With the increasing number of ADHD diagnoses, many individuals are turning to pharmaceutical psychostimulant medications as a means to alleviate symptoms. Historically, one of the most popular and effective treatment options for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is Adderall, a medication comprised of 75% dextroamphetamine salts and 25% levoamphetamine salts. Adderall’s popularity hasn’t waned much over the years, making it perhaps the top option for those seeking pharmaceutical relief from their attentional deficits.
However, there’s a new flashy drug on the block known as Vyvanse. While many people consider Vyvanse similar to Adderall, some individuals are bound to have preferences to one psychostimulant over the other. Some may favor the smoother “prodrug” induced release of Vyvanse, while others may find Adderall is a better fit for their biochemistry.
Adderall vs. Vyvanse Comparison Chart
Below is a chart comparing Adderall with Vyvanse to give you some general specifications of each drug. Understand that both of these medications are manufactured by the same company, and many speculate that Vyvanse was released as an “upgrade” to Adderall due to the fact that Adderall XR’s patent expired in 2009.
|Approved uses||ADHD / narcolepsy||ADHD / binge eating disorder|
|Ingredients||Mixed Amphetamine Salts: 75% Dextroamphetamine + 25% Levoamphetamine||Lisdexamfetamine|
|Formats||XR (Extended release) or IR (Immediate release)||Capsules (Extended release)|
|Dosages||XR: 5 mg/10 mg/15 mg/20 mg/25 mg/30 mg or IR: 5 mg/7.5 mg/10 mg/12.5 mg/15 mg/20 mg/30 mg||30 mg/50 mg/70 mg|
|Manufacturer||Shire Pharmaceuticals||Shire Pharmaceuticals|
|Legal Status||Schedule II (US)||Schedule II (US)|
|Mechanism of action||Functions by increasing levels and inhibiting reuptake of stimulatory neurotransmitters such as dopamine and norepinephrine. It acts as a TAAR1 agonist and VMAT2 inhibitor.||As an inactive prodrug – it is broken down in the body by enzymes to dextroamphetamine and l-lysine. It then acts as a TAAR1 agonist and VMAT2 inhibitor to release dopamine – along with norepinephrine from storage sites and inhibit reuptake of these neurotransmitters.|
|Half life||11 to 13 hours||10 to 13 hours|
|Common side effects||Abdominal pain. Appetite loss. Diarrhea. Dizziness. Dry Mouth. Fever. Headache. Insomnia. Irritability. Nausea. Nervousness. Vomiting. Weight loss.||Abdominal pain. Appetite loss. Dizziness. Dry mouth. Headache. Insomnia. Irritability. Nausea. Nervousness. Sweating. Weight loss.|
|Date approved||February 13 (1996)||February 23 (2007)|
|Effect duration||IR: 4 to 6 hours / XR: 12 hours||14 hours|
|Investigational uses||Treatment-resistant depression (Read: Adderall for depression).||Excessive daytime sleepiness / cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia / treatment-resistant depression|
Adderall vs. Vyvanse: What’s the difference?
As you can see by the chart above, these are pretty similar drugs. The only substantial difference is that Vyvanse is a prodrug metabolized into dextroamphetamine and the essential amino acid l-lysine. Adderall contains 75% dextroamphetamine with 25% levoamphetamine, making it different than Vyvanse.
The onset of action is thought to be slightly longer for Vyvanse compared to Adderall, but the release tends to be smoother – decreasing the likelihood of a “crash.” Many people report experiencing an “Adderall crash” as soon as the drug wears off, but these crashes are less commonly reported among Vyvanse users due to the efficiency of its release.
Despite the fact that both drugs are both approved for the treatment of ADHD, they differ in other medical uses. Adderall was originally approved in 1996 for the treatment of ADHD, but was since approved for narcolepsy. Those with narcolepsy are prone to bouts of excessive daytime sleepiness or drowsiness. For this condition, Adderall was considered an effective intervention to decrease sleepiness.
