Dexedrine and Adderall are brand names for two of the most widely prescribed stimulant medications used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD.
The medications share a similar set of possible side effects, risks, and warnings. But there are some small differences between Adderall and Dexedrine that may make one more suitable for some people than others.
Dexedrine and Adderall both contain forms of the synthetic compound amphetamine, which is a central nervous stimulant.
Researchers still do not know exactly how amphetamine works. However, it seems to increase the release or effectiveness of certain neurotransmitters, the body’s chemical messengers, including:
There are two active forms of the synthetic compound amphetamine: dextro(d)-amphetamine and levo(l)-amphetamine. Of the two forms, d-amphetamine is considered the stronger of the pair.
While the two forms of amphetamine differ in their makeup, both have proven effective for the treatment of ADHD since the 1970s.
Dexedrine contains the active ingredient d-amphetamine, while Adderall contains a 3:1 mixture of immediate-release d-amphetamine and l-amphetamine. Extended-release formulas of Adderall, such as Adderall XR, generally contain equal measures of immediate-release and delayed-release d-amphetamine and l-amphetamine.
Dexedrine is also available in a sustained-release formula (Dexedrine Spansule), containing time-release d-amphetamine.
Currently, immediate-release types of Dexedrine and Adderall are both approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for the treatment of ADHD in children aged 3 and older.
The extended-release types Dexedrine Spansule and Adderall XR are not approved for use in children under the age of 6. Dexedrine Spansule is also not approved for use in individuals over the age of 16.
The administration methods may differ between Dexedrine and Adderall:
- Dexedrine immediate-release medication comes in the form of tablets and solution.
- Adderall immediate-release formulas are available in tablet form.
- Both Dexedrine Spansule and Adderall XR come in capsule form.
People should take Adderall and Dexedrine first thing in the morning and again in the early afternoon. Adderall XR and Dexedrine Spansule usually only need to be taken once a day, ideally as soon as someone wakes up.
People should not take stimulant medication late in the afternoon or evening, as they can make it very difficult to sleep.
Adderall and Dexedrine both take around 30 minutes to 1 hour to show an effect and 3 hours to reach their highest levels in the blood. Both Adderall and Dexedrine have also been shown to be effective for around 4 to 6 hours depending on the dose.
Adderall XR and Dexedrine Spansule also both take around 30 minutes to 1 hour to show an effect, but take between 7 and 8 hours to reach peak blood levels. Adderall XR and Dexedrine Spansule can be effective for up to 11 to 12 hours depending on the dose.
A doctor will typically prescribe people with ADHD the lowest dose possible to begin with, then increase the dosage as needed.
Dosage of Dexedrine
According to the FDA guidelines, most doctors will initially prescribe 2.5 milligrams (mg) of Dexedrine to treat ADHD in children aged 3 to 5, which can be increased by 2.5 mg each week if required.
Those aged 6 and above should begin with 5 mg one or two times a day. This amount can be increased by 5 mg each week if required. It is rare that the dose should exceed a total of 40 mg in a single day.
Dosage of Adderall
The FDA suggest that children aged 3 to 5 with ADHD should take 2.5 mg of Adderall daily, increasing the dosage by 2.5 mg each week if necessary.
Those aged 6 years and above can usually begin by taking 5 mg of Adderall once or twice daily, increasing the dosage by 5 mg each week as needed.
Dexedrine and Adderall typically share the same side effects, warnings, and risks because they contain forms of the same drug.
Common side effects include:
- upset stomach or minor stomach cramps
- dry mouth
- a headache
- loss of appetite
- difficulty sleeping or insomnia
- weight loss
- changes in libido or impotence
Less common side effects include:
- agitation and irritability
- anxiety and unease
- blurred vision
- nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
- allergic reactions, including hives, swelling, and tingling
- chest tightness and difficulty breathing
- extreme energy or restless
- confusion and disorientation
- hallucinations and paranoia
- abnormal heartbeat and blood pressure
- numb, cold, or pale toes and fingers
- unexplained wounds on the toes or fingers
- weakness, tenderness, or sore muscles for no reason
- hair loss
- dark red urine
Adderall and Dexedrine can also cause more serious side effects, especially when misused. Without proper medical care, side effects associated with prescription stimulant use can become life-threatening.
People experiencing some of the more common, less severe side effects of Adderall and Dexedrine should talk with a doctor.
If someone is experiencing serious side effects associated with prescription stimulants, seek immediate medical attention or call the emergency services.
Health risks associated with prescription stimulant use include:
- weight loss
- slowed growth and development
- changes in behavior and thought patterns
- nerve problems that can cause seizures
- circulation problems
- blood vessel and heart problems
- breakdown and release of muscle tissue into the bloodstream, which can cause kidney damage
Another possible health risk linked to prescription stimulant use is serotonin syndrome. This condition occurs when there is too much serotonin in the bloodstream. Symptoms include diarrhea, fever, and seizures.
Medications that treat ADHD are habit-forming. Even people who take their ADHD medications as prescribed usually become desensitized to these drugs over time. Some people might need to slowly increase their dosage for the drugs to remain effective.
People using Adderall and Dexedrine can experience serious side effects. Certain things can also interfere with the absorption, efficacy, or strength of the medications.
A doctor will explain how to avoid as many of the potential side effects as possible. Common warnings include:
- avoiding alcohol
- taking medications exactly as prescribed
- never sharing the medications with someone
- within 1 to 2 hours of taking the medication, avoiding things that can change how it is absorbed, such as citrus juices or fruits, antacids, and multivitamins
- avoiding breast-feeding while taking stimulants
Some medications can interfere with how Dexedrine and Adderall work. For example, anti-histamines can counteract the effect of stimulants, and anti-depressants and antacid medications can increase the effect of stimulants.
People with certain medical conditions cannot safely use stimulants such as Adderall and Dexedrine. These conditions include:
- heart conditions and abnormalities
- very high blood pressure
- advanced arteriosclerosis
- conditions that cause agitation and anxiety
- mental illnesses that involve psychosis
- seizure conditions
- past or current substance abuse
Adderall and Dexedrine tend to cause similar effects in most people.
Everyone responds to medications differently. It usually takes time to work out which type and dose of medication work best.
Factors that may help determine which ADHD medication is best for each person include:
- Children under the age of 3 cannot safely take ADHD medications.
- Adderall XR and Dexedrine Spansule are not recommended for children under the age of 6.
- Dexedrine Spansule is not recommended for use in people over the age of 16.
Length of efficacy
Many people prefer the long-acting forms of the medications, such as Adderall XR and Dexedrine Spansule, to the short-acting formulas because they do not need to take additional doses during the day.
However, short-acting versions can allow doctors to adjust the dosage more finely to manage any side effects.
Most people know whether or not they are going to experience any side effects within a week. If one medication causes significant side effects, they can try another form.
Both Adderall and Dexedrine are usually available in both brand and generic versions that tend to cost similar amounts.
Some insurance companies may cover one type or form of drug and not the other, or charge more for one drug than the other. People should talk with a doctor, pharmacist, or insurance agent about the best pricing options.
Adderall and Dexedrine are two of the most widely prescribed medications used to treat ADHD.
Both of the medications contain the active ingredient amphetamine. While Dexedrine contains only the most potent form of amphetamine, Adderall contains a mixture of amphetamine’s two active forms.
Most people with ADHD respond to Adderall and Dexedrine similarly, though some people may react in slightly different ways to the drugs.
If one medication is not effective or causes too many side effects, a doctor will usually recommend trying other forms of amphetamine-based medications.