When it comes to medical conditions, there are often several treatment options on the table.
It’s part of what makes medicine such an inexact science. There may be multiple drugs that can treat one condition, but those drugs may have distinct differences between them that make them more effective in some people but less effective for others.
A great example is the case of Vyvanse vs. Adderall.
Both are possible treatment options for someone who’s been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD), but they are by no means the same drug.
There are many variations of ADD with differing symptoms, but in large part, it’s defined by having difficulty staying focused on a single task or controlling impulsive activity (4). The exact cause of ADD is unclear, but there’s enough evidence to show that it causes an imbalance among the neurotransmitters in the brain that help to regulate behavior (4).
Despite not knowing its exact cause, scientists do feel confident classifying ADD as a neurological problem (4), meaning it is not brought about by environmental factors. This makes it possible for drugs like Vyvanse and Adderall, among others, to alleviate symptoms of ADD by changing brain chemistry.
Let’s explore some of the similarities and differences between Vyvanse and Adderall to determine when it’s appropriate to use each drug for treating ADD.
A diagnosis of ADD, which is officially called attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (AD/HD) may be cause for a doctor to recommend Vyvanse, which also goes by the name Lisdexamfetamine. Vyvanse is a stimulant that’s designed to balance neurotransmitters within the brain (1). It’s common for Vyvanse to be used as part of a larger treatment plan (1), meaning it may be used in conjunction with other remedies.
Vyvanse has also been used as a treatment option for binge eating disorder (1).
Much like the drug helps to balance out neurotransmitters to help combat problems staying focused, Vyvanse helping to bring balance to brain chemistry may help to reduce the occasions a person feels compelled to binge eat.
In some instances, Vyvanse has also been used to treat psychological disorders like depression and schizophrenia (2). It has also been used to combat excessive daytime sleepiness (2).
Of course, using Vyvanse to treat these conditions, as well as binge eating disorder, is considered off-label use of the drug.
Adderall, meanwhile, is also a stimulant that is most commonly prescribed to treat a diagnosis of ADHD (3). Like Vyvanse, it works by altering brain chemistry with the purpose of helping a person stay focused and organized (3).
It is also believed to help improve behavior, which is why so many people associate the drug with children who act out and struggle to pay attention in school.
The drug has also been used to treat narcolepsy (3). By helping a person to remain focused and attentive, they are less likely to spontaneously fall asleep during the day, which is a problem for people who suffer from narcolepsy.
However, it’s important to recognize that Adderall should not be used by those who don’t suffer from a sleep disorder and simply wish to stay awake (3).
In addition to treating narcolepsy and other disorders that may interrupt a person’s normal sleep cycle, Adderall has also been used to treat depression and obesity (3). However, this is considered off-label use of Adderall.
Doctors may prescript Vyvanse to either adults or children over the age of six who have been diagnosed with ADD (5). The drug has never been tested for children under the age of six, nor is it approved for children this young (5). Being an amphetamine, prescribing Vyvanse should not be done lightly by any doctor.
Prior to prescribing Vyvanse, doctors will assess the risk of a patient abusing the drug (5), which is possible with amphetamines. Doctors are also directed to look for signs of dependence or abuse in patients who are taking Vyvanse (5). Any signs of dependency could cause a doctor to stop treating with Vyvanse and consider other options.
The effectiveness of Vyvanse, assuming there’s no dependency, may determine how long a patient continues to take it. It’s common for doctors to stop treating with Vyvanse for a period of time to see if there are any behavioral changes (1). Doing this can help determine whether the medication is making a difference and is worth continuing.
It’s common for Vyvanse to become less effective if a patient continues to take it over a long period of time (1). This points to Vyvanse being more of a short-term solution than a permanent one, especially when the possibility of developing a dependency on the amphetamine is added to the equation.
Similar to Vyvanse, Adderall will be prescribed by doctors only have a diagnosis of ADD has been confirmed (6). There is a specific list of symptoms that must be present for at least six months in order for a doctor to confirm ADD (6). This helps prevent doctors from rushing to prescribe Adderall unless it’s necessary, especially in the case of children.
It’s also common for Adderall to be just one part of a treatment program (7). In many instances, young patients will undergo forms of psychological, educational, or social treatment in conjunction with Adderall in order to combat ADD on multiple fronts (7). Such treatment methods may be attempted prior to a doctor prescribing Adderall.
