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Adderall Vs. Vyvanse: What Are The Key Differences and Similarities?

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Key Points

Adderall and Vyvanse are both amphetamine drugs used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The main difference between the two drugs is what type of amphetamine is found in them.[1] Vyvanse contains the amphetamine salt lisdexamfetamine. Adderall contains mixed amphetamine salts: dextroamphetamine saccharate, amphetamine aspartate, dextroamphetamine sulfate, and amphetamine sulfate

Adderall and Vyvanse are both central nervous system (CNS) stimulants used to improve attention, concentration, and restlessness for people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). 

Since both medications are amphetamine-based, they work similarly and also have similar side effects.  The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Adderall for the treatment of ADHD in 1996, Adderall XR in 2001, and Vyvanse in 2007.[2]

How Adderall and Vyvanse Work

Adderall and Vyvanse are both amphetamine drugs. They are central nervous system (CNS) stimulants that help treat ADHD symptoms along with a few other health conditions, including narcolepsy (Adderall IR) and binge eating disorder (Vyvanse). They work by increasing the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and, to a lesser extent – serotonin in the brain.[3]  

ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder that causes inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.[4]  It causes a disruption in the brain’s dopamine pathways, which results in difficulty maintaining focus and completing tasks. ADHD medications work to treat the lack of dopamine, alleviating symptoms of ADHD. Amphetamine-based medications do this by increasing the concentration of dopamine in the synapses.

Those who have been diagnosed with ADHD and take medications to treat it report an increase in attention span, improved ability to focus, and a decrease in impulsive behaviors.[5]  People who do not have ADHD and misuse ADHD medication report experiencing a euphoric high similar to stimulant medications, along with increased motivation. ADHD medications have a high potential for abuse. 

Long-term use of use can lead to dopamine dysregulation, which may result in anxiety, depression, decreased motivation, and stimulant psychosis.[6]  

Similar Side Effects of Adderall and Vyvanse

Common side effects of both Adderall and Vyvanse include:[7] 

While rare, there are incidents of serious side effects of Adderall & Vyvanse; they include [8,9]  

If you experience any serious side effects, contact your healthcare provider immediately.

Length of Action For Adderall vs. Vyvanse

Adderall and Vyvanse have varying lengths of action. This is sometimes a deciding factor in which medication to prescribe. 

Adderall Immediate Release: When used to treat ADHD, Adderall IR may be taken multiple times throughout the day. The first dose is typically given in the morning upon awakening, followed by 1-2 doses repeated every 4-6 hours.[10]  Its effects are usually felt within 20-60 minutes. Its peak concentration is reached within three hours of taking a single dose. 

Adderall Extended-Release: Adderall XR is taken once a day in the morning to treat ADHD. Its effects are usually felt within 20-60 minutes after taking the medication. One dose of Adderall XR lasts for 24 hours.[11]  Its peak concentration is reached within seven hours of taking a single dose. 

Vyvanse: Vyvanse is taken once a day in the morning when being used to treat ADHD in adults or children. For children (ages 6-12), Vyvanse’s effects are felt within 1.5 hours after taking the medication and last up to 13 hours. For adults, Vyvanse’s effects are felt within 2 hours and last up to 14 hours. Vyvanse’s peak effects are reached at around 3 hours.[12]  

Similar Withdrawal Symptoms of Adderall and Vyvanse

Depending on the length of time you have been taking Adderall or Vyvanse and the dosage amount, you may experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop taking your medication. Most people report symptoms last 5-7 days, although some report symptoms do not subside for a month. Withdrawal symptoms include [13]

Help For Substance Use Disorder and Adderall or Vyvanse Misuse

Adderall and Vyvanse are similar amphetamine-based medications used to treat ADHD, but they also have a high potential for misuse and addiction. Suppose you or a loved one is struggling with the misuse of Adderall or Vyvanse. In that case, it’s best to work with an addiction healthcare professional to determine treatment options for substance use disorder and the symptoms of ADHD.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Adderall and Vyvanse

There is a risk you can become dependent or addicted to Adderall and Vyvanse. It appears that Adderall has more potential to be abused because it contains freely available amphetamine salts. While Vyvanse does contain an amphetamine salt, Lisdexamfetamine, it must come in contact with red blood cells in the body before it becomes activated into dextroamphetamine, making it slightly less likely to be abused. However, both Adderall and Vyvanse are classified as controlled substances as they have a high potential for abuse.[14]  

Studies in both adults and children show that Adderall and Vyvanse are equally effective at treating ADHD symptoms.[15]  They have similar common side effects of decreased appetite, difficulty sleeping, and gastrointestinal problems.

ADHD medication is often touted on college campuses as a drug to use to stay awake, study, and get better grades. However, research has shown using ADHD medication without a prescription or diagnosis of ADHD resulted in numerous negative consequences, including[16] 

  • ADHD medication misuse is linked to adverse side effects of lack of motivation, fatigue, difficulties sleeping, headaches, and weight loss
  • ADHD medication misuse negatively impacted focus levels
  • Students who were misusing ADHD medication reported lower GPAs

Overall, it appears that misusing ADHD medication as a study aid had negative physical and psychological side effects and decreased, rather than improved, academic performance. 

No, it is not recommended to take either medication while pregnant. However, you should discuss the risks and benefits of continuing any medication while pregnant. Taking Adderall or Vyvanse during pregnancy may cause health complications for the newborn baby, including premature birth, low birth weight, or withdrawal symptoms.[17]  

Both Vyvanse and Adderall can pass into breast milk and can cause side effects in the nursing baby. You should not breastfeed while using Adderall or Vyvanse.[18]  

Adderall and Vyvanse are both controlled substances with a high risk of abuse. Misuse of amphetamine medications can cause seizures, strokes, heart attacks, and death. These medications should be stored securely where others do not have access.

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[1,14] Adderall vs Vyvanse – what’s the difference between them? Drugs.com. (2024, February 16). Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/medical-answers/adderall-vs-vyvanse-3013810/

[2] Bourgeois, F. T., Kim, J. M., & Mandl, K. D. (2014). Premarket Safety and Efficacy Studies for ADHD Medications in Children. PLoS ONE, 9(7). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4090185/

[3]C Martin, D., & Le, J. K. (2023, July 31). Amphetamine. StatPearls [Internet]. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK556103/

[4,5,6,16]Cregin, D., Koltun, R., Malik, S., Umeozor, D., & Begdache, L. (2021). The Adderall Epidemic: A Proposed Cyclic Relationship between ADHD Medication Use, Academic Performance, and Mental Distress. Impulse (19343361), 18(1). Retrieved from https://assets.pubpub.org/ualu5q36/11643848086892.pdf

[7] Berman, S. M., Kuczenski, R., McCracken, J. T., & London, E. D. (2009). Potential Adverse Effects of Amphetamine Treatment on Brain and Behavior: A Review. Molecular Psychiatry, 14(2), 123. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2670101/

[8,10,17] Adderall: Uses, dosage, Side Effects & Safety Info. Drugs.com. (2023, August 23). Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/adderall.html

[9,12,18] Vyvanse uses, dosage, side effects & warnings. Drugs.com. (2023, December 25). Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/vyvanse.html

[11,15] Adderallxr: 7 things you should know. Drugs.com. (2023, April 5). Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/tips/adderallxr-patient-tips

[13] How long does Adderall withdrawal last?. Drugs.com. (2024b, April 9). Retrieved from https://www.drugs.com/medical-answers/long-adderall-withdrawal-3572393/