Vyvanse has not been tested for the treatment of narcolepsy, but it was approved for binge eating disorder, a condition that Adderall is not approved to treat. That said, both substances are associated with weight loss. In fact, many people use Adderall for weight loss on an off-label basis. Many people have used Vyvanse for weight loss as well, particularly those with binge eating disorder.
Everyone wants to know whether Adderall is more effective than Vyvanse or vice-versa. Many studies have analyzed the degree to which these medications alleviate symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. They have both gone through extensive FDA testing and were found significantly more effective than a placebo in randomized, double-blind studies.
Additionally, both options are considered relatively safe, without any significant long-term side effects such as cognitive impairment. They are both well-tolerated and both work extremely well for their intended conditions.
Format & Dosage
Those taking Adderall have the option of using IR (immediate-release) versions or XR (extended-release) versions. The immediate release version tends to last for several hours and is fast-acting. The extended-release version can last up to 12 full hours. By comparison, Vyvanse does not have multiple variations of release – it is solely an extended release capsule.
The immediate-release (IR) form of Adderall is often taken several times per day (2-3) at intervals of 4 to 6 hours. The extended-release (XR) form of Adderall is generally only taken once per day. Similarly, Vyvanse is only taken once per day due to the fact that its effect may last up to 14 hours. Adderall is typically taken within the range of 5 mg to 30 mg per day, whereas Vyvanse dosing ranges between 30 mg and 70 mg per day.
While both drugs are considered “Schedule II” in that they have potential for abuse and prolonged use may result in dependence. Some would argue that Adderall has greater potential for abuse due to the fact that it produces an immediate effect, whereas there’s often a slight delay of effect associated with Vyvanse. Additionally, many people snort Adderall (insufflation) for a greater “high” or effect.
Since Vyvanse is a prodrug, it must be taken orally and metabolized by enzymes to elicit an effect. The release of Vyvanse spans over a greater duration as well, leading many people to feel a smoother effect on lower doses, possibly making it a drug less susceptible to abuse. That said, Vyvanse is metabolized into 100% dextroamphetamine, whereas Adderall is only 75% dextroamphetamine and 25% levoamphetamine; it could be argued that the presence of levoamphetamine may make Adderall less addictive.
Although Adderall is the clear heavyweight champion when it comes to number of prescriptions and sales, Vyvanse is trending upwards. As of 2013, it was estimated that Adderall held approximately 38% of the market share for ADHD prescriptions whereas Vyvanse held 16%. Additionally Adderall has also been prescribed for narcolepsy and is an established medication with a variety of other off-label uses.
Therefore most professionals may prefer to go with the tried-and-true Adderall over Vyvanse in regards to off-label treatment. That said, many professionals like the fact that Vyvanse is a prodrug, reducing its potential for abuse. With Vyvanse’s recent approval for the treatment of binge eating disorder, expect it to become even more popular in forthcoming years.
The side effect profiles of Adderall and Vyvanse are extremely similar. Both are psychostimulants that increase concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. There are subtle differences in mechanism of action as well as ingredients, which may account for subtle differences in reported side effects. Common side effects of both medications include: abdominal pain, anxiety, appetite loss, insomnia, irritability, muscle tension, nausea, nervousness.
Both medications may result in weight loss due to increases in metabolism, appetite loss, and increased physiological energy. It was also found that both Adderall and Vyvanse can temporarily reduce height (i.e. stunt growth).
If you’re looking to purchase the “brand name” version of Adderall or Vyvanse, you’re going to spend between $200 and $300 for a 30 day supply. Although Adderall is an older medication, if you buy the brand name version, it is actually more expensive than Vyvanse at an estimated $300 for a 30 day supply. Vyvanse costs just under $250 at most pharmacies for a 30 day supply.