Much like Vyvanse, Adderall may not be considered a permanent solution. There’s a lack of information about the long-term effects of Adderall (6). As a result, doctors will frequently re-evaluate whether it is making a significant difference and if a patient should continue using the drug (6).
The recommended dosage of Vyvanse is usually one capsule per day (2). Doses typically begin at 30 mg per day (5). At the doctor’s discretion, the dose may be increased by 10 mg each week up to 70 mg (5). However, there are several variables when it comes to increasing the dosage, and it will rarely increase beyond 70 mg per day (5).
With Vyvanse, it’s usually recommended that the capsule is taken in the morning (5). As with most medications, it’s best to make it part of a daily routine so you can take it at the same time and every day and not miss a dose. Taking Vyvanse in the afternoon or evening can put you at risk of insomnia (5).
The easiest way to take Vyvanse is to swallow the capsule whole. However, those who have trouble swallowing pills have the option of opening the capsule and mixing the contents with water, juice, or yogurt (5). When doing this, it’s important to dissolve the contents of the capsule completely and then consume it right away (5)
With Adderall, a doctor may recommend taking more than one dose per day, although it’s usually not taken more than thrice per day (2). When to take each dose will be determined by your doctor, although the first dose of the day is usually taken in the morning (6). If more than one dose per day is prescribed, there is usually four to six hours between each dose (6).
Similar to Vyvanse, taking Adderall too late in the date can lead to difficulty sleeping at night (3). This makes it all the more important to remember to take Adderall at the appropriate time without missing a dose.
Patients prescribed Adderall will typically begin by taking 5 mg per dose in the form of a tablet (6). Most patients will begin at one, perhaps two, doses per day. If necessary, daily doses may be increased on a weekly basis, usually 5 mg at a time (6). The total daily dose of Adderall that a doctor prescribes will usually max out at 40 mg per day (6).
Vyvanse has been shown to have a positive effect on many of the behaviors that plague those with ADD. For instance, many children with ADD have difficulty remaining focused on a task (4). This can refer to children who struggle to concentrate on a task, struggle to begin a task, or fall victim to distractions in the middle of a task (4).
Vyvanse has been shown to improve focus and organization while decreasing the distractibility for those with ADD (8). Improvements in these areas can make it easier for those with ADD to complete tasks without being distracted or losing their concentration.
Children with ADD are also prone to instances of hyperactivity or impulsivity (4). Hyperactivity can manifest in a number of ways, including excessive talking, fidgety movement with arms or legs, and the desire to be always be moving (4). This can add to the difficulty that children have completing tasks and also get them labeled as being problematic.
However, many taking Vyvanse have seen a decline in their agitation levels (8), making them less prone to hyperactive behavior. Vyvanse can also drive down the need to constantly be talking or in motion (8), helping them to remain calm despite being stuck in one place for long periods of time.
In terms of impulsivity, children with ADD may act or speak without thinking, as they are in search of instant gratification (4). Such actions can come across as disruptive or possibly risky; however, they are merely a result of children struggling to control their impulses because of their brain chemistry and not their personality (4).
For those experiencing such symptoms as a result of ADD, Vyvanse has been shown to be helpful in calming impulsive behavior (8). A decline in this impulsive behavior not only makes a different with regard to task completion, but it can also benefit them socially.
Adderall can have a similar effect on the symptoms of ADD as Vyvanse. Stimulants like Adderall alter brain chemistry to improve to flow of certain neurotransmitters (9). This helps to rectify the changes in brain chemistry that cause ADD in the first place, resulting in increased focus and improvement the behavioral deficiencies that can plague those with ADD (9).
The combination of amphetamines present in Adderall works to control the behavior associated with hyperactivity and impulsivity (10), as discussed above. Like Vyvanse, Adderall plays a role in diminishing this type of behavior, leading to improvement in accomplishing tasks, as well as social benefits.
Taking Vyvanse offers a number of benefits for those who have ADD. As discussed above, it helps to curb many of the behaviors that define the condition, allowing those with ADD to concentrate better on the task at hand and become more comfortable in social situations.
