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Concerta vs Ritalin: What to know

Concerta vs Ritalin: What to know

Reviewed by:
Divya Khosla, MD
|
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May 26, 2024
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Key takeaways

In this article

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that affects 8.7 million adults and 6.1 million children and adolescents in the United States. Since this disorder can impact quality of life and make it harder to function at school, work, or home, many people with ADHD take medications to relieve their symptoms.

Two examples of ADHD medications are Concerta and Ritalin. Both of these are commonly prescribed stimulants that can reduce symptoms of ADHD like trouble focusing, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. However, keep in mind that there are also nonstimulant options that are just as effective.

Read on to learn about Concerta and Ritalin –how they work, their effectiveness, side effects, interactions, as well as alternatives.

How do Concerta and Ritalin work?

Concerta and Ritalin are brand names for two medications containing the same main active ingredient: methylphenidate. Both are FDA-approved for treating ADHD. Ritalin is also FDA-approved for a sleep disorder called narcolepsy.  


Methylphenidate is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant. Stimulants work by impacting neurotransmitters, or chemical messengers, in the brain that are related to ADHD symptoms. More specifically, methylphenidate makes more norepinephrine and dopamine available in the brain, which can help with inattention and hyperactivity.  

Whether you take Concerta or Ritalin, methylphenidate is a controlled substance, so you can only get it with a prescription from your doctor. Certain states also have limits on how much can be prescribed at one time. Each brand name also has a generic version available.  

Effectiveness and duration: How fast do they work?  

Although Concerta and Ritalin have the same active ingredient of methylphenidate, their formulations and dosages are different.

Concerta has an extended-release formulation. You take it once daily in the morning, and its effects last up to 12 hours throughout the day. You’ll experience symptom relief as methylphenidate gets steadily released into your body throughout the day.

Ritalin comes in immediate-release, sustained-release, and extended-release forms. Immediate-release Ritalin works quickly to relieve symptoms but wears off within a few hours, so you have to take it two or three times a day, depending on how you respond to Ritalin and your doctor’s instructions.  

If you only take one dose of immediate-release Ritalin, you likely won’t experience symptom relief all day long, as it lasts 2-4 hours. Ritalin LA (extended-release) is only taken once daily in the morning, and will last you up to 8 hours, and Ritalin SR (sustained release) lasts  4-6 hours.  Learn more about how long Ritalin lasts here.

Stimulants, in general, are highly effective. When it comes to the head-to-head effectiveness of Concerta vs Ritalin, one isn’t necessarily better than the other. Your doctor will decide which would be best for you depending on your specific needs based on your symptoms, age, and tolerability towards medication

What are their dosages?

Concerta and Ritalin are dosed differently, and the specific dose you take will depend on your symptoms and how you respond to the medication.  

Concerta may be taken once a day, while Ritalin may be taken multiple times a day if you’re using the immediate-release. Ultimately your doctor will determine what’s right in your situation.

What are the downsides to taking Ritalin or Concerta?

In addition to the side effects of methylphenidate (more on that later), there are other risks to consider when taking either Ritalin or Concerta.

If you take a stimulant medication like this daily and long-term, you may develop a tolerance to it, meaning you need a higher dose to get the same effect. You may also develop a physical dependence.  

When you stop taking it, you can experience withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Low mood
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Fatigue
  • Vivid dreams
  • Increased appetite

Additionally, both Concerta and Ritalin come with the risk of potential substance misuse/abuse. You should only take stimulant medication exactly as prescribed by your doctor. Don’t take it more frequently or in higher doses unless your doctor tells you to do so. And do not take it for recreational purposes.  

People with a history of substance misuse are at higher risk of abusing Concerta or Ritalin. Your doctor will decide if the benefits outweigh the risks and will closely monitor your progress and use of the medication.


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What are the side effects?

