Adderall and Dexedrine are two of the most commonly prescribed medications for treating attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Both are stimulant drugs containing dextroamphetamine or d-amphetamine.

The main difference between them is that Adderall also contains l-amphetamine in a ratio of 3:1 dextroamphetamine to amphetamine. This makes Adderall potentially more potent than Dexedrine. Adderall contains a mixture of amphetamine salts, while Dexedrine contains only dextroamphetamine. 

Both are powerful stimulants that come in immediate-release and extended-release formulations (Adderall XR and Dexedrine Spansule).

Adderall and Dexedrine can both be effective in managing ADHD by improving concentration and focus abilities. They also both have a high potential for abuse and can be addictive.

Adderall and Dexedrine are both approved by the FDA to treat ADHD in people ages 3 and older.

How Do Adderall and Dexedrine Work?

Both Adderall and Dexedrine contain dextroamphetamine, which is the prescriptions’ primary active ingredient.

Dextroamphetamine is a central nervous system stimulant, which means that it increases activity in your brain and nervous system to create effects like wakefulness, increased focus, and increased energy. Dextroamphetamine works with several neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine and norepinephrine. It also works with serotonin receptors, which are tied to feelings of well-being and happiness. 

Dopamine is a chemical messenger that’s tied to the reward system. When dopamine is released, you will feel pleasure, satisfaction, and a sense that a task is rewarding. Adderall increases the amount of dopamine in your system, allowing it to bind to more receptors. This can increase your sense of reward. It can also lead to other effects like excitement, wakefulness, and increased energy levels. 

Dextroamphetamine can also increase norepinephrine levels. Norepinephrine is tied to certain functions of your central nervous system, including your heart rate and blood pressure. Increasing your norepinephrine levels can also have stimulating effects on your nervous system. Increasing blood flow can also cause you to feel more awake and alert. 

Adderall also contains racemic amphetamine, which is another chemical that’s used to treat ADHD. However, research has shown that dextroamphetamine is more effective in treating hyperactive symptoms. Still, mixing the two may have more potent effects. 

Dextroamphetamine is used in children and adults with ADHD because it’s thought that the disorder causes lower levels of stimulating chemicals like dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is released in the brain at high levels when you experience something very rewarding, like eating your favorite meal. However, small amounts of it are present in your nervous system as you go about your day and complete small tasks. 

People with attention problems may not have enough of the chemical to encourage focus moment to moment tasks. Since your brain lacks reward, other potential sources of reward will be difficult to resist, causing you to be easily distracted. Increasing dopamine levels with Adderall can help prevent distractions and increase focus. 

Understanding the Differences Between Adderall and Dexedrine

The combination of amphetamine salts in Adderall makes it a powerful and potent stimulant medication. Since Adderall contains mixed amphetamine salts and Dexedrine contains only dextroamphetamine, Adderall can be considered to be more powerful than Dexedrine.

Both Adderall and Dexedrine are FDA-approved for children as young as three years old in their immediate-release formulations, but the extended-release forms are not approved for children under the age of six. Dexedrine Spansule is not recommended for people over the age of 16 either.

Both Adderall and Dexedrine are immediate-release medications and are available in tablet form. Dexedrine is also available as a solution. Extended-release Adderall and Dexedrine are prescribed as capsules. 

Dosage may be different for the two medications, as 25 percent of Adderall is an additional amphetamine salt that Dexedrine does not have. Small changes in dosage may be more apparent with Adderall than Dexedrine.

Adderall and Dexedrine can interact on an individual in variable ways, so one may work better for one person than the other. Dosage should be adjusted as needed.

The use of both medications should be closely supervised by a medical professional. 


Dexedrine is the brand-name medication containing dextroamphetamine sulfate. Dexedrine usually takes effect in about 30 minutes to an hour after ingesting it. The immediate-release form generally peaks in about three hours, while Dexedrine Spansule peaks in around eight hours.

The half-life for Dexedrine is around 12 hours, and the drug is metabolized in the liver. Dosage for Dexedrine ranges from 2.5 mg tablets up to 30 mg for immediate-release forms, and 5 mg, 10 mg, and 15 mg capsules are available in the extended-release form.

Dexedrine is dosed twice a day for the immediate-release form and once per day for the extended-release form.


