Stimulant medications are often prescribed by a medical professional for the children who are affected with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), to help relieve common symptoms.
These stimulate medications ease ADHD symptoms in 70% to 80% of children, and function by affecting the impact of neurotransmitters in the brain, like dopamine or norepinephrine, to help boost these neurotransmitters and improve the child’s attention and alertness.
Two of the most common stimulant medications prescribed for ADHD are Adderall and Adderall XR which are, specifically, central nervous system (CSN) stimulants.
In this article, we’ll discuss the difference between Adderall and Adderall XR, their commonalities, and their effectiveness. We’ll also take a look at common side effects, drug interactions, and comparative costs of each.
Adderall vs Adderall XR
Adderall (amphetamine/dextroamphetamine) most commonly comes in two forms: Adderall and Adderall XR.
One or the other of these medications may be prescribed, often in conjunction with behavioral therapies, based on a child’s individual conditions, symptoms, and severity.
The most common symptoms of ADHD are inattention, impulsiveness, and restlessness.
Similarities and Differences
Both of these medications contain the same active ingredient and perform similarly in most aspects. The key differences are in the immediacy of their effect, and the duration of their influence.
Regular Adderall is an immediate-release tablet, taking effect within 30 minutes to an hour of ingesting it and lasting for around 4-5 hours. Adderall XR is a capsule containing a combination of immediate and delayed release beads of medication. The immediate release beads take effect quickly, and the delayed release beads take around 4-5 hours before they take effect, usually around the time the immediate release beads are wearing off. In fact, the XR actually stands for “extended release”. Adderall XR is intended to mimic the effect of taking two immediate-release Adderall tablets throughout the day, while only needing to take one pill.
Given this difference in duration of action, Adderall is taken twice, sometimes up to three times, per day while Adderall XR is only taken once.
The typical duration of action is around 4-6 hours for Adderall and 8-10 hours for Adderall XR.
Another positive attribute of Adderall XR is that the bead-filled capsules can be opened and sprinkled onto food, such as applesauce, making it easier to swallow for children who have difficulty with pills.
Also, children often experience less of the “crashing” effect when taking the extended-release option as it provides more regular timing between the two “waves” of dose when compared with a child needing to take two separate doses of immediate-release
Both Adderall and Adderall XR are FDA Approved and listed as a “controlled substance” by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) meaning that their manufacture and distribution are mandated, and availability is controlled based on the substance’s medical use, the potential for abuse, and safety or dependence liability.
This is a measurement of a drug's ability to cause psychological or physical dependency. IE: it has the potential to result in addiction.
Controlled substance requires a special Controlled Substance Prescription to obtain, which can only be offered by a certified medical specialist.
Regardless of which type of Adderall your child is prescribed, it’s important that they follow dosage amounts and frequency exactly as prescribed. Doing otherwise increases the risk of dependency.
Note: Adderall XR capsules should be taken only in the morning, as they can result in difficulty falling asleep, or staying asleep if taken later in the day.
Adderall dosages are different from one person to another, and Adderall XR dosages also vary from typical Adderall doses. The appropriate dose for each patient is influenced by a variety of factors, including age, weight, and severity of symptoms, and a qualified healthcare professional can determine what is right for each individual patient. Most often, doses are started at the low end and increased gradually if needed.
Adderall and Adderall XR dosages are available in the following strengths:
- Adderall (tablets): 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, & 30 mg
- Adderall XR (capsules): 5 mg, 10 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, & 30 mg
The most common side effects experienced by children taking Adderall or Adderall XR are trouble sleeping (insomnia), loss of appetite and weight loss, nervousness, anxiety, and nausea.
Additional side effects can include increased heart rate and blood pressure, abdominal pain, diarrhea, dizziness, and headache.
Adderall and Adderall XR side effects may be a more serious health concern for children with preexisting heart or blood pressure issues. Children with certain cardiac conditions may be unable to take Adderall or Adderall XR.
Many of these side effects can dissipate within a few weeks of the initial dosages, as your child’s body begins to adjust to the medication. If side effects don’t get better or worsen, you should let your child’s doctor know right away.
Adderall and Adderall XR have very similar drug interactions, especially monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), alkalinizing agents, and CYP2D6 inhibitors. When Adderall or Adderall XR is taken along with these medications, patients can experience heightened amphetamine levels and an increased risk of adverse effects.
Both of these medications can have interactions with acidifying agents as well and decrease amphetamine levels, thereby reducing the effectiveness of Adderall or Adderall XR
Lastly, because Adderall and Adderall XR are both stimulants, they can diminish the effectiveness of beta-blockers and hypertension medications (drugs that lower blood pressure.)
Adderall and Adderall XR are available in generic options, making them available on most insurance plans and others that don’t cover name-brand medications. Generic versions contain the same active ingredient and offer the same results.
Depending on the pharmacy, 60 tablets of Adderall cost, on average, $250, while the same number of generic tablets will range closer to $30.
Which Is More Effective?
As both Adderall and Adderall XR use the same active ingredients to help treat symptoms of ADHD, the effectiveness of one over the other depends largely on how each individual responds to one or the other medication and how the medication fits into their lifestyle.
Some children have a more positive experience with the extended dose, especially if it’s inconvenient or easy to forget multiple dosages, while others function better with the rapid release form taken several times a day and offering flexibility to take fewer doses if desired.
The best treatment is the one that works best to relieve the child’s symptoms with the minimum of inconvenience to their daily routine.
Also, both ADHD symptoms and drug responses can change over time, so it’s not unusual for a child who’s finding that one medication is becoming less effective to have their physician switch them to the other to see if their response improves.
If you’re concerned about side effects that your child may be experiencing, or steady increases in the severity of their symptoms, you should discuss this, and any other treatment options, with your medical professional.
Are They the Same?
The short answer is, no Adderall and Adderall XR are not the same.
Though they can be equally effective, they are each released into a child’s system differently, and so the effect and results will likewise be different.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is among the most frequent neuro disorders diagnosed in children. Both Adderall and Adderall XR medications contain a combination of active ingredients that have been found helpful for the treatment of ADHD symptoms, and in improving a child’s ability to maintain attention, focus, and exhibit impulse control.