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What Are the Key Differences Between Adderall & Vyvanse?

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects 6.4 million children in the United States between the ages of 4 and 17 years old, along with millions of adults.

The condition is most often diagnosed in childhood due to symptoms that impede the child’s development, including:

  • Impulsive actions
  • Running, hitting, taunting, verbal teasing, or other forms of uncontrolled aggression
  • Inattentiveness
  • Attention impairment, leading to changes in or trouble with academics
  • Being withdrawn or daydreaming

The appropriate course of treatment, according to most ADHD specialists, is a combination of a prescription stimulants and behavioral-focused therapy. The combination of long-term work to change behaviors, and the immediate cognitive changes brought on by a controlled dose of a stimulant like Ritalin, Adderall, or Vyvanse, can help reduce children’s symptoms, and improve success, self-esteem, and future happiness.

 Unfortunately, Adderall and Vyvanse are among the two most abused prescription drugs among adolescents and young adults.

For those who do not have ADHD, stimulant use can lead to increased energy, hyper-focus, and euphoria. Many people who abuse these stimulant medications do so because they believe stimulants enhance their academic or sports performance. Some people also abuse them to lose weight. These forms of abuse are dangerous and can cause addiction, chronic health problems, and overdose.

Similarities between ADHD Treatments

Both Adderall and Vyvanse are prescription stimulants, and both are prescribed to treat ADHD. They are both brand names for controlled prescription medications. These two stimulant medicines can be prescribed to children 6 and older. As stimulants, both have similar half-lives: Adderall has a half-life of 11-13 hours while Vyvanse has a half-life of 10-13 hours.

Both of these medications can cause similar side effects, including:

  • Anxiety
  • Diarrhea
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Appetite loss
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach pain
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Euphoria in people who do not have ADHD

People who abuse high doses of these drugs may experience serious side effects, such as:

  • Hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Mania
  • Paranoia
  • Shortness of breath

 People who have underlying heart or lung conditions may suffer acute problems from either of these drugs. People who abuse these substances on a long-term basis are at risk of causing damage to their heart, lungs, or gastrointestinal system.

The Differences between Vyvanse and Adderall

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In addition to treating ADHD, Vyvanse is also sometimes prescribed to treat binge eating disorder (BED) in adults. Stimulants reduce appetite, so a person struggling with food cravings due to BED may benefit from loss of enjoyment associated with eating. Adderall is also sometimes prescribed to treat narcolepsy and related sleep disorders by helping the individual remain awake during regular daytime hours.

Adderall is a combination of two stimulant drugs, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine; in contrast, Vyvanse is not an amphetamine-based stimulant, but a chemical, lisdexamfetamine dimesylate, which is in a class of new stimulants known as sympathomimetic amines. Adderall was approved for prescription use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1996, while Vyvanse was approved as recently as 2007. Because it is so new, Vyvanse is not yet available in generic form, but Adderall is.

While both drugs have similar half-lives, Adderall’s effectiveness is between four and six hours, with the extended-release version lasting 12 hours; in contrast, Vyvanse can last up to 14 hours.

There are more than 18 million Adderall prescriptions, and the wide availability of this substance means that the drug can be stolen or otherwise diverted for abuse easily. While Vyvanse is less likely to be abused because it is not an amphetamine, it can have an amphetamine-like effect since one of the chemicals created by moving through the digestive system is dextroamphetamine. However, this does mean that Vyvanse is not effective if abused in any form other than orally. Conversely, Adderall may be crushed and snorted, smoked, or injected, making it a riskier substance of abuse.

The bioavailability of Vyvanse is greater once it is digested; it becomes 100 percent dextromethorphan, a potent amphetamine stimulant. Adderall, in contrast, is only 75 percent dextromethorphan.

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About The Contributor
Editorial Staff
Editorial Staff, American Addiction Centers
The editorial staff of Oxford Treatment Center is comprised of addiction content experts from American Addiction Centers. Our editors and medical reviewers have over a decade of cumulative experience in medical content editing and have reviewed... Read More