Vyvanse vs. Ritalin

Authored by The Rx Advocates, / Medically Reviewed by Dr. Conor Sheehy, PharmD, BCPS


Vyvanse and Ritalin are two medications that can be prescribed to treat Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in adults and children. There are some similarities between the two medicines. There are also some big differences.

When choosing a medication to treat ADHD, doctors have a lot to consider before deciding which one to prescribe. Both Vyvanse and Ritalin can be medications your doctor could choose to treat you or your child. It is important to understand Vyvanse and Ritalin, how they treat ADHD, and their side effects before taking them.

What is Vyvanse?

Vyvanse is an ADHD medication for adults and children over age 6. It can also be used to treat binge eating disorder in certain people.

The active ingredient in Vyvanse is lisdexamfetamine dimesylate. It is a stimulant and a Schedule II controlled substance because it has a high risk of misuse and dependency.

Vyvanse is a medication that is taken once a day. It is usually prescribed in one of the following ways:

  • Chewable tablet, ranging from 10-60 mg
  • Capsule, ranging from 10-70 mg

Doctors usually start at a lower dosage and adjust as needed until the right dose is reached.

Vyvanse Side Effects

Vyvanse has several side effects that could occur during usage. There are some serious side effects, but most are mild. They often go away after using the medication. These can include:

  • Mild side effects:
    • Insomnia
    • Decreased appetite
    • Nausea
    • Feeling anxious or jittery
    • Dizziness
    • Dry mouth
    • Weight loss
    • Mood changes/irritability 
    • Diarrhea
  • Serious side effects:
    • Serious cardiovascular reactions
    • Circulation problems, especially in the fingers and toes
    • Mental health problems such as psychosis or mania
    • Serotonin syndrome
    • Allergic reaction
    • Misuse or dependence
    • In children, slowed growth

The serious side effects are less common but should not be ignored. If you experience any of these, contact your doctor right away. Your doctor may determine that you need a different medicine.

What is Ritalin?

Ritalin is also a prescription medicine used to treat ADHD in children aged 3+ and adults. The active ingredient is methylphenidate and it is a central nervous stimulant.

Ritalin helps increase concentration in a person with ADHD. Ritalin can also be prescribed for narcolepsy in patients 6 years and older.

Ritalin can be prescribed in immediate- or extended-release. Immediate is available in 5 mg, 10, and 20 mg. Ritalin-SR and Ritalin-LA are extended-release. They are available in 20 mg (SR) and in 10, 20, 30, and 40 mg (LA).

Many doctors will start children at a dosage of 2.5 mg twice daily, gradually increasing the dose each week by 5-10 mg but not exceeding 60 mg. The usual starting adult dosage is 10-20 mg a day. The maximum dose is 60 mg per day.

Ritalin Side Effects

There can be several side effects when taking Ritalin. There are some mild, more common side effects. These should pass quickly and lessen with use. These include:

  • Very common:
    • Nervousness
    • Insomnia
    • Dry mouth
    • Decrease in appetite 
  • Common:
    • Anxiety or agitation
    • Feeling restless or jittery
    • Headache
    • Dizziness 
    • Nausea or vomiting
    • Heartburn
    • Increased heart rate or blood pressure
    • Rash
    • Fever
    • Weight loss

There can be more serious side effects when taking Ritalin. If any of these are experienced, your doctor should be contacted immediately. Those can include:

  • Convulsions
  • Tics
  • Heart problems
  • Visual disturbances
  • Blurry vision
  • Muscle cramping
  • Severe allergic reactions

How Do Vyvanse and Ritalin Compare?

There are similarities and differences between these two medications. Both Vyvanse and Ritalin are prescription stimulants used to treat ADHD. They both increase dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. And they both have a potential for misuse or abuse.

There are some significant differences, however. The biggest difference is in the active ingredient. The active ingredient in Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine dimesylate) enters the body in its inactive form. This means the body processes it to its active form. This means it will not be effective for 1-2 hours after taking it. However, these effects last much longer through the day, even up to 13-14 hours.

The active ingredient in Ritalin (methylphenidate) is already in its active form when it enters the body. Therefore, it starts working immediately. But, the effects of Ritalin only last between 3-5 hours.

Vyvanse can be taken less often each day than Ritalin. This is a significant difference between these two medicines.

Vyvanse Vs. Ritalin: Which Medication is More Effective?

There have not been many studies directly comparing Vyvanse with Ritalin. It can make it difficult to determine which of these medications is more effective.

Check out this video from a person who has taken both of these medications and his thoughts on their effectiveness and cost:

Medication Interactions for Vyvanse and Ritalin 

Your doctor should be aware of all types of medication you take, including herbs and supplements. Many things have the potential to interact with Vyvanse or Ritalin. Drug interactions can have serious side effects or change how effective medications are. 

When taking Vyvanse, your doctor needs to know if you are taking any of the following:

  • MAOIs or any other medicine that increases serotonin including certain antidepressants
  • Other stimulants, including anything containing caffeine
  • Supplements, including St. John’s Wort and tryptophan

If you are taking Ritalin, let your doctor know if you take any of the following:

  • MAOIs 
  • Blood pressure medication

The Rx Advocates Can Help You Pay for Vyvanse

At The Rx Advocates, we know that a lot of people need to take medicine for ADHD. Many times, medications can be expensive and can often be too costly to pay for. Even with health insurance copays, some medications can be a price that is too much each month. No one should have to choose not to take a medicine or take a less effective medicine because of cost.

This is how we can help. We offer financial help with our patient assistance programs. Based on yearly incomes, many people will qualify to participate. As of now, we can help with the monthly cost of Vyvanse. Unfortunately, we cannot help with the monthly cost of Ritalin.

If you or your child have been prescribed Vyvanse or any other medication, and you are having a hard time paying for them, we may be able to help you. Please contact us today to learn about our program and to check your eligibility.

  1. MedLine Plus: Lisdexamfetamine. April 2019. Available at https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a607047.html.
  2. MedLine Plus: Methylphenidate. July 2019. Available at https://medlineplus.gov/druginfo/meds/a682188.html
  3. Medical News Today: Vyvanse Side Effects. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/vyvanse#side-effects.
  4. Medical News Today: Everything you need to know about methylphenidate. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325735
  5. Medical News Today: Side effects. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325333#side-effects
  6. Healthline: How They Work. March 2019. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/vyvanse-vs-ritalin#how-they-work.
  7. Healthline: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Role of Dopamine. September 2019. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/adhd-dopamine
  8. Healthline: What’s the Difference Between Epinephrine and Norepinephrine? November 2018. Available at ​​https://www.healthline.com/health/epinephrine-vs-norepinephrine
  9. Healthline: Forms and dosage. July 2019. Available at https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/vyvanse-vs-ritalin#forms-and-dosage
  10. Medical News Today: Vyvanse Interactions. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/vyvanse#withdrawal-and-dependence
  11. Medical News Today: Interactions with other drugs or alcohol. Available at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325735#interactions
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