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Concerta vs. Ritalin: What’s the Difference?

Concerta and Ritalin are prescription stimulants typically used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children and adults. These medications increase attention and alertness, helping people with ADHD to focus and succeed at work and school.[1]

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Ritalin and Concerta both contain methylphenidate.[1] But the way the drug is delivered is slightly different, as is the abuse potential.

What Is Concerta?

Concerta is a medication used to treat ADHD in people older than 6.[2] Researchers say it may help to increase attention and decrease impulsiveness in people with ADHD.[2]

Concerta is designed for twice-daily administration. Doses move very slowly through the digestive tract, bringing symptom relief for long periods without the big highs and low lows of short-acting stimulant drugs.[2]

Street names for Concerts include Jif, MPH, Pineapple, Skippy, Johnny, and Kiddie Coke. 

What Is Ritalin?

Ritalin is a medication used to treat ADHD in people older than 6. Doctors can use this drug to help people with narcolepsy (a sleep disorder) too.[3] 

Multiple formulations of the drug exist, including an extended-release form that’s designed for twice-daily dosing. Typically, Ritalin is sold as small pills for oral administration. Those pills don’t have a time-release or tamper-proof coating.[3]

Street names for Ritalin include R-Ball, Smart Drug, Vitamin R, Smarties, Study Buddies, and Rids.

Concerta & Ritalin Similarities 

Concerta and Ritalin are both prescription ADHD medications containing methylphenidate.[1] People older than 6 can use these medications to soothe symptoms and enhance focus. 

Side effects of the medications are similar and include the following:[2,3]

  • Headache
  • Anorexia 
  • Stomachache 
  • Nervousness 
  • Insomnia 

Concerta and Ritalin also work directly on the cardiovascular system, and sometimes, their impact results in life-threatening problems like strokes, heart attacks, and sudden death.[2,3] Doctors screen their patients carefully to ensure they’re healthy enough for this drug before they start using it. 

Key Concerta & Ritalin Differences 

Methylphenidate delivery sets Concerta and Ritalin apart. While Ritalin is typically sold in tablets, Concerta pills are different. 

Concerta wraps methylphenidate in a coating that opens within the digestive tract without dissolving completely. The remainder passes out of the body in stool. Users are warned that they may see tablet coatings when they head to the bathroom.[2]

This coating could make Concerta slightly harder to abuse. The tablets don’t split into powder when they’re pressed or crushed, so they can’t be snorted easily. 

But the coating could also cause life-threatening problems in people with narrow intestines. If the pills get caught, surgical removal might be necessary.[2]

Ritalin tablets are smaller, and they do dissolve. People who can’t tolerate Concerta may find Ritalin pills easier to use. But some people might be tempted to chew, crush, or snort these pills since they’re so easy to crush. If you have a history of drug abuse, Ritalin pills might not be a good choice. 

Addiction Potential 

All prescription stimulants have a high risk of abuse.[4] These drugs can cause euphoria, especially the first time they’re used. Some people become psychologically or physically attached to that high, and they’ll keep chasing it despite the consequences. 

In head-to-head studies, Ritalin was abused more often than Concerta.[5] However, some users don’t discern between their drugs. They’ll use whatever their dealers are selling on that day. 

Ritalin is slightly easier to abuse. Users typically crush the tablets into a powder and snort or inject the mixture.[6] Since Concerta tablets are harder to manipulate, they may not be as attractive to some users. 

Concerta vs. Ritalin: Which Is More Effective?

ADHD is a complex disease. A medication that helps one person is harmful to another. Researchers are wary of saying one drug is better than another. Instead, they suggest that variation makes treating individual patients easier. 

In a survey of adults with ADHD, about 27% had used Concerta and about 33% had used Ritalin. Of this group, more than 40% said Ritalin was extremely or very effective. Just 36% said the same about Concerta.[7]

Researchers called the results interesting, but they caution that they shouldn’t be used for treatment decisions. Each person reacts to drugs differently.[7]

In studies of children, researchers say the same thing. While one child might benefit from Ritalin’s quick release, others might appreciate the slower onset of Concerta. Having two options means doctors can find the right one for their individual patients.[8,9]

Updated October 29, 2023
  1. Prescription stimulants drug facts. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Published June 2018. Accessed September 21, 2023.
  2. Concerta. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Published March 2007. Accessed September 21, 2023.
  3. Ritalin. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Accessed September 21, 2023.
  4. Stimulants. U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Published April 2020. Accessed September 21, 2023.
  5. Cassidy TA, McNaughton EC, Varughese S, Russo L, Zulueta M, Butler SF. Nonmedical use of prescription ADHD stimulant medications among adults in a substance abuse treatment population: early findings from the NAVIPPRO surveillance system. J Atten Disord. 2015;19(4):275-283. doi:10.1177/1087054713493321
  6. Ritalin fast facts. National Drug Intelligence Center. Published September 2003. Accessed September 21, 2023.
  7. Bailey E. Concerta vs. Ritalin: An ADHD medication comparison. ADDitude. Published January 9, 2020. Accessed September 21, 2023.
  8. Lopez F, Silva R, Pestreich L, et al. Comparative efficacy of two once daily methylphenidate formulations (Ritalin® LA™1 and Concerta®) and placebo in children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder across the school day. Pediatr-Drugs. 2012;5:545–555.
  9. Cortese S, Adamo N, Del Giovane C, et al. Comparative efficacy and tolerability of medications for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in children, adolescents, and adults: A systematic review and network meta-analysis. The Lancet Psychiatry. 2018;5(9):727-738. doi:10.1016/s2215-0366(18)30269-4
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