Another benefit of Vyvanse that we’ve discussed previously is the fact that it’s typically taken just once per day (5). This is a distinction from Adderall and makes Vyvanse easier to consume on a regular basis. With just one dose per day, the user can incorporate the medication into their daily schedule without having to schedule several doses throughout the day.
The fact that Vyvanse comes in a capsule is another benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked. Young children who suffer from ADD may have difficulty swallowing pills. Being able to open the capsule and mix the contents into a glass of water or a cup of yogurt makes it that much easier to ingest the medicine without hassle.
Beyond the ease in taking Vyvanse, the drug rarely leads to addiction in those who are prescribed it (1). There’s obviously no guarantee when it comes to someone avoiding a harmful addition. But as long as you take Vyvanse as prescribed, starting and stopping as prescribed by your doctor, the odds are in your favor to avoid adverse effects with regard to addiction.
Vyvanse is also categorized as a long-release drug, a type of drug that typically gets better results in clinical settings than short-release drugs when it comes to treating for ADD (11). The relevance here is that each capsule provides a steady improvement over the course of several hours (11). In the case of Vyvanse, each pill will remain effective for 10 to 12 hours (11).
For the sake of comparison, a short-release drug may have a more immediate impact. However, it will wear off faster, creating an instant high but leaving the user eventually wanting and needing more. With a long-release drug like Vyvanse, the user experiences an improvement, but in a way, that’s stable and consistent over the course of the day (11).
Moreover, the nature of Vyvanse allows the user to become accustomed to the changes the drug causes in their behavior and adapt to those changes relatively quickly (11). For anyone taking a prescription medication, knowing how the drug will affect you makes a huge difference, and so Vyvanse’s reliability is a huge benefit.
The way Vyvanse is absorbed is also important to its effectiveness. A vast majority of the drug takes effect in the blood, which is different from other ADD treatments (11). This allows users to take their dose of medication without or without food. Potential variables like fasting or the acidity of your stomach will have little effect in Vyvanse inside the body (11).
Another benefit of Vyvanse is that it’s made of d-amphetamine. Compared to other types of ADD treatment, including Adderall, this helps to reduce anxiety and other types of unusual emotions as a result of the drug (11).
Finally, most ADD treatments are best for short-term use, as their benefits tend to diminish the longer you take it. This is true to some extent with Vyvanse, but studies show that more than half of people taking Vyvanse for a year still experience relief from their ADD symptoms (11). This suggests that patients can stay on the drug longer than other medicines in they event they need to.
Like Vyvanse, Adderall has a long list of advantages. As most people know, Adderall is one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for treating ADD (3). This gives Adderall an extensive track record for helping both children and adults improve their concentration and keep their compulsive behavior under control.
One of the top benefits of Adderall that makes it such a common treatment for ADD is that it’s an instant-release drug (9). The effects of the drug can be seen in patients within an hour or two, with peak effectiveness usually occurring three hours after taking each dose (9). Knowing this can help doctors and patients plan out the optimal times to plan doses throughout the day.
There is also a new version of Adderall developed called Adderall XR (extended release) (9). Instead of needing multiple doses per day, which is common with Adderall, the new version lasts for 24 hours, giving patients the option of only taking one dose per day (9).
Like all drugs, Vyvanse does come with some risk of side effects. However, it’s important to keep in mind that if the drug was properly prescribed and taken as directed, it minimizes the risk of the user experiencing serious side effects (1). That being said, it’s important to be cognizant of the potential risks and side effects of the Vyvanse.
Among the most common side effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, headache, and dizziness (1). Anyone should contact a medical professional if you experience these symptoms. Other side effects that require medical attention if they persist include loss of appetite, dry mouth, nervousness, irritability, restlessness, trouble sleeping, and weight loss (1).
Vyvanse has also been known to cause more serious and immediate side effects in rare instances. Among these are blurred vision, irregular heartbeat, sudden mood swings that involve aggression or depression, uncontrolled twitching, numbness, changes in skin color, sudden outbursts of words or sounds, swelling, extreme fatigue (1). Such symptoms may require immediate medical intervention.
Allergic reactions to Vyvanse are rare but possible. Symptoms of an allergy include a rash, swelling of the tongue or throat, difficulty breathing, and extreme dizziness (1). Any type of chest pain, shortness of breath, confusion, slurred speech, or sudden vision changes upon taking Vyvanse require immediate medical attention (1), although are rare side effects of the drug.
