When it comes to prescription stimulants, Concerta and Adderall are the two most common types. These medications frequently get confused with each other because they have similar uses. However, they’re made from different chemicals, so they don’t always affect your body in the same way. To understand the difference between Concerta vs. Adderall, you need to learn more about how these substances work.
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What Are Concerta and Adderall?
Concerta is a brand-name drug that is made up of methylphenidate hydrochloride. This drug is a central nervous system stimulant. It can increase chemicals in the brain that heighten alertness, boost energy, and intensify concentration. Concerta is an extended-release form of methylphenidate hydrochloride. This means that it lasts longer than other forms of methylphenidate like Ritalin.
Adderall is also a brand-name prescription stimulant. It tends to cause feelings of alertness, energy, and focus. However, unlike Concerta, it contains two separate medications. Each Adderall dose has a blend of amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. Adderall is the same thing as Mydayis, and it also is sold under other names like Adderall IR and Adderall XR.
Uses for Concerta and Adderall
Both Concerta and Adderall are primarily prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder ADHD. People with ADHD tend to struggle with inattention, carelessness, and impulsivity. Due to the way their brains function, stimulants that would make a neurotypical person hyper don’t make a person with ADHD hyper. Instead, Concerta and Adderall help people with ADHD to focus. People take these drugs so they can better handle focusing on tasks, keeping track of time, staying organized, remembering details, and managing emotions.
Another potential use for Concerta and Adderall is managing narcolepsy. Narcolepsy is a neurological disorder where the brain is unable to properly regulate sleep-wake cycles. People with narcolepsy tend to feel excessively sleepy and fall asleep suddenly during the day. A stimulant can help boost alertness and reduce daytime sleeping. It’s fairly rare for people to be prescribed Concerta for narcolepsy. Though it may have some benefits for narcolepsy, Concerta isn’t always effective. In most situations, if your doctor is prescribing a stimulant for narcolepsy, it will be Adderall instead of Concerta.
Dosages and Types of Concerta and Adderall
Concerta dosages are fairly straightforward. The medication is always an extended-release oral tablet that slowly enters your bloodstream over the course of 12 hours. It comes in four different strengths:
- 18 mg
- 27 mg
- 36 mg
- 54 mg
Meanwhile, Adderall is available in two different types. Adderall IR is an immediate-release tablet that lasts about 5 hours. Meanwhile, Adderall XR is an extended-release capsule that lasts up to 12 hours. Depending on which type of Adderall you take, it can come in one or more dosages.
- 5 mg: IR and XR
- 7.5 mg: IR only
- 10 mg: IR and XR
- 12.5 mg: IR only
- 15 mg: IR and XR
- 20 mg: IR and XR
- 25 mg: XR only
- 30 mg: IR and XR
Which One Works Better?
Since both medications can be prescribed for similar conditions, you might assume they work interchangeably. In many cases, this is true. About half of the people who benefit from using stimulants for their ADHD function equally well with Concerta or Adderall. However, the other half finds that one specific drug works better for them.
There is no research showing that one drug is better overall. Some patients find that Adderall is more effective while others discover that Concerta is more effective. It will just depend on your own unique brain chemistry. Some preliminary studies indicate that Concerta might work better for those under 18 while adults do better with Adderall. If your doctor prescribes Adderall or Concerta, they will monitor you closely to see how you function on the drug. Patients who don’t show any improvement or who experience serious side effects may want to switch to the other option.
Possible Side Effects of Concerta and Adderall
Both Adderall and Concerta tend to cause side effects like a loss of appetite, dry mouth, nausea, trouble sleeping, irritability, weight loss, and tics. Though unusual, some people may also deal with issues like anxiety, dizziness, stomach pain, diarrhea, and mood swings. In some rare cases, long-term usage of Adderall and Concerta may cause more serious health issues. Stimulant drugs are linked to an increased risk of stroke, heart attack, seizures, and circulation issues.
Since these drugs don’t impact the brain in identical ways, they can cause different side effects. The main difference is that Concerta is more likely to cause digestive issues. People who take Concerta are more likely to have stomach pain, diarrhea, and nausea. Meanwhile, people who take Adderall are more likely to deal with sleep issues or stomach pains. Keep in mind that every patient has a different experience though. For example, even though people who take Concerta are statistically more likely to have stomach pain, you might be one of the outliers who have stomach pain on Adderall instead.
Price and Availability
Prices will vary a little depending on your location, your dosage, and your health insurance. Generally, extended-release medications will cost a little more than immediate-release ones. Even when you take that into account, Adderall is often a little more affordable. On average, a comparable Adderall dose might be a few cents cheaper than a Concerta dose.
Both medications are prescription stimulants that you can get through a doctor. Neither has limited availability, so you can usually find them at a pharmacy near you. When buying the medications illegally, there can be differences in availability. Many prescription drug dealers are more likely to sell Adderall simply because it has more brand recognition among substance abusers.
Which One Has a Higher Potential for Misuse?
People who abuse Adderall or Concerta typically do so by taking the medication in a way not prescribed by a doctor. They might use it without a prescription or take larger doses than normal at once. There are many reasons people may misuse Adderall and Concerta. Some are addicted to the substances while others just regularly misuse them to get excessive energy and focus. Adderall has a slightly higher potential for misuse than Concerta. This happens because it comes in an immediate-release form. Immediate-release stimulants are typically easier to abuse because you get the full effects immediately. This can result in more pronounced effects when you take a large dose. Meanwhile, Concerta is always an extended-release medication, so its effects are a lot slower and less intense.
Is Adderall or Concerta More Addictive?
Both Adderall and Concerta have fairly similar risks for addiction. When you take either of these drugs, your brain begins to produce different levels of dopamine and other neurotransmitters. Over time, your body starts adjusting to functioning with these abnormal neurotransmitter levels. This is called physical dependency. A person who has been using Adderall or Concerta for a while will experience withdrawal if they quit taking the drug abruptly. Both Adderall and Concerta users will experience similar withdrawal symptoms. This can include feelings of fatigue, depression, confusion, and anxiety, and it can also result in nausea, stomach pain, headaches, and vomiting.
In addition to causing physical dependency, Adderall and Concerta can also cause a person to develop a stimulant use disorder. People who have a stimulant use disorder will take Adderall or Concerta even though they don’t medically need it. Even though they will experience negative consequences, they will continue to use it. If a person has an addiction to Adderall or Concerta, they will be unable to stop taking the drug no matter how much they want to. Levels of Adderall addiction and Concerta addiction are fairly similar. Some people with a stimulant use disorder will use the two substances simultaneously. However, rates of Adderall addiction might be slightly higher, simply because the immediate-release version is a little easier to misuse.
Ultimately, both Concerta and Adderall can help treat ADHD and other health conditions. Depending on your unique brain chemistry, they may affect you slightly differently. However, both of these drugs can also be dangerous when used without a doctor’s input. If you or someone you know is abusing prescription stimulants, it’s important to seek help. Using them incorrectly can cause all sorts of problems. At Recreate Life Counseling, we provide hope for those with substance use disorders. Contact our team today to learn more about our addiction treatment options.