Ritalin vs Adderall: Which should you use?

Ritalin and Adderall are both stimulants used for the treatment of ADHD and similar attention-deficit disorders or learning disabilities.

Both drugs are also used recreationally, or rather, for uses other than the treatment of a disorder. Ritalin and Adderall are popular among students, shift-workers and currency traders; people who need to stay awake, alert, hyper-focused, and mentally sharp for far longer than people can normally manage.

While we strongly caution against the use of prescription drugs for non-prescription purposes (especially without medical attention), Rialin and Adderall are undeniably effective for promoting alertness, mental energy, and focus.

Adderall or Ritalin

But which is more effective? Which has the better side effect and risk profile? Which offers better value for money? Should you use either?

In this article, we compare Ritalin against Adderall to see which one – if either – you should use.


Ritalin is a brand name for the drug methylphenidate.

Methylphenidate acts primarily as a reuptake inhibitor for norepinephrine and dopamine. Basically, it prevents the reuptake of norepinephrine and dopamine, which is what usually happens after the neurotransmitters have done their job of passing messages between neurons. By preventing their reuptake, methylphenidate leaves more active dopamine and norepinephrine in the system, which leads to far greater CNS activity.

This is why Ritalin has the effects that it does; heightened focus, greater motivation, and significantly more mental energy.

Ritalin is generally regarded as the “fast-acting” study drug. Effects can usually be felt in just 20-30 minutes after taking it. Of course, this means that the effects of Ritalin do not last very long; just 4-5 hours for most.

Without a prescription, Ritalin – or rather methylphenidate – is a controlled substance in the United States. Possession of methylphenidate without a prescription can get you jail time in the UK and Canada, and in parts of Europe.

Ritalin costs around 75 cents to $1.20 per capsule, depending on the type being bought. There are multiple different types of Ritalin, sold under different brand names. Some are instant release, others are slow-release, drawing out the effects over several hours.


Adderall is probably the most used study drug in the world. This is highly unlikely to change in the near future too; Adderall use is growing, and it is growing faster than any of the other “study drugs”.

Adderall is amphetamine. Not like amphetamine, Adderall IS amphetamine. More specifically, Adderall is a brand name of a drug which combines four different amphetamine salts to delver both immediate and longer-lasting effects than straight amphetamine.

Adderall works by rapidly increasing dopamine levels in the brain. This leads to dramatically increased focus, motivation, and mental energy, and a rapid decrease in fatigue and lethargy.

Adderall is, obviously, a controlled substance. It cannot be bought or sold legally without a prescription in the United States. In much of the world, it is outright illegal, with jail time for possession not being uncommon.

The use of Adderall as a treatment for ADHD has come under scrutiny over the last few years, and rightfully so. There are suggestions that Adderall use, even in the case of severe ADHD, might cause more problems than it solves, such as dependency, addiction, behavior problems, insomnia, and long-term psychiatric issues.

This is not to mention the significantly elevated risk of heart disease you get when you use amphetamine on a daily basis!

Ritalin vs Adderall: Which should you use?

Both Ritalin and Adderall have very similar effects on the human body, and they work in much the same way.

They work by increasing the availability of norepinephrine and dopamine in your CNS. These neurotransmitters are responsible for things like motivation, focus, and excitability. Having increased norepinephrine and dopamine speeds up your brain activity. Ritalin works sooner and reaches peak effects faster than Adderall does. However, Adderall stays active in your body for far longer than Ritalin does (8-10 hours compares to just 5 hours).

So which should you use, Ritalin or Adderall?

We think the answer is obvious: neither!

Ritalin vs Adderall

Neither Ritalin nor Adderall represent good options if you goal is simply to increase your focus, motivation, and mental energy.

The potential downsides for both drugs are huge; they are both illegal when used without a prescription, and they both have extremely serious side effects as well as long term health risks (increased risk of heart attack, stroke, seizure, and insomnia to name a few).

Then there’s the fact that both Adderall and Ritalin can drastically backfire on you. If your goal is to be a productive, functioning member of society, then neither Ritalin nor Adderall are for you – both drugs cause strange behavioral changes and can make people unpredictable. They can also leave you unable to work on what you should be working on (the opposite of how they are supposed to work) if you do not have ADHD.

In the fight of Ritalin vs Adderall, whatever the outcome, you will probably lose.