Vyvanse vs Adderall: Similarities and Differences

Quick facts: Vyvanse vs. Adderall

 Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

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Vyvanse and Adderall are both stimulant medications prescribed to treat ADHD. Due to their effectiveness, stimulants (also known as psychostimulants) are the first line of medications used to treat ADHD symptoms.

Both drugs act on the central nervous system, which boosts the availability of neurotransmitters in the brain. With the increased amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine, it is easier to pay attention and focus. In addition, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior is reduced.

Vyvanse vs Adderall: Key Facts

Vyvanse and Adderall are two different medications. However, because they are both stimulant medications from the same drug family (amphetamine) they may be confused as being the same medication. Here are some facts about the two drugs to shed light on their similarities and differences.

Adderall

Adderall is a brand name for a drug that contains dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. It is available in two formulas: Adderall IR (immediate-release) and Adderall XR (extended-release). Adderall IR is short-acting. Typically, when a person is prescribed this immediate-release version, they would take it two or three times a day.

Adderall XR was approved by the FDA in 1996 and may be prescribed to people 6 years and older. Adderall is also approved to treat narcolepsy.

Vyvanse

Vyvanse is a brand name for a drug that contains lisdexamfetamine. When lisdexamfetamine enters the body, it is converted to dextroamphetamine. It is available in one formula that was approved by the FDA in 2007 for people 6 years and older. In addition to treating ADHD, Vyvanse is approved to treat binge eating disorder.

Effectiveness

Both Vyvanse and Adderall are effective for treating ADHD. There is little comparative research to suggest that one is better than the other.

The two medications do differ in terms of how long they last. This can be a deciding factor for many people and can impact how effective the medication is for controlling symptoms.

  • The immediate-release form of Adderall lasts for around three to four hours. However, people may be able to take a dose two to three times per day. The extended-release form is taken once per day but lasts for 10 to 12 hours.
  • One dose of Vyvanse can last for up to 14 hours, which means that it can often be taken in the morning and lasts all day.

Some people taking Adderall XR may find that they need to take other medications to help control their symptoms.

Side Effects

As Vyvanse and Adderall are both amphetamine-type stimulant medications, the side effects of each drug are similar and include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Appetite loss
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Nausea
  • Nervousness
  • Sleep problems
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss

More serious but rarer side effects include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, shortness of breath, hallucinations, and paranoia. If you experience these or any other side effects, contact a doctor as soon as possible.

There are some additional side effects that need to be considered for women and men. Men might experience erectile dysfunction (ED) when taking an amphetamine. Although you might feel embarrassed to talk about this with your doctor, they will be able to work with you to help resolve this issue.

Precautions

People with certain conditions should not take Vyvanse or Adderall. For example, you should not take either of these medications if you have cardiovascular disease, glaucoma, hyperthyroidism, high blood pressure, bipolar disorder, or liver problems.

Adderall and Vyvanse are category C drugs, which means they could be unsafe to an unborn baby. If you are a woman who is pregnant, planning to become pregnant, or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor.

Since both medications are amphetamines that can be habit-forming, you should also not use them if you have a history of substance abuse.

Drug Interactions

There is also a risk of drug interactions that can occur if you combine Adderall or Vyvanse with another substance. Medications that you should avoid while taking these ADHD medications include:

  • Antacids
  • Antidepressants
  • Antipsychotics
  • Blood pressure medications
  • Cold or allergy medications containing antihistamines or decongestants
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • Opioid pain medications

Other things that can interact with and affect the actions of Vyvanse and Adderall include alcohol, caffeine, and foods or beverages containing ascorbic acid.

Remember to inform your prescribing doctor about any other prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and natural supplements you might be taking.

Differences

While Vyvanse and Adderall share a number of similarities, there are some important differences between the two medications. These differences can play a role in determining which medication is right for you. 

Vyvanse
  • Slower absorption rate, starts working in 1 to 2 hours

  • Effects last 14 hours

  • Lower risk of abuse since cannot be inhaled or injected

  • No generic available until after 2023

Adderall
  • Faster absorption rate, starts working in 30 minutes

  • Effects last 4 hours for Adderall IR, 10 to 12 hours for Adderall XR

  • More potential for abuse

  • Generic available

  • Immediate (IR) and extended (XR) versions for flexibility

Absorption Rate

Perhaps the biggest distinction between Adderall and Vyvanse is that Vyvanse is a prodrug. This means that it needs to be taken orally in order to be metabolized by the body’s enzymes to become effective.

The effects of Adderall start to work within 30 minutes. In contrast, Vyvanse takes approximately one to two hours to take effect.

Vyvanse is often described as ‘smoother’ than Adderall. One of the reasons for this is that—because it has a slower absorption rate—there is not a ‘kick’ or ‘jolt’ to the system when the medication starts to work.

Medication Rebound

In addition, there is less medication rebound when Vyvanse starts to wear off. Since Adderall is available in both intermediate and extended versions, it allows for great flexibility in how it can be taken. For example, a person might be prescribed Adderall XR to take daily and have Adderall IR to take when a more immediate effect is needed or when it is beneficial to have the medication wear off before bedtime.

Safety

Vyvanse and Adderall are Schedule II drugs, which means there is a potential for abuse and dependency. Both are approved to take orally. Since Vyvanse needs to be converted in the body, it can't be inhaled or injected as a way to become high. So it is less likely to be misused than Adderall and other stimulant medications. Always store your medications safely and away from other people.

Forms and Dosages

Adderall IR is available in tablets ranging from 5 milligrams (mg) to 30 mg. Adderall XR is available in six different doses ranging from 5 mg to 30 mg. Vyvanse is available in capsules and chewable tablets of several strengths in doses from 10 mg to 70 mg.

Doctors usually prescribe a lower dose when you first start taking a medication and gradually increase it until they find the right therapeutic dose for you and your symptoms.

Cost

Adderall and Vyvanse are both brand names and a month’s supply without insurance can cost from around $150 to $400 depending on the frequency and dose. Adderall is available in generic versions (called mixed amphetamine salts), which can be considerably cheaper. Some people find that generic versions of Adderall are not as effective for them as the brand version.

Vyvanse is not available in generic form. Online pharmacies might advertise generic forms of Vyvanse but take care: Generic Vyvanse has not been approved, giving it the potential to be unsafe.

Because Vyvanse is not available as a generic, this may impact a person's decision about which drug to use. Generic drugs tend to be much less expensive than brand-name medications.

Which Drug Is Right For You?

If you are wondering which ADHD medication is best for you or your child, talk through the options with your healthcare provider. Finding the optimal medication often involves some back and forth with your doctor as each person responds differently.

When you start taking a new medication, monitor how it makes you feel, including side effects. Then inform your doctor so they can make the necessary adjustments if needed.

Some of the key factors that might go into deciding which one is right for you are how long the medication lasts and how much it costs. After trying one medication, you might find that it is not working as well as expected, and you may want to switch. Each person is different, so go off of how you feel and work with your doctor to come up with the right approach.

A Word From Verywell

Because Vyvanse and Adderall are similar medications in many ways, the choice really comes down to what works best for you. Both are effective for managing symptoms of ADHD, but it may take some trial-and-error to find the medication and dose that works best.

It is also important to remember that while these are among the most popular options for treating ADHD, they are not the only ones. There are also other options available, which you should discuss with your doctor if you feel like neither Vyvanse nor Adderall is right for your needs.

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