ADHD is one of the more common disorders affecting children in the United States. According to the CDC, 4.6 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2011. As more medications are produced to combat this rather widespread mental disorder, it can be hard to tell which medication is right for you or your loved ones. Here we will give a brief breakdown of ADHD and take a look at two of the most commonly used drugs in the treatment of ADHD symptoms: Ritalin and Adderall.

Understanding ADHD is key to understanding how drugs like Ritalin And Adderall work to treat it. ADHD is a complex disorder and is influenced by a variety of factors, including genetics, environment, and the brain itself. According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, children with ADHD tend to have a close blood relative with the condition as well, leading many to believe genes can play a factor in one's predisposition to ADHD. Medical imaging of people with ADHD shows structural differences in parts of their brains. The imaging also indicates there may be disruptions between areas of the brain responsible for attentive focus and self control. Neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine are believed to play an important factor in ADHD, and it is these reward chemicals which stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin target.

Both Adderall and Ritalin are central nervous system stimulants. they act to increase the brain activity of dopamine and norepinephrine, which in turn speeds up the transmission of electrical and chemical signals throughout the central nervous system. They are both available in short acting and long acting formulations. They are both considered Schedule II controlled substances, meaning that they can be addictive and have a higher likelihood of being abused. Side effects for both these drugs are also similar. Common side effects with stimulants such as Ritalin and Adderall are headache, irritability, dizziness, loss of appetite, dry mouth, insomnia, and anxiety. More severe and less common side effects include increased risk of high blood pressure and heart rate.

With these many similarities in mind, there are differences between the drugs which should be taken into consideration. Like Ritalin, Adderall keeps norepinephrine and dopamine working in the brain. But Adderall does something that Ritalin doesn’t. It makes the cells pump out more of these neurotransmitters, and prolongs their action in the body. Ritalin acts to keep the brain recirculating norepinephrine and dopamine, but unlike Adderall, Ritalin does not increase the amount of the neurotransmitters. Adderall is active for four to six hours, where Ritalin is only active for two to three hours. Some say this advantage goes to Ritalin, as it allows them to control side effects more effectively, such as eating before their loss of appetite kicks in.

Stimulants such as these are not for everyone, as they can cause adverse health effects. They should be avoided by people with advanced arteriosclerosis,symptomatic cardiovascular disease, and hyperthyroidism. Those why have moderate to severe hypertension may also want to avoid using drugs such as these. Anyone with a history of drug abuse, history of agitated states, or history of sensitivity to stimulants such as these should also avoid them. People who take or have recently taken MAOI inhibitors should also steer clear. Ritalin can worsen the symptoms of people who are affected by motor tics or Tourette's syndrome, glaucoma, or those that have a history of agitation or anxiety. Both medications are considered "pregnancy category C", meaning they are excreted in a mother's milk, suggesting that nursing mothers should not use the drug.

Both chemicals interact with other drugs. This can have an adverse effect in the body and should be avoided. Adderall may interact with a large number of medications, including antidepressants, antihistamines, MAO inhibitors, and drugs used to treat hypertension. Adderall also interacts with acidifying agents in the diet such as fruit juices and ascorbic acid, which may lower the absorption of the active amphetamines in the medications. In contrast, alkalizing agents in the body such as baking soda may increase the absorption of amphetamines, and could therefore cause an undesired reaction in the body. Ritalin may also interact with MAO inhibitors, as well as coumarin anticoagulants, anticonvulsants, tricyclic drugs, and drugs used to treat hypertension.

A complete list of Adderall and Ritalin drug interactions may be found at the NIH.

There is no conclusive evidence to support one of these drugs being better than the other. The general recommendation is that if one of these drugs is not as effective because of side effects or performance, the other should be tried. Your best bet is to work with your doctor to find a medication that is right for you. This may change over time. If it does, change your regimen as needed.

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Author's Bio: 

Brian Wu graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Physiology and Neurobiology. Currently, he holds a PhD and is an MD candidate (KSOM, USC) in integrative biology and disease. He is also an experienced writer and editor for many prestigious web pages. Brian values the ability of all ages to learn from the power of stories. His mission is to write about health conditions, educational topics and life situations in an entertaining way in order to help children understand their own life conditions and daily circumstances.