Adderall vs. Concerta

A Comparison of Side Effects, Abuse Potential, and More

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Adderall and Concerta are two prescription medications that can be prescribed for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. Although these medicines have some similarities, they have a few differences as well. Here's what you need to know about Adderall vs. Concerta.

Adderall vs. Concerta: How They Work

One way these two medicines are similar is that they are both stimulants, meaning that they are designed to increase brain activity. Adderall gets its stimulant effects from a combination of two drugs, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, while the stimulant in Concerta is methylphenidate.

For people with ADHD, stimulants can help increase focus, reduce hyperactivity, and improve inhibition control. For people with narcolepsy, stimulant therapy helps to improve their feelings of wakefulness and alertness during the daytime hours.

A difference when comparing Adderall vs. Concerta is how quickly they get into the system. Adderall is available as either an immediate-release medication (sometimes called Adderall IR or Adderall CI) or an extended-release (Adderall XR). Concerta is only available as an extended-release medicine.

The length of release affects how long it takes the medication to reach peak concentration in the blood. The immediate-release version of Adderall takes three hours to reach its peak compared to seven hours for the extended-release version. Concerta reaches its peak in six to 10 hours.

  Adderall Concerta 
Drug Type Stimulant Stimulant
Active Ingredient(s) Amphetamine and dextroamphetamine Methylphenidate
Release Options Can be immediate-release or extended-release Only available as an extended-release
Time to Peak Immediate-release version peaks in 3 hours; Extended-release version peaks in 7 hours Peaks in 6 to 10 hours

Side Effects of Adderall and Concerta

Adderall and Concerta have several side effects in common, but there are also a few side effects that exist with only one of the medications and not the other.

Similar Side Effects

When comparing Concerta vs. Adderall, their side effects are overall similar. The most common adverse effects of both medications are:

If you take Concentra or the extended-release version of Adderall, you may experience additional side effects, such as:

  • Agitation or irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea

Both medicines also have similar warnings of the potential for more serious side effects. These include:

  • Aggravating or instigating psychiatric issues such as psychosis and bipolar illness
  • Cardiovascular issues, including sudden death
  • Growth suppression in children (if taken long-term)
  • Increased aggression
  • Peripheral vasculopathy
  • Seizures
  • Vision issues

Non-Similar Side Effects

Adderall and Concerta have a few side effects that have the potential to occur with one but not the other. Two side effects unique to Adderall (both immediate- and extended-release) are serotonin syndrome and tics.

If you are prescribed Concerta, you may experience other side effects. These include priapism (prolonged, painful erection) and the potential for gastrointestinal obstruction.

If you experience bothersome side effects after taking either Adderall or Concerta, talk with your healthcare provider. The medication may need to be changed or its dosage level modified to help relieve these effects.

Potential for Misuse With Concerta vs. Adderall

Both medications have a likelihood of being misused, especially within certain populations. One study found that 28.1% of college students have misused stimulants at least once to improve focus and memory. Hence, they are often referred to as "study drugs" or "smart pills."

These drugs are so prevalent on college campuses that many view them as safe to take even without a prescription, resulting in higher rates of both adverse effects and unintentional deaths. Some illegally obtain stimulants from people with legitimate prescriptions. Others secure them from online pharmacies.

Almost 57% of people admit to getting prescription stimulants from family and friends, while adults obtaining these medicines from strangers tend to engage in stimulant misuse (such as stimulant use disorder) more frequently.

To legally possess and use Adderall and Concerta, you need a prescription. Yet, a study involving 62 online pharmacies found that not one required a doctor's order to obtain Adderall. Additionally, none of the online pharmacies studied offered pharmacist services and none limited the quantity that could be purchased.

Based on these findings, the study's authors concluded that these "rogue and unclassified" pharmacies not only promote but also enable the illegal purchase of Adderall. And they do it by appealing to the buyer's privacy, by offering cryptocurrency payment options, and by claiming that the pharmacy is registered or accredited—even if it isn't.

How Adderall and Concerta Compare on Addiction and Withdrawal

Adderall and Concerta are each a Schedule II controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) explains that Schedule II substances have a high potential for abuse, which can lead to dependence on these drugs both psychologically and physically.

Research indicates that amphetamine (one of the stimulants in Adderall) enhances the function of the hippocampus in the brain, thereby contributing to addiction development and maintenance. The methylphenidate in Concerta can also be habit-forming, potentially leading to increased tolerance and dependence.

This can cause you to take more of the drug to get the desired effect, which has consequences. If too much of either medication is consumed, it can lead to increased feelings of confusion, hallucinations, cardiac issues, and muscle twitching or tremors.

When the body becomes tolerant to and/or dependent upon a substance, it is also likely to experience negative effects if that substance is quit abruptly. These effects are referred to as withdrawal symptoms and, for Adderall and Concerta, include extreme fatigue and depression.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

The Bottom Line

When comparing Adderall vs. Concerta, there are more similarities than differences. If you have been prescribed one of these medications and have concerns, speak to your healthcare provider. They can help you determine if the medicine is right for you given your condition and health status.

12 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Kristen Fuller, MD
Kristen Fuller is a physician, a successful clinical mental health writer, and author. She specializes in addiction, substance abuse, and eating disorders.