Fortunately generic versions of Adderall are available to help save you money. These generic versions are available at a fraction of the cost of the brand name versions. If you don’t mind generic Adderall, you can purchase a 30 day supply for approximately $50. For cost alone, many people prefer using generic Adderall (amphetamine salt combo).
Both drugs carry severe discontinuation symptoms. It is difficult to determine whether Adderall is more difficult to discontinue than Vyvanse or vice-versa. Those knowledgeable about the effects of the drugs know that over time, they may use up dopamine stores, leading to low dopamine upon withdrawal. If used at high doses over a prolonged period of time, both medications are difficult to discontinue.
There are many anecdotal reports that you can check out regarding Adderall withdrawal and Vyvanse withdrawal. The loss of dopamine stores and downregulation of receptors from using these medications can lead to reductions in pleasure and ability to focus. Upon withdrawal, a person may experience a temporary increase in ADHD symptoms until dopamine levels increase and receptors are replenished.
Differences (Recap): Adderall vs. Vyvanse
Below is a recap of the differences between Adderall and Vyvanse.
- Abuse potential: Both drugs are thought to carry potential for abuse and dependence. That said, Vyvanse was designed to have lower potential for abuse due to the fact that it is a prodrug. Meaning it is inactive until metabolized by enzymes in the body. Adderall may therefore have a greater potential for abuse due to other modalities of ingestion (e.g. insufflation).
- Cost: There are differences in costs of Adderall and Vyvanse. Brand name Adderall is actually more expensive than brand name Vyvanse. However, generic Adderall is available at a faction of the cost (approximately $50) for a 30 day supply.
- “Crash”: The fact that Vyvanse is a prodrug, it is thought to have a smoother absorption. This smoother absorption is less likely to result in a mental crash when the drug’s effect wears off. Adderall doesn’t have such a smooth release, and is very likely to result in a mental crash when it wears off.
- Duration of effect: There are slight differences in the duration of efficacy for each dose. Vyvanse capsules tend to elicit an effect for up to 14 hours, whereas Adderall XR only lasts up to 12 hours. The immediate release version of Adderall lasts between 4 and 6 hours.
- Ingredients: Vyvanse is comprised of lisdexamfetamine, whereas Adderall is a blending of amphetamine mixed salts – specifically 75% dextroamphetamine and 25% levoamphetamine. During the metabolizing process of Vyvanse, the lisdexamfetamine is broken down into dextroamphetamine and l-lysine. Vyvanse doesn’t contain any levoamphetamine like Adderall.
- Modalities of ingestion: While both Adderall and Vyvanse are medically approved to be taken orally, many people resort to insufflation of Adderall. Insufflation cannot be done with Vyvanse due to the fact that it is a prodrug.
- Mechanism of action: While the mechanisms of action are similar, they differ in that Vyvanse must be metabolized and converted into dextroamphetamine (and l-lysine) before it produces an effect. Adderall elicits an immediate effect with dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine.
- Medical uses: Both medications were first approved to treat ADHD, but they differ in secondary FDA approvals. Adderall is approved to treat narcolepsy, whereas Vyvanse is approved to treat binge eating disorder.
- Onset of effect: Vyvanse takes 1-2 hours to “kick-in” whereas Adderall produces immediate changes in neurotransmission. This means Vyvanse users can take the drug, not feel anything for awhile, then wait for the change in alertness 1-2 hours later.
- Popularity: When it comes to ADHD med popularity, Adderall is the heavyweight champion. It has the majority of the market share. That said, more people (and doctors) are prescribing Vyvanse for its improved absorption, smoother release, and reduced abuse potential.
Similarities (Recap): Adderall vs. Vyvanse
Below is a recap of similarities between Adderall and Vyvanse.
- ADHD: Both medications are primarily prescribed for the treatment of ADHD. Both are approved for the treatment of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder and are considered first-line effective options.
- Classification: Both are considered “Schedule II” controlled-substances in the United States. This signifies that they have potential for abuse and possible psychological and/or physical dependence.
