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Concerta vs. Adderall: Similarities & Differences

Written by Thomas Christiansen

& Medically Reviewed by Dr. Sarah Dash, PHD

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Last Updated - 7/26/2022

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Updated 07/26/2022


Although Concerta and Adderall are chemically similar drugs used to treat ADHD, the side effects and indications for these medications differ.

Concerta and Adderall are two of the most common drugs to treat attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Both drugs are stimulants and Schedule II controlled substances and work similarly. Although they are chemical cousins, there are differences between them.

Are Concerta and Adderall the Same?

Concerta and Adderall are different drugs with similar effects. Both drugs are central nervous system stimulants used to treat ADHD.

Concerta is specifically FDA-approved for ADHD treatment and one of the brand names for methylphenidate. Concerta is one of the long-acting dosage forms for methylphenidate, compared to shorter-acting dosage forms like Ritalin. Therefore, it is taken only once daily in the morning.

Adderall is also specifically FDA-approved for ADHD. The drug is a mixture of dextroamphetamine and amphetamine salts. It comes in two dosage forms, a long-acting form sold as Adderall XR and a short-acting form sold simply as Adderall. The Adderall dosage form is also FDA-approved to treat the sleeping disorder narcolepsy. Because it is short-acting, Adderall can be given multiple times daily at four to six-hour intervals. In contrast, Adderall XR, which is long-acting, is only given once daily.

How Does Concerta Feel Compared to Adderall?

As similar drugs, Concerta and Adderall have extremely similar effects. Concerta starts to work within the first hour after taking the medication, and its levels in the body continue to increase for around 10 hours before the drug wears off. It is designed this way so it can be taken in the morning but will wear off before bedtime.

In contrast, Adderall and Adderall XR do not usually last as long. Adderall peaks in the body after around three hours, while Adderall XR peaks in the body after about seven hours.

Can You Substitute Concerta for Adderall?

You should not substitute Concerta for Adderall or vice versa unless your doctor specifically instructed you to. Because both Adderall and Concerta are addictive Schedule II controlled substances, they should only be taken exactly as prescribed by the person to whom they were prescribed.

A doctor might prescribe a person both Concerta and Adderall in specific cases. An example might be a person with ADHD who is prescribed Concerta to take in the morning when they wake up. Because the drug wears off after around 10 hours, a doctor might prescribe a single dose of short-acting Adderall to help the person with ADHD focus throughout the late afternoon and evening, as the drug would hopefully wear off before bedtime.

Concerta vs. Adderall Dosage

Concerta and Adderall are available at different doses. When comparing the two, it is difficult to determine which one is stronger, partly because they last for different durations. This means a 54 mg dose of Concerta may be expected to last 10 hours and cannot fairly be compared to a 30 mg dose of Adderall, which may only last four hours.

Concerta dosesAdderall dosesAdderall XR doses
18 mg 27 mg36 mg54 mg5 mg 7.5 mg10 mg12.5 mg15 mg20 mg30 mg5 mg 7.5 mg10 mg12.5 mg15 mg20 mg30 mg

Concerta vs. Adderall Side Effects

Concerta and Adderall side effects are similar, although most side effects are more common in those on Adderall XR. Notably, the frequency of side effects is not available for short-acting Adderall, although its side effects mirror Concerta and Adderall XR. Some of the common adverse reactions of each drug include:

  • Stomachache, experienced by 6.2% of those on Concerta and 14% of those on Adderall XR
  • Nausea/vomiting, occurring in 2.8% of those on Concerta and 7% of those on Adderall XR
  • Fever, impacting 2.2% of those on Concerta and 5% of those on Adderall XR
  • Dizziness, affecting 1.9% of those on Concerta and 2% of those on Adderall XR
  • Insomnia, experienced by 2.8% of those on Concerta and 17% of those on Adderall XR

Concerta vs. Adderall for Studying

Neither Concerta nor Adderall is recommended to help a person without ADHD focus on studying. Nonetheless, abuse of stimulants like Concerta and Adderall is unfortunately common. Although only about 8% of college students have ADHD, up to 20% take stimulants to focus, generally using drugs that have not been prescribed to them. This is dangerous, as stimulant misuse in students strongly correlates with developing substance use disorders.

Concerta vs. Adderall High

Both Concerta and Adderall XR are long-acting drugs tspecially formulated to take hours to reach maximum levels in your body. It is difficult to get high off either of them as a result. Adderall XR comes in a time-release matrix, while Concerta comes in an osmotic release system.

In contrast, it is possible to get high off short-acting Adderall because the drug’s quick-acting design does not come in an abuse-deterrent formulation to slow down its absorption. This can be very dangerous, not only because controlled substance abuse can lead to addiction and dependence. An Adderall overdose is also possible and can lead to symptoms like:

  • Dry mouth
  • Increased body temperature
  • Enlarged pupils
  • Fast breathing
  • Increased alertness or energy
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations

A stimulant overdose is a medical emergency, and you should call 911 if you suspect someone has taken too much.

Are you or a loved one struggling with addiction?

Our Recovery Advocates are available 24/7 to help.

Getting Help for Stimulant Abuse in Florida

Stimulant abuse can be dangerous, leading to addiction and even overdose. Fortunately, help is available. At The Recovery Village at Baptist Health, we offer a full continuum of services to get you off stimulants and keep you sober over the long term. We are with you every step of the way, from our inpatient medical detox program, where we wean you off Adderall and Concerta, to our inpatient and outpatient rehab options, where we help you learn the skills to support your long-term sobriety. We accept many insurance options like Aetna, BeHealthy Florida, America’s Choice and Cigna and will work with you on payment. If you or a loved one struggles with stimulants, don’t wait — contact us today to learn how we can help.

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Kennedy, Susan. “Raising Awareness About Prescription and Stimulant Abuse in College Students Through On-Campus Community Involvement Projects.” Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, December 15, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2022.

Wilens, Timothy; Zulauf, Courtney; Martelon, MaryKate; et al. “Nonmedical Stimulant Use in College Students: Association with Attention-deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder and other disorders.” Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, July 2016. Accessed July 10, 2022.

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