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Vyvanse vs. Ritalin: Differences, Similarities & How to Choose

Both Vyvanse and Ritalin are approved to treat ADH, but they trigger different side effects and interact with different medications.

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If you’ve been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), your doctor has several medications available to help. Two of them are Vyvanse and Ritalin.

Vyvanse is the newer of these two medications and comes with lower abuse potential. If you’re afraid that you or someone in your house will take your medication recreationally, this is a better choice.

But Ritalin has fewer medication interactions than Vyvanse, so if you’re treating other medical illnesses at once, Ritalin could be a better choice.

Differences are summarized in this table, but keep reading to find out more.

 VyvanseRitalin
UsesADHD and binge eating disorderADHD and narcolepsy 
EffectivenessProvenProven 
Side EffectsAnorexia, anxiety, dizziness, dry mouth, insomnia, vomiting, and nausea Fast heart rate, heart palpitations, headache, insomnia, anxiety, weight loss, and dry mouth
InteractionsMultiple, including MAOI inhibitors, antidepressants, and alkalinizing agents Fewer, including MAOI inhibitors and antihypertensive drugs 
Warnings Cardiovascular events, growth stunting, and serotonin syndromeCardiovascular events, adverse reactions, growth stunting, and abuse potential 

What Are They Used For?

Both Ritalin and Vyvanse are approved to treat ADHD. But both medications can treat one other mental health condition.

Vyvanse is approved to treat binge eating disorder (BED). People with BED eat large amounts of food in one sitting, but they don’t use techniques like vomiting to prevent weight gain. They struggle with obesity, and Vyvanse can curb the craving to binge.

Ritalin is approved to treat narcolepsy. People with this condition fall asleep at unwelcome times, including when driving or giving a presentation. The stimulating aspect of Ritalin can help these people to stay awake when needed. 

How Effective Are Vyvanse & Ritalin?

Researchers have looked closely at both Vyvanse and Ritalin to ensure they can help people with ADHD feel better. In these studies, one group typically gets the prescription drug, and the other receives a lookalike sugar pill.

In a study like this, researchers found that Vyvanse was effective. They noticed that people taking Vyvanse needed smaller doses and fewer dose adjustments than people taking other long-acting ADHD drugs.

They also found Vyvanse had a lower abuse potential. To these researchers, Vyvanse seemed safer than alternative drugs.

In a study of Ritalin, researchers found that the drug could reduce core symptoms of ADHD by 70 percent, and the efficacy remained for at least two years. This is welcome news for people struggling with ADHD and looking for relief. 

Side Effects You Should Know About

Both Vyvanse and Ritalin work on several systems within the body, and they can cause uncomfortable side effects. Sometimes, these issues fade as people get used to their doses. But sometimes, they persist as long as people take the drug.

Vyvanse side effects in people with ADHD include the following:

  • Anorexia
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite
  • Diarrhea 
  • Dizziness 
  • Dry mouth 
  • Insomnia 
  • Irritability
  • Nausea 
  • Upper abdominal pain
  • Vomiting

Ritalin side effects in all people include the following:

  • Abdominal pain 
  • Anxiety
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Dry mouth
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Headache 
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Palpitations
  • Tachycardia
  • Weight loss 

Medication Interactions 

Are you taking other prescription drugs? Some of these medications could interact with your ADHD medications.

Vyvanse can interact with the following:

  • MAOI inhibitors
  • Serotonergic drugs (like SSRI antidepressants)
  • CYP2D6 inhibitors (like fluoxetine) 
  • Alkalinizing agents (like acetazolamide) 
  • Acidifying agents (like methenamine salts)
  • Tricyclic antidepressants

Ritalin can interact with the following:

  • MAOI inhibitors 
  • Antihypertensive drugs 
  • Some anesthetics

Your pharmacists can catch these interactions if they slip by your doctor. It’s critical to fill all of your prescriptions at one pharmacy, so this professional can help to keep you safe. 

Warnings for Both Vyvanse & Ritalin

Prescription drugs can cause unpredictable reactions inside your body, and sometimes, they put your health or well-being at risk. Officials call these “warnings,” which should be on a pamphlet you get with your medications.

Vyvanse warnings involve the following:

  • Heart disease: Some people experience strokes, unusual heartbeats, or heart attacks while taking the drug. You may also have increases in your blood pressure and heart rate. 
  • Mental health: You can have a manic episode, which involves abnormally elevated or hyperactive behavior, even if you’ve never had one before. 
  • Stunted growth: Young people may not reach their full height if they take this medication. 
  • Nerve damage: Some people develop prickling or tingling feelings in their fingers and toes.

Ritalin warnings involve the following:

  • Heart disease: Strokes, heart attacks, and cardiac issues have taken hold in people taking Ritalin. Blood pressure and heart rate increases can also develop.
  • Mental health: You can have a manic episode, even if you’ve never had one before.
  • Nerve damage: Some men experience painful and long-lasting erections while on this drug. You may also have tingling in your fingers and toes. 
  • Stunted growth: Young people may not reach their full height if they take this medication.

While people with ADHD who take Ritalin as directed rarely abuse it, others do. If you don’t protect your prescription, someone in your household could steal your medication and abuse it. You must be very careful to keep this out of the hands of others.

Don’t let these warnings keep you from getting help for your ADHD. But know that you should be aware of these issues while taking these medications. Talk with your doctor immediately if signs appear. 

How to Choose Between Vyvanse & Ritalin

Your doctor can help you determine if Vyvanse or Ritalin is the right choice for you. But if you have a strong opinion after reading this comparison, speak up. You have a right to participate in all medical decisions, including those involving medications.

Profile image for Dr. Alison Tarlow
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Alison Tarlow

Dr. Alison Tarlow is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the States of Florida and Pennsylvania, and a Certified Addictions Professional (CAP). She has been a practicing psychologist for over 15 years. Sh... Read More

Updated February 7, 2024
Resources
  1. Vyvanse. (2007). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  2. Ritalin. (1995). U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  3. Lisdexamfetamine Dimesylate (Vyvanse), A Prodrug Stimulant for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. (May 2010). Pharmacy and Therapeutics.
  4. Effectiveness and Tolerability of Methylphenidate in Children With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. (August 2011). Clinical Medicine Insights: Therapeutics.
  5. Ritalin Fast Facts. (January 2006). National Drug Intelligence Center.
  6. Adult ADHD Medications and Their Cardiovascular Implications. (August 2016). Case Reports in Cardiology.
  7. ADHD Medication Linked to Slightly Increased Risk of Heart Rhythm Problems. (May 2016). BMJ.
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