- Efficacy: Both are highly effective drugs for their intended conditions when compared to a placebo. Subtle variations in efficacy may be apparent depending on the individual, but from a universal perspective, they are considered equally effective.
- Interactions: Both Adderall and Vyvanse interact with similar drugs and chemicals. Examples of contraindications for both include: MAOIs, acidifying agents, and alkalizing agents. There may be subtle differences in other contraindications, so talk to a medical professional for more information.
- Psychostimulant: Both drugs are considered psychostimulants in that they increase physiological arousal.
- Manufacturer: Both drugs are manufactured by Shire Pharmaceuticals.
- Neurotransmission: Both drugs function as psychostimulants, increasing extracellular concentrations of dopamine and norepinephrine. This leads to greater levels of mental energy, physiological arousal, and enhanced cognition.
- Side effects: The side effects of both Adderall and Vyvanse are nearly identical. Examples of common side effects associated with both drugs include: irritability, insomnia, appetite loss, abdominal pain, and nervousness.
- Withdrawal: Both drugs carry severe withdrawal symptoms, especially when used for an extended period of time at high doses.
My personal experience using Adderall vs. Vyvanse
I first used Adderall several years ago as an adjunct strategy to control my depression. It was prescribed by a psychiatrist due to the fact that other treatment options had failed. Over time, we noticed that using Adderall for anxiety worked better than any anxiolytic I was taking. However, I knew that the drug was habit-forming and not the best long-term treatment option, so I discontinued using it.
I recognize the appeal of using Adderall to enhance mental performance, increase sociability, and facilitate a state of peak performance. My psychiatrist eventually convinced me to test out the drug Vyvanse at the lowest dose of 30 mg. I ended up using Vyvanse for several months and noticed that it was much smoother than Adderall. In fact from a cognitive enhancement perspective, I found Vyvanse to be superior to Adderall.
I believe that the smooth release of Vyvanse leads to less jittery feelings and less of a mental crash. These days I’m more into taking Adderall alternatives whenever possible due to the fact that both drugs downregulate dopamine receptors and deplete dopamine stores; this leads to tolerance, dependence, etc. I found that both drugs improved my sociability, whereas Adderall resulted in slightly more “euphoria” by comparison.
Both drugs elevated my mood, and sped up my thinking. The major problem I had with Vyvanse is that the lowest dose was 30 mg. While 30 mg of Vyvanse is equivalent to a very low dose of Adderall (5 mg) – I still would’ve preferred access to a lower option. I’m a huge advocate for taking the minimal effective dose. Though the capsules can be opened and poured into a drink or food (e.g. yogurt), it’s difficult to know the exact amount you’re pouring.
Adderall IR can easily be split with a pill cutter and even the beads can be counted in the XR version. The Vyvanse “powder” is just difficult to measure. Overall, I’d say I had a better experience focusing while taking Vyvanse, whereas Adderall made me want to socialize more.
Adderall vs. Vyvanse: Which drug is better for ADHD?
While many people are investigating whether Adderall is better than Vyvanse or vice versa, it’s important to note that neither is a “better” drug. Vyvanse is newer and the fact that it has a smoother absorption is great, but it has its cons (e.g. 30 mg is the lowest dose). If you have ADHD, it is important to work with a competent medical professional to determine whether Adderall is better suited for you or Vyvanse works better.
Both are effective options for the treatment of attentional deficits. Understand that one person may find Adderall works better for them and another may find that Vyvanse works much better than Adderall. There is a lot of individual variation responsible for dictating how each person responds to these medications. Finding the optimal drug is often a matter of trial and error.
Which drug do you prefer: Adderall or Vyvanse?
If you have personal experience taking both medications, feel free to share which drug you prefer. Elaborate regarding “why” you prefer a certain drug (Adderall or Vyvanse) over the other. You may even prefer one drug over the other for specific purposes such as: Adderall works better for reducing hyperactivity and Vyvanse works better for increasing attention.