Everyone reacts to Concerta and Ritalin differently. Various factors affect how an individual tolerates a medication, including age, underlying health conditions, and metabolism. However, some of the most common side effects of methylphenidate are:

  • Headaches
  • Nervousness/anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Tics or uncontrollable body movements
  • Overstimulation
  • Trouble sleeping/insomnia
  • Irritability, agitation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Stomachache
  • Weight loss
  • Possible temporary slowed growth in children
  • Blurred vision or changes to eyesight

Less common, serious side effects

There is also the possibility of more rare, severe, and dangerous side effects, such as:

  • Heart palpitations and high blood pressure
  • Seizures (especially if you have a history of seizures)  
  • Psychotic episodes
  • Circulation problems/Raynaud’s phenomenon
  • New or worsening mental health symptoms, like activation of mania or suicidal thoughts  

It's important to share your cardiac history and heart problems, and potential development and/or ongoing symptoms to safely monitor symptoms, management medication, and coordinate care. Long-term exposure to ADHD medications was associated with an increased risk of hypertension and arterial disease. There's also a possible risk for sudden death in those with preexisting cardiac structural abnormalities.

Regardless, it’s very important to monitor for any physical or mental side effects and let your doctor know about any new or worsening side effects.  

Concerta and Ritalin drug interactions

Both of these stimulant medications have important drug interactions you should be aware of. The two most major drug interactions with Concerta and Ritalin are:

  • Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors (MAOIs): You have to be off of MAOIs for at least two weeks before starting methylphenidate to avoid the risk of dangerously high blood pressure.  
  • Antihypertensive drugs: Methylphenidate can both increase blood pressure and decrease the effectiveness of blood pressure medications.  

Additionally, the following types of drugs may also interact with Concerta and Ritalin. In these cases, your doctor might need to adjust your dose of the other medication when you start taking methylphenidate.

This is not an exhaustive list of potential drug interactions. Make sure to tell your doctor about all prescription and non-prescription medications you take, including vitamins and supplements, so they can provide you with personalized medical advice and ensure that your prescriptions are safe for you.  

Lastly, if you have any of the following conditions, your doctor may decide Concerta or Ritalin aren’t the safest options for you:

  • Those with structural cardiac abnormalities
  • Glaucoma
  • Very high blood pressure
  • Motor tics
  • Those with extreme anxiety and/or agitation

Should I take Concerta or Ritalin?

Ultimately, your doctor will decide whether you should take Concerta or Ritalin. They will consider your symptoms, lifestyle, and personal preferences.  

Don’t forget that Concerta and Ritalin aren’t the only medications for ADHD. There are other stimulants (such as Adderall) and non-stimulant medications (such as Strattera) that might be a better match for you. Your doctor will make the call based on your medical history, symptoms, and diagnosis.  

If you’re looking for a psychiatrist, consider Talkiatry. We’re a national psychiatry practice that treats a variety of mental health conditions. We provide virtual, in-network services so you can get the care you need from the comfort of your own home. To get started, complete our free online assessment to get matched with a psychiatrist.  

FAQs

Are Ritalin and Concerta the same?

No, they are not the same. Ritalin and Concerta both have the same active ingredient (methylphenidate), but their formulations are different. Concerta is only available in extended-release form. Ritalin comes in immediate-release, sustained-release, and extended-release forms.

What are the differences between Ritalin and Concerta?

The main differences involve the formulations and how quickly the medication gets released into the body. Concerta is only available in extended-release form, so it works a bit more gradually and is long-acting. Ritalin works more quickly, but the effects are shorter-lasting, so you have to take two or three doses of it per day. However, extended-release Ritalin is available.  

Is Concerta better than Ritalin?

One isn’t inherently better than the other, and it’s possible that neither are right for you. It depends on your individual needs and what your psychiatrist decides is a better fit for your ADHD symptoms.  

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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About
Divya Khosla, MD

Dr. Divya Khosla, MD, is a board certified Adult Psychiatrist and board eligible Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She received her undergraduate degree from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and her medical degree from Ross University, completing all of her clinicals in Maryland, D.C., and NYC. She completed her adult psychiatry residency at The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio. Then she returned to the east coast, where she completed her child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, New York.

Dr. Khosla has participated in a variety of innovative academic clinical research, and has presented research at annual national meetings of the American Psychiatric Association. Her robust clinical experience with varying demographics at different clinical sites around the country has allowed her to treat patients in an evidence-based way, tailoring treatment to an individual’s specific needs.

Although Dr. Khosla’s practice focuses on medication management, she also implements supportive therapy and motivational interviewing in sessions to allow for a more comprehensive approach to treatment. Her clinical interests include depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and ADHD.

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