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Dexedrine vs. Adderall: Comparing ADHD Medications

Up to 10 percent of children in the United States are affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. The condition is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders affecting children in the United States, and it commonly affects the ability of patients to learn, interact with others, and focus on daily activities. 

ADHD may result in low norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine levels in the body. Patients over the age of three who are diagnosed with ADHD may receive treatment with Dexedrine or Adderall, two popular prescription medications. You should only take these medications under the medical advice of a healthcare professional. 

When comparing ADHD medications, there are similarities and differences associated with dexedrine and adderall worth knowing about. 

Overview

Adderall and Dexedrine are both categorized as central nervous system stimulant medications in terms of their drug class. The active ingredient in Dexedrine is dextroamphetamine (also known as d-amphetamine), while Adderall is composed of two primary ingredients, amphetamine and dextroamphetamine. In comparison to other central nervous system stimulants, such as Ritalin (methylphenidate), Adderall and Dexedrine are stronger, more stimulating medications. Drugs like Adderall and Dexedrine influence the balance of certain neurotransmitters in the brain that are associated with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Adderall in its instant-release form in 1996. The extended-release capsule version, Adderall XR, was released in 2001. Dexedrine, which is available in an immediate release form only, was introduced to the market in the United States in 1976 under modern FDA approval standards but was previously available under different guidelines. The generic version of Dexedrine is called dextroamphetamine, while the generic version of Adderall is called dextroamphetamine and amphetamine; Adderall is essentially a combination of the active ingredient of Dexedrine and another medication.

Both Dexedrine and Adderall are considered Schedule II controlled substances by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Prescription drugs classified as Schedule II controlled substances have a high potential for abuse and addiction but may have medical or therapeutic uses, as is the case with Adderall and Dexedrine, and should only be used under the supervision of a healthcare professional.  

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Conditions Treated

Adderall and Dexedrine are both used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, also known as ADHD, and narcolepsy, a type of sleep disorder. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Adderall and Dexedrine are both most commonly used for the treatment of ADHD. ADHD is a commonly diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder that is usually diagnosed in childhood but can be diagnosed at any time in life. It is also possible for people to be diagnosed as adults, and some people do not notice any symptoms until adulthood. Some people who are diagnosed with ADHD as children find that their ADHD symptoms begin to resolve as they approach adulthood, while others will experience symptoms of ADHD throughout their adult lives. Adderall and Dexedrine are both approved for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults aged 3 years and older.

ADHD presents itself in one of three ways. 

The most well-known presentation of ADHD is the hyperactive-impulsive presentation, which typically presents as difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors, hyperactivity, and squirming or fidgeting. 

The inattentive type of ADHD was previously known as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), which is characterized most often by difficulty paying attention, daydreaming, and forgetting or losing things regularly. 

The third form of ADHD is a combined presentation, in which patients exhibit symptoms of both hyperactivity and inattention. 

Some people with ADHD find that their symptoms change over time and present differently as a person ages. Common signs and symptoms of the developmental disorder include: 

  • Difficulty paying attention
  • Difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors
  • Talking excessively
  • Making careless mistakes
  • Difficulty resisting temptation
  • Daydreaming
  • Hyperactivity
  • Impulsivity
  • Squirming or fidgeting
  • Difficulty getting along with others
  • Forgetting or losing things regularly

Narcolepsy

Both Adderall and Dexedrine are also used to treat narcolepsy in adults. Narcolepsy is a type of sleep disorder that causes symptoms that include excessive daytime sleepiness, sudden loss of muscle tone, sleep paralysis, changes in rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, and hallucinations. 

Narcolepsy is often depicted in pop culture as causing people to fall asleep during social situations or nod off while standing up, but these manifestations of narcolepsy are actually relatively rare. Central nervous system stimulants like Adderall and Dexedrine are commonly used to help manage the symptoms of narcolepsy in adult patients. 

Cost

Both Adderall and Dexedrine are available in generic and brand name forms for treating ADHD. Both medications are quite costly in their brand name forms, and many patients may not be able to afford a monthly prescription. 

For example, the brand name version of Dexedrine costs approximately $737 for a 30-day supply of the medication, while the brand-name version of Adderall XR, the extended-release version of the drug, costs approximately $230 for a monthly prescription; the instant-release version is priced similarly. 

Fortunately, both medications are also available in generic versions that are much more affordable. Adderall can be purchased at a price of $10 for a one-month prescription of either the immediate-release or extended-release versions, while a one-month supply of generic Dexedrine costs approximately $55 per month. The generic versions of Dexedrine and Adderall are covered by most insurance plans, including Medicaid and Medicare. 

