Focalin and Adderall are two prescription stimulant drugs used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. Adderall, the more common of the two, was introduced to the world by Richwood Pharmaceuticals in 1996, soon becoming a common means of treating ADHD and narcolepsy. Focalin wasn’t introduced to the United States until 2001 and is available as a generic medication. By 2018, it became the 160th most commonly prescribed drug in the United States, with around 3 million prescriptions written each year.
Although these two drugs are different, they’re both effective in treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which in some cases, can be severe. Unfortunately, medications like Focalin and Adderall have become more and more useful as ADHD figures soar across the nation. An estimated 6.1 million children in the United States between the ages of 2 and 17 were diagnosed with the condition last year, translating to 9.4 percent of the population. These don’t account for the number of children struggling and receiving the wrong diagnosis. For example, girls exhibit different symptoms than boys, often making it harder for them to be diagnosed with the condition.
Research has shown that ADHD affects even more girls than initially reported. Perhaps it’s because of the criteria used to diagnose girls, or it’s more widespread than we once thought. ADHD is considered the most common neurodevelopmental disorder in childhood. Although figures vary dramatically, the prevalence of the disorder in children is estimated at around 5 percent globally. In adults, the global prevalence is about 2.8 percent, but that figure could be more as many adults are reluctant to receive treatment for some conditions like ADHD. The statistics show that prevalence in adults has nearly doubled to 0.96 percent from 0.43 percent from the decade before.
With the number of people getting diagnosed with conditions like ADHD on the rise, it also means the number of prescriptions written for stimulant drugs like Focalin and Adderall is also increasing. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), after analyzing data from 2015 and 2016, an estimated 6.6 percent of the United States adult population used prescription stimulants in the preceding year, totaling around 16 million people. The study shows that 4.5 percent, or 11 million people, used them appropriately without misuse, while 2.1 percent, or 5 million people, misused them at least once. Of those 16 million people, NIDA reported that 0.4 million had prescription stimulant use disorders. These figures were always higher in adults with depressive disorders, substance use problems, and suicidal ideation.
It is important to understand the difference between the prescription stimulant drugs Focalin and Adderall. It’s also useful to know which drug is stronger and more likely to be abused. Below, we’ll discuss in-depth what you can expect when using these two medications to treat ADHD.
What Is Focalin?
Focalin is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The medication is commonly administered to children between the ages of 6 and 12, adolescents, and adults. Focalin is known to improve focus in the individual and decrease hyperactive behavior and impulsivity in those with the condition. The drug contains the same active ingredient as medications like Daytrana and Ritalin.
Focalin works by increasing norepinephrine and dopamine activity in the brain to treat ADHD and narcolepsy. The drug has been shown as highly effective, and it provides a more flexible dosing schedule. Extended-release tablets can be sprinkled into food for people who don’t like taking pills. However, it’s a controlled medication that comes with a warning for abuse, is a poor option if you have a heart condition, and can’t be stopped without contacting your primary care physician. The drug can also affect growth in children.
What Is Adderall?
Adderall is likely the more common of the two drugs. It works similarly to Focalin by changing the amounts of neurotransmitters in the brain. Adderall is a stimulant drug that helps you pay attention, stay focused, and control specific behavioral issues. It can also help you organize tasks and improve your listening skills. Although it’s used to treat narcolepsy, it should never be used to keep you awake or hold off sleep in those without a sleep disorder.
Despite its ability to treat ADHD and narcolepsy, Adderall has become a serious topic of concern in the past several years. On college campuses, many students abuse Adderall during midterms and final exams to help them cram for a good grade. Most of those who do this aren’t prescribed the drug and leave themselves at risk of developing a stimulant use disorder. Adderall is a potent drug that can cause an overdose in those not careful.
Focalin vs. Adderall: What’s the Difference?
Focalin, also known by the generic name dexmethylphenidate, is manufactured by Novartis Pharmaceuticals. The drug is a close relative of methylphenidate, which is found in other common ADHD treatments like Concerta, Ritalin, Metadate, and Daytrana. The isomer in the medication is what allows it to have a more potent effect than other drugs containing methylphenidate alone.
Focalin comes in immediate-release and extended-release forms. In the IR form, it comes available in 2.5 mg, 5 mg, and 10 mg. It’s quickly absorbed into your bloodstream and reaches its peak concentration in the blood after one to 1.5 hours. It’s typically taken twice a day and lasts four hours between doses. In its extended-release form, the medication comes in 5 mg, 10 mg, 15, mg, 20 mg, 25 mg, 30 mg, 35 mg, and 40 mg doses. The XR version should only be used once a day due to its long-lasting effects.
Adderall is the brand version of the medication that’s produced by TEVA Pharmaceuticals Ltd. It contains a mixture of dextroamphetamine and levoamphetamine, as well as four different amphetamine salts. The drug is also available in both an immediate-release and extended-release form. The instant-release has strengths of 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, and 30 mg. The drug will reach maximum concentration in your blood three hours after it’s ingested. The effects last around four to six hours. For that reason, Adderall is considered stronger than Focalin.
The extended-release formulations are available in the same doses as the immediate-release. However, extended-release should only be used once a day because its effects last up to 12 hours. Unlike Focalin, Adderall’s dosage must be adjusted for those battling kidney issues. Adderall can accumulate in your body during a kidney injury, increasing the risk of severe side effects.
Focalin vs. Adderall: Which Drug Is More Effective?
Both drugs are similar in effectiveness and work the same in your central nervous system to treat ADHD symptoms. A systematic review by The Lancet found that in clinical trials, methylphenidate drugs like Focalin are more effective in children and adolescents. In contrast, amphetamines like Adderall are more effective in adults. Adderall and Vyvanse are considered first-line agents when it comes to short-term ADHD treatment.
Before using drugs like Focalin or Adderall, you must first consult with your doctor to determine if you can use them. While one treatment may work for someone in your family, it may not be the best course of action for you. For that reason, you must schedule an appointment with a doctor to thoroughly review your history and assess your needs. As was mentioned above, your age and specific medical conditions could influence the medication they prescribe to you. If you’ve taken medicines before that didn’t work, please let them know.
If you’ve been using one of these drugs and they haven’t worked, you should be patient before stopping. If you find it’s not working, reach out to your doctor for instructions on what to do next. Since a downside of these medications is that you need permission from your doctor and a plan to stop, you must never stop without a consult. If you believe you’ve developed a tolerance to one of these drugs, be open with your doctor. They can help you cut your dosage down so that you don’t become dependent on the drug or develop a substance use disorder (SUD).