Adderall is the brand-name medication containing both dextroamphetamine and l-amphetamine salts in a ratio of 3:1 d-amphetamine to l-amphetamine. Marketed as both an immediate-release and extended-release medication, Adderall has a similar mechanism, peak action, and half-life to Dexedrine.

Adderall immediate-release tablets are available in 5 mg, 7.5 mg, 10 mg, 12.5 mg, 15 mg, 20 mg, and 30 mg strengths. Extended-release capsules are available in similar strengths.

As with Dexedrine, Adderall is generally given once in the morning and once at night in its immediate-release form and once per day in the extended-release form.

The Science Behind the Similarities of Dexedrine and Adderall

Adderall and Dexedrine are considered very similar medications that interact on the brain and body in much of the same way.

Since Adderall contains the same main ingredient as Dexedrine, with the addition of another amphetamine salt, the effects and side effects are similar.

Stimulants serve to increase blood pressure, heart rate, and body temperature. They also work to increase attention, focus, and concentration, and to manage impulsivity and hyperactivity as a result of ADHD.

The exact mechanisms of amphetamines are not precisely known; however, the journal Brain and Behavior postulates that ADHD stimulant medications may be effective due to their interaction with dopamine levels in the brain. Dopamine is one of the brain’s chemical messengers involved in the reward pathway, which also helps to regulate emotions, motivation, impulse control, movement, sleep, memory, and learning functions.

ADHD can make a person feel restless, have trouble paying attention, and experience difficulties with impulse control. Stimulant drugs like Dexedrine and Adderall can help to manage these symptoms.

Potential Dangers of Dexedrine and Adderall

Both Adderall and Dexedrine are metabolized in the liver, which can cause liver damage, especially in a person with hepatic impairment.

Due to the stimulant nature of the medications, there is an increased risk for stroke, heart attack, and cardiovascular issues while using them. Toxic overdose can also occur when too much of either is taken, which can be fatal.

Dexedrine and Adderall are mind-altering medications, which can increase the odds for psychosis, including hallucinations, paranoia, mania, and panic attacks. A person might also experience increased aggression, hostility, violent behaviors, mood swings, and impaired cognition.

Side effects of both drugs can include the following:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Twitching
  • Stomach pain
  • Sweating
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Slowed growth in children
  • Seizures
  • Dry mouth
  • Irregular heart rate
  • Weight loss
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Increased blood pressure

Abuse and Addiction

Adderall and Dexedrine are also both very habit-forming with a high potential for abuse, drug dependence, and addiction. As such, they are classified as Schedule II controlled substances by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Over 1.5 million people in the United States were currently abusing stimulants at the time of the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). Stimulants can cause a euphoric high when abused. ADHD medications are commonly misused as “study drugs” to help people stay awake and focus to get ahead at school or work.

Adderall and Dexedrine are both drugs that are considered highly addictive, as regular use can lead to tolerance and dependence. When the brain gets used to stimulants interacting with its brain chemistry, it can be harder to stop taking them. Difficult withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings can occur when the drugs process out of the bloodstream.

Addiction occurs when drug use becomes compulsive. Despite attempts and a desire to stop using them, a person is unable to abstain.

Both Dexedrine and Adderall can be safe and effective when treating ADHD under the supervision and direction of a medical professional. Misuse of either of these medications is dangerous and has many negative consequences.

Why Do People Misuse Adderall and Dexedrine?

ADHD medications like Adderall and Dexedrine are sometimes used by people that don’t have ADHD or other disorders that may be treated with the medications. But why would anyone use these prescription medications without a need for them? Adderall and Dexedrine are both stimulant drugs. Other potent stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine are commonly used as recreational substances. In fact, methamphetamines are chemicals similar to the amphetamines used in Adderall and Dexedrine. However, the amphetamines used in ADHD medications aren’t as potent as recreational stimulants like cocaine and meth. Still, amphetamines can cause a moderate, stimulating euphoria. 

However, ADHD medications are less likely to be used for recreations, but they may be used as a performance-enhancing drug. Adderall and Dexedrine cause increased alertness, wakefulness, and focus. People that don’t need it for ADHD symptoms may use it to enhance their ability to study and retain information. Students on college campuses use the stimulants to study for tests over long hours, especially when they have to study through the night. It’s unknown whether prescription stimulants can improve cognitive function to the degree many people use them, but it may increase alertness while studying for long hours.


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