It’s also possible for Vyvanse use to raise your blood pressure (1). Your doctor will be aware of this and will regularly check your blood pressure during the course of treatment. However, it can be a good idea to check your blood pressure on your own if possible and contact your doctor if it’s higher than usual.
As mentioned earlier, Vyvanse has a lower incidence of addiction than other types of ADD treatment, but being a stimulant, dependency is still possible (8). Issues with Vyvanse related to dependence or tolerance are more common when the drug is misused, although, in some instances, it’s also possible with long-term use (8).
A condition called Vyvanse Use Disorder can alter brain chemistry and functioning, often leading to malnourishment and chronic insomnia (8). Issues with vision, damage to the liver, seizures, and cardiovascular problems are also possible (8). For younger users, Vyvanse Use Disorder can also suppress growth (8).
It bears repeating that serious side effects and dependency issues with Vyvanse are rare. However, anyone taking the drug should be aware of the possible risks and side effects as a way to recognize the importance of taking Vyvanse as directed and seek medical attention if any side effects present.
Adderall also comes with a number of potential side effects. Again, like Vyvanse, if Adderall is properly prescribed and taken as directed, it should minimize the risk of serious side effects (1). Nevertheless, it’s important to be aware of the possible side effects.
Some of the more serious side effects of Adderall include bladder pain, frequent urination, painful urination, bloody urine, lower back pain, and an irregular heartbeat (6). Your doctor should be notified as soon as possible at the onset of any of these symptoms when taking Adderall (6).
Immediate medical intervention may also be necessary if you experience issues with blood flow that may manifest as numbness or changes in skin color, mood swings that relate to abnormal aggression or depression, abnormal wounds around your fingers and toes, teeth grinding or constant chewing movement, sudden outbursts of noise, and uncontrolled movements (3).
Just like Vyvanse, serious allergic reactions are rare but possible with Adderall. Signs of an allergy to Adderall include a rash, severe dizziness, itching or swelling around the face or throat, and trouble breathing (3). Any such symptoms will require immediate medical intervention.
Rare but serious side effects of Adderall that also require immediate medical attention include fainting, shortness of breath, irregular heartbeat, severe headache, extreme fatigue, swelling in the feet or ankles, slurred speech, confusion, or weakness on one side of the body (3).
More common side effects of Adderall that may not be serious in the short-term include difficulty sleeping, nervousness, restlessness, dry mouth, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, constipation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and headache (7). These symptoms may not require immediate medical attention but they should be passed along to your prescribing physician.
Adderall also has a higher risk of dependency than Vyvanse, especially if it’s not taken as prescribed (7). Taking a larger dose of Adderall than what has been prescribed or taking it more often than your doctor recommends can lead to an addiction (7).
Abusing Adderall may lead to symptoms like a rash, insomnia, irritability, and other changes in one’s personality (7). Serious abuse of Adderall can cause symptoms that are nearly identical to schizophrenia (7), which speaks to the importance of taking doses exactly as they were prescribed.
Based on all the information available, both Vyvanse and Adderall are viable forms of treatment for ADD. However, there are distinctions between the two that may make one drug better than the other for certain patients.
To some extent, Vyvanse may be the safer choice for treating ADD. It requires just one dosage per day and has been shown to be less of a risk for addiction than Adderall. It also has less of a history of being abused as a recreational drug than Adderall, which has played a role in the latter drug receiving a bad reputation.
Vyvanse being a long-release drug also makes it safer and more predictable in its results than Adderall. To be fair, Vyvanse has less of a track record for treating ADD than Adderall, but for someone who was recently diagnosed with ADD, it may be a better option to try right off the bat than Adderall.
On the other hand, Adderall is a more established treatment option, having been around longer. There may be a higher risk of addiction when taking Adderall, but as long as the drug is taken as prescribed, those risks can be minimized as much as possible.
Ultimately, Adderall may be considered a slightly more radical treatment, but one that may have a better chance of being successful, at least in the short term. Neither drug should be looked at as a permanent solution for ADD, and both should be taken in conjunction with other forms of treatment.
For someone with ADD, both Vyvanse and Adderall have the potential to curb symptoms. But it’s important to keep in mind that the success of each will vary from person to person and depend in large part on the circumstances of each individual case.