However, it’s possible to save money on the brand name and generic versions of both drugs with pharmacy discount card programs like USA Rx regardless of your insured status.

Side Effects

Both Dexedrine and Adderall are associated with numerous side effects that are common to central nervous system prescription stimulants. Some side effects may require medical attention. 

Adderall

Common side effects of Adderall that normally do not require medical attention include:

  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety
  • Mild stomach pain
  • Restlessness
  • Dry mouth
  • Mild constipation

Common serious side effects of Adderall that may require immediate medical attention include:

  • Lower back or side pain
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Bladder pain
  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Fast, pounding, or irregular heartbeat or pulse
  • Difficult, burning, or painful urination
  • Increased heart rate

Less common side effects of Adderall that may require immediate medical attention include:

  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Hoarseness
  • Chills
  • Runny nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sweating
  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Shivering
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Unusual tiredness or weakness
  • Allergic reactions
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Sore throat
  • Joint pain
  • Psychosis
  • Heart palpitations

Dexedrine

Side effects of Dexedrine range from common to serious and will affect each person differently. Common side effects associated with dexedrine include:

  • Fast heartbeat
  • Headache
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Dizziness
  • Weight loss
  • Dry mouth
  • Decreased appetite
  • Tremors
  • Upset stomach
  • Feeling anxious

Serious side effects associated with Dexedrine require medical attention and could be life-threatening. Serious side effects include:

  • Allergic reactions, as evidenced by:
    • Skin rash
    • Swelling of your face, lips, or tongue
    • Itching
    • Hives
  • Heart problems, as evidenced by:
    • High blood pressure 
    • Trouble breathing
    • Fast, irregular heartbeat
    • Chest pain or tightness
  • Mental problems, as evidenced by:
    • Hallucinations
    • Confusion
    • Seizures
  • Vision problems, including:
    • Blurred vision
    • Other changes in eyesight
  • Circulation problems, including:
    • Fingers or toes that feel numb, cold, or hurt
  • Movement problems, as evidenced by:
    • Muscle twitching
    • Losing balance or coordination
    • Trouble walking 
    • Feeling dizzy 
    • Uncontrollable movements in your head, mouth, neck, arm, or leg
  • Slowed growth in children (height and weight)
  • Priapism (erection lasting longer than four hours) 

Warnings for Use

Medications like Adderall and Dexedrine come with a number of warnings for use due to their classification as Schedule II drugs by the DEA. Adderall and Dexedrine both come with black box warnings from the FDA, which is the highest level of warning a medication can receive, due to their habit-forming tendencies. Individuals that stop using these medications may experience withdrawal symptoms. 

In order to minimize your risk of experiencing addiction or dependence, patients can take the following steps:

  • Avoid the use of alcohol
  • Take the medications as prescribed
  • Do not share medication with others
  • Avoid substances that can change the absorption of their medication within one to two hours of taking the drug, such as citrus fruits and juices, antacids, and multivitamins

Some medications can interact with Adderall and Dexedrine and impact the rate at which the drugs are absorbed. Antihistamine use can make the medications take effect more slowly, while antacids and antidepressants can enhance the effect of stimulants.

Both Adderall and Dexedrine also have a black box warning due to their potential to cause “sudden death and serious cardiovascular adverse reactions,” such as heart attacks, so they may not be appropriate for patients with certain medical conditions, including:

  • Advanced arteriosclerosis
  • Moderate to severe hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Known sensitivity or idiosyncrasy to the sympathomimetic amines, agitated states, and glaucoma
  • Symptomatic cardiovascular disease
  • Hyperthyroidism

Summary

Dexedrine and Adderall are both classified as central nervous system stimulants. Both drugs are commonly prescribed for the treatment of ADHD in children and adults and the management of narcolepsy in adults. 

Both Adderall and Dexedrine are classified as Schedule II controlled substances by the DEA due to their high potential for addiction and abuse. Both medications are also labeled with black box warnings by the FDA due to their potential for abuse and ability to cause significant cardiovascular side effects. 

Adderall and Dexedrine can each be purchased in brand name and generic forms. Regardless of which medication you are prescribed by a mental health or healthcare professional, you can receive significant cost savings regardless of your insured status by using a pharmacy discount card from USA Rx.

Sources:
https://www.addictioncenter.com/stimulants/adderall/ 
https://americanaddictioncenters.org/adderall/long-term-effects 
https://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/dexedrine-vs-adderall 
https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/data.html
https://www.webmd.com/drugs/2/drug-11574/dexedrine-oral/details

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