Concerta vs. Adderall: What’s the difference?

Drugs
Concerta and Adderall are stimulant medications that a doctor may prescribe for a person with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. They can also help a person with narcolepsy.

Stimulants work by helping regulate the chemicals in a person’s brain that support thinking and paying attention.

Although they have many associated side effects, stimulants are generally safe and effective at treating the symptoms of ADHD.

In this article, learn about the differences between Concerta and Adderall, including the effects and dosage.

Concerta vs. Adderall

Doctor giving Concerta and Adderall medication prescription to patient mature or senior female patient for ADHD
Adderall may benefit adults with ADHD more than Concerta.

Although they are both stimulants and work in a similar way, Concerta and Adderall are two different types of drug. They are both effective at treating the symptoms of ADHD, but Concerta is a longer-acting drug than Adderall.

Concerta is a brand name for the drug methylphenidate in an extended-release formulation. This is the same drug in Ritalin, but Concerta releases the drug evenly over a prolonged period. The slow release is what sets it apart from other ADHD medications.

Adderall contains two drugs: amphetamine and dextroamphetamine.

Manufacturers designed Concerta so that its effects last 12 hours, whereas those of Adderall peak at around 3 hours.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 70–80 percent of children see an improvement in their ADHD symptoms when taking these drugs.

However, although they can effectively treat ADHD symptoms, they can have significant side effects. Also, there is not much research looking at their long-term effects.

A significant meta-analysis from 2018 looked at which common ADHD drugs were the safest and most effective.

The authors found that methylphenidate, which is the active ingredient in Concerta, was generally best for adolescents and children who have ADHD. For adults with ADHD, amphetamines such as Adderall were generally the best.

However, the authors of the meta-analysis stressed that they were only considering the short-term effects on ADHD symptoms and any short-term side effects.

They highlighted an urgent need for studies to look at the long-term safety of ADHD medication.


Who should take them?

A doctor may prescribe Concerta or Adderall to a person with ADHD. This would be part of a comprehensive treatment plan for their ADHD.

The charity Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) note that a comprehensive treatment plan would typically include:

  • general education about ADHD
  • information on the treatment options, including their pros and cons
  • coping strategies for the symptoms of ADHD, such as behavioral therapy
  • medications, such as Concerta or Adderall
  • mental health support for the person with ADHD and their family
  • if the person with ADHD is in school, changes to the tuition

For children aged 6 or above with ADHD, the CDC recommend a combination of behavioral therapy and medications. If a child with ADHD is under 6 years old, their doctor will usually only recommend behavioral therapy.

Behavioral therapy is just as effective as medication for those under 6, and it is not clear what the long-term effects of ADHD medications might be on young children.


Can a person take them together?

There is little research into how Concerta and Adderall interact with each other. A doctor is unlikely to suggest that a person take them both at the same time.

Since they work in similar ways, it may be that a person is more likely to have adverse side effects if they take both.


Side effects

Concerta and Adderall can cause difficulty sleeping.
A person can experience difficulty sleeping if they are taking Concerta and Adderall.

Concerta and Adderall are both generally safe when a person takes them according to their doctor’s instructions. However, both can have significant side effects.

The side effects of Concerta and Adderall can include:

  • decreased appetite
  • difficulty sleeping
  • physical or verbal tics
  • personality changes
  • headaches and stomach aches

As always, if a person experiences any of these side effects, they should speak to a doctor.

Dosage

The dosage for Concerta and Adderall depends on a person’s individual needs. According to CHADD, a doctor may suggest a trial introduction of one of the drugs to monitor the effects.

A doctor would typically start by prescribing a small dosage of either medication. Then, if the person tolerates the dosage but is still experiencing bothersome symptoms, the doctor may suggest increasing the dosage.

This can continue until a person and their doctor find the balance between the effectiveness of the medication and minimizing any side effects.

Due to its extended-release formulation, it is essential that people taking Concerta swallow the pill whole rather than chewing, breaking, or crushing it first.


Complications

A person who is very tense or anxious may experience complications when taking Concerta or Adderall.
A person who is very tense or anxious may experience complications when taking Concerta or Adderall.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a person may experience complications from taking Concerta if they:

  • are very tense, agitated, or anxious
  • have glaucoma
  • have verbal or physical tics, or Tourette’s syndrome
  • have recently used monoamine oxidase inhibitor, usually for depression
  • are allergic to any of the ingredients in Concerta
  • have heart problems
  • have an additional mental health condition
  • have a history of seizures
  • have any issues related to their gastrointestinal tract

The FDA also note that complications with Adderall can arise in people who:

  • have hardened arteries or heart issues
  • have high blood pressure
  • have glaucoma
  • are very agitated, tense, or anxious
  • have a history of drug misuse
  • have recently taken a monoamine oxidase inhibitor
  • have had problems with other stimulant medications
  • have an additional mental health condition
  • have verbal or physical tics, or Tourette’s syndrome
  • have issues with their liver or kidneys
  • have a thyroid condition
  • have seizures

A doctor can advise on if a person should take Concerta or Adderall, taking all the possible risks into account.

It is also vital for a person to tell their doctor about any other medications they are taking in case Concerta or Adderall may interact with them.

Outlook

Stimulants such as Concerta and Adderall can be effective treatments for ADHD in the short-term, especially when combined with behavioral therapies.

However, more research is necessary to understand the long-term effects these medications may have on a person.

It is essential for a person to have regular checkups with their doctor when they are taking Concerta or Adderall.

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