container

At a controlled room temperature of 77 F

Is this a controlled substance?

Yes

No

Is there a risk of withdrawal with this drug?

Yes

No

Does this drug have potential for misuse?

Yes

No

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