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Adderall vs Strattera

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Adderall or Strattera – which is better?

Adderall and Strattera are two oral medications used for the treatment of ADHD or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children and adults. 

Both these medicines are known to regulate chemicals in the brain and control the hyperactive behavior. Although they have similar effects, the medications work in different ways. 

Adderall: It is a stimulant medication that contains dextroamphetamine and amphetamine. Adderall works directly on the CNS (central nervous system), and has an effect on chemicals that cause hyperactivity. 

Adderall is available as a time-released tablet, which must be swallowed whole and not chewed or crushed. It should be taken once a day. 

Because Adderall contains amphetamine, it has the possibility to be abused. The medication might cause dependence and addiction. 

Strattera: It is a non-stimulant medication that influences the brain chemicals that cause attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity. 

Strattera increases the levels of norepinephrine, which is a neurotransmitter responsible for normal brain function. It is available in capsule form. It was the first ADHD medication, not classified as an addictive substance. 


Adderall is a psychostimulant drug commonly prescribed for people diagnosed with ADHD. It contains four amphetamine salts: amphetamine sulfate, amphetamine aspartate monohydrate, dextroamphetamine sulfate and dextroamphetamine saccharate.

Of the two forms of amphetamine, Adderall contains 75% dextroamphetamine and 25% levoamphetamine.

It is sold in two formulations: an instant release formulation which is taken multiple times daily and an extended release formulation usually prescribed as a once daily medication.

The extended release Adderall contains the active ingredient in two forms: a fast-dissolving form which provides immediate action upon instant release and a slow-dissolving form which releases the active ingredients four hours after the drug is administered.

The amphetamine salts in Adderall provides broad therapeutic action.

This has its merits and demerits. For example, this broad action means that Adderall works for a high percentage of people diagnosed with ADHD but it also means that the drug will produce more side effects than medications with single active ingredients.

The mechanism of action of Adderall involves increasing the levels and duration of action of the neurotransmitters, norepinephrine and dopamine, at the synapses of neurons in the brain.

Dextroamphetamine is known to inhibit dopamine transporters at neuronal synapses. It does this by allowing itself to be taken up and removed from synapses by the transporters. In this way, it spares dopamine and allows the neurotransmitter to act for longer.

Levoamphetamine does the same thing with norepinephrine transporters at the synapses.  However, there is no strict division between which amphetamines inhibits the transporters.

The amphetamines act by a second mechanism: they stimulate the release of more dopamine and norepinephrine into the synapses.

Therefore, they increase the concentration of neurotransmitters in the brain as well as amplify their effects. However, more norepinephrine and dopamine do not always produce the same effect on all noradrenergic and dopaminergic receptors all over the brain. And this is an advantage.

Although Adderall allows more dopamine and norepinephrine to act at the synapses, it seems to have the most profound effects in the part of the brain responsible for the outcomes of ADHD symptoms.

This specific targeting is the reason Adderall is effective as an ADHD medication and not just a stimulant.

Between the two amphetamines, the human brain has a greater affinity for dextroamphetamine. However, some ADHD patients actually respond better to levoamphetamine.

There are other reasons for including levoamphetamine in Adderall. These include the fact that levoamphetamine acts quicker than the dextro form and lasts longer too.


Unlike Adderall, Strattera is a non-stimulant ADHD medication. It contains Atomoxetine HCl.

Atomoxetine was initially investigated for use in the treatment of depression. It is a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor. Drugs belonging to the classes, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors are known antidepressants.

However, Atomoxetine failed as an antidepressant in clinical trials. Instead it was found effective for treating ADHD.

Atomoxetine is available in the US as capsules of the following strengths: 10 mg, 18 mg, 25 mg, 40 mg and 60 mg.

Atomoxetine inhibits the transporters of serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine in the synapses. It does not act at their receptors.

Atomoxetine targets the prefrontal cortex for more specific action. At this site, it causes the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine to rise as much as three-folds. The prefrontal cortex is regarded as the seat of decision-making, impulse control and mental focus.

Atomoxetine is usually recommended to be taken once or twice daily.

It can take as long as a week before the effects of Atomoxetine are felt, and prescribers often encourage ADHD patients to stay on the drug for as long as 2 months before reaching a conclusion about its effectiveness.

Atomoxetine therapy is usually started with a low dose which is gradually increased as the patient develops tolerance to the side effects.

Adderall vs. Strattera
  • Adderall is a stimulant while Strattera is a non-stimulant
  • Strattera is not a controlled substance but Adderall is classified as a Schedule II substance
  • Strattera has a far less abuse potential than Adderall
  • Adderall’s therapeutic effects can be felt immediately while Strattera’s therapeutic effects take some time to build up and be felt
  • When stopping Adderall, a gradual reduction of doses is advised over a sudden stop. Strattera, on the other hand, can be completely stopped at any time during the therapy

Studies and Researches 

A three-week study involving 200 children with ADHD, aged 6 to 12 years were randomly assigned daily treatment of either the extended-release Adderall or Strattera. After the three weeks sessions, the children were monitored in a simulated classroom environment. 

Researchers noticed improvements with Strattera during the first week of the study but it did not continue during the second or third week. The children taking Adderall showed consistent improvements across each of the study days. 

Researchers found ‘significant differences’ between Adderall and Strattera.  The children who received Adderall showed consistent improvements, better behavior, and more focus. The effect of the medication lasts for an extended period of time. 

Children taking Adderall also performed much better on a math test, while the researchers did not notice these improvements in children taking Strattera. 

Adderall Side Effects 

If not taken under proper supervision, Adderall might have serious side effects due to its harsh effect on the central nervous system. High does of Adderall might lead to severe heart complications. 

Other side effects of Adderall include rapid heart rate, heart attack, seizures, stroke, high blood pressure, and increased heartbeat. Some of the less serious side effects include dizziness, weight loss, insomnia, fever, stomach upset, hives, over-stimulation, nausea, and mood swings. 

Adderall might cause a rise in blood pressure. Anybody who has high blood pressure symptoms should be monitored closely while taking this medication. 

Strattera Side Effects 

Clinical trials have shown that Strattera caused a slower growth rate in kids taking the medication. Some of the side effects include mood swings, fatigue, drowsiness, ear infection, vomiting, appetite loss, depression, runny nose, and headache. 

Side effects in adults include chills, lower sex drive, abnormal dreams, hot flashes, impotence, headache, insomnia, skin inflammations, palpitations, menstrual problems, prostate problems, tingling, sweating, and weight loss. 

Are There Any Drug Interactions 

Strattera and Adderall should not be taken within 2 weeks of taking a MAO inhibitor drug. This would include antidepressant drugs such as Nardil and Parnate. 

Taking these medications with MAO inhibitors might cause some serious side effects such as rigid muscles, high fever, changes in heart rhythm, delirium, and coma. 

For more information, read our articles 4 Ritalin Alternatives, 3 Adderall Alternatives, and Adderall vs Vyvanse.

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