Modafinil VS Adderall – Differences, Uses, and Side Effects


Modafinil and Adderall are stimulants that are used for treating sleep disorders, ADHD, and fatigue, primarily. However, these two medications are also used by students and athletes due to the effects of boosting cognition and improving overall athletic performance. The sudden popularity of these two stimulants can also be attributed to today’s hectic and fast-paced lifestyle.

Learn more about Modafinil and Adderall with our comprehensive review and learn about its proper uses, benefits, and side effects.

What is Modafinil?

Modafinil is the generic name for the drug known as Provigil. Modafinil is often prescribed as a treatment for sleep disorders such as narcolepsy. Modafinil is also commonly used by people who have rotating shifts at work to help them maintain a healthy sleep cycle. While modafinil isn’t advertised as a full treatment to these types of conditions, it does significantly assist in keeping the patient awake and focused when needed to help keep their sleep routine/cycle in check.

While modafinil provides therapeutic effects, note that it can also be habit-forming. Modafinil dependency is a possible risk that patients need to be aware of when prescribed this drug. Those who already have a history of substance abuse are far more susceptible to developing an addiction to modafinil.

What is Adderall?

Adderall is another medication used in treating ADHD and narcolepsy. It acts by affecting the brain and specific neurotransmitters such as norepinephrine and dopamine. Similar to modafinil, Adderall is used to enhance cognition, focus, and self-control. Adderall, on the flip side, can lead to substance abuse when taken by someone who is not diagnosed with ADHD.

Adderall is also used to treat sleep disorders such as excessive sleepiness and narcolepsy. A critical difference between the modafinil and Adderall is that Adderall is FDA approved for treating ADHD. On the other hand, modafinil is primarily prescribed for treating sleep disorders.

Similar to modafinil, Adderall is also quite popular amongst students due to its effects of sharpening and boosting concentration. Adderall may also suppress appetite, which is why it is sometimes used by people wanting to lose weight.

Modafinil – How Does it Work?

Modafinil, as we have already stated earlier, is prescribed to treat sleep disorders. It does so by blocking the dopamine transporter, which results in increasing dopamine levels in the brain. It can also improve overall norepinephrine, although this is not its primary goal and is more of a side effect. Modafinil can also initiate the dopamine D1 and D2 receptors, albeit slightly. This results in a significant increase in the person’s focus and helps in keeping them awake.

Adderall – How Does it Work?

While Adderall and modafinil have similar effects, how they achieve this effect varies significantly from one another. Adderall stimulates the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline while also preventing these three from being broken down and stored within nerve cells. Adderall also affects adrenaline receptors which can increase overall heart rate and blood flow, giving the person an energy boost.

Modafinil VS Adderall – Comparison

Both modafinil and Adderall deliver similar effects. Both are used in boosting wakefulness, but it also has additional effects such as enhancing overall focus and energy. As for dosage, Adderall is prescribed at a considerably lower dosage than modafinil, whose average dosage is around 100 to 200mg per day.

Another notable difference is how each substance achieves results. Modafinil works on a handful of brain processes which leads to stimulation. These brain processes include noradrenaline, GABA, histamine, and glutamine neurotransmitters. Studies have also shown that modafinil also triggers a neuropeptide known as Orexin.

As for Adderall, this medication focuses on specific neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. This gives Adderall an edge if stimulation of the brain and body are to be the measurements. Adderall, if taken above recommended dosage, can cause over-stimulation. Think of it as considerably more powerful than modafinil.

Known Side Effects of Modafinil and Adderall

Both medications can be habit-forming and cause similar side effects. Side effects that can develop when taking either medication include:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Nervousness

As noted previously, both can be addictive, but modafinil is much less so Adderall is considerably the more powerful or concentrated of the two. Adderall can also cause certain specific side effects that can be considered as severe, such as:

  • Seizures
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Increased Blood Pressure
  • Hallucinations

That said, one must take the utmost caution when taking Adderall and make sure they stay within the recommended dosage as given by their doctor.

Uses of Modafinil and Adderall

In regards to uses, both modafinil and Adderall are often prescribed to treat sleep disorders. Adderall though has a further application which is has obtained FDA approval on. Below are the health conditions that modafinil and Adderall are used in treatment for:

Narcolepsy – Both modafinil and Adderall improves wakefulness in the patient, preventing them from dozing off.

ADHD – Adderall is the medication primarily prescribed by doctors in treating ADHD in children. Modafinil showed no beneficial effects on children with ADHD.

Fatigue – Sometimes combined with other medications, modafinil is known to reduce fatigue.

Cognitive Function – Both drugs are also used for their beneficial effects with one’s cognition, and helps enhance overall concentration.

Weight Loss – Modafinil can assist in weight loss thanks to its appetite suppression capability. It is also far safer than Adderall in this regard as it will not cause heart palpitations.

Modafinil or Adderall? Which Should You Take?

While both appear to be quite similar in terms of their uses, modafinil and Adderall do have distinct differences that can help you indicate which medication is the more appropriate option. Modafinil is best for when you need to stay awake or if you need to improve your cognitive function. As for Adderall, it is often prescribed for treating ADHD and is also used in enhancing concentration.

Take note though that Adderall can cause heart palpitations which can mean it will cause you to tire quickly. The complete opposite of modafinil. Overall, as with most medications that treat specific health conditions – it is not always a question of which one is better, but which one is best suited to particular cases. With that, it is still best to consult with a health professional when it comes to matters concerning your health. Never self-medicate as you run the risk of exacerbating your condition further.  

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