ADHD or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is a common diagnosis in young children and teens. It is estimated that 11 percent of children in the United States are diagnosed with ADHD. A 2011 study found that roughly 62 percent of children with ADHD are taking medication for it. ADHD usually begins in childhood, and it often continues through adulthood.

Several stimulants can be prescribed for ADHD. Among the more common drugs is the generic formulated methylphenidate. Ritalin is a common brand name drug also typically prescribed. You may be asking what the difference is between the two.

Keep reading to find out.


Methylphenidate is classified as a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant that is available only through prescription. It works by changing specific natural substances in the brain. Stimulants work by increasing the amounts of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain to increase alertness, energy, and attention. These are natural hormones we all have. An increase in these two hormones improves concentration and reduces fatigue, which is common with ADHD.

The symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder are usually seen in young children more than teenagers or adults. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) relays the signs or symptoms of ADHD include difficulty focusing, difficulty in controlling actions, and difficulty in remaining still or quiet in relation to other people who are the same age, and hyperactivity.

Many generic and brand name stimulants are prescribed for people with ADHD. Methylphenidate is a generic stimulant. Generic drugs must be as safe, stable, high in quality, and pure as branded drugs.

Methylphenidate has several brand names, with Ritalin being one.


Ritalin is a brand name medication often used for children with ADHD. It increases dopamine activity in the brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is responsible for the feelings of pleasure and is essential for the rewarding of behavior reinforcement. When Ritalin is taken orally, and as directed, it releases the dopamine levels slowly, over an hour or so.

It comes in three formulations: immediate release, sustained release, and long-acting release. Ritalin is a Schedule II federally controlled substance. This means it can have a high level of abuse and cause chemical dependency or addiction.

The Child Mind Institute has described what raising the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine does for someone taking methylphenidate or a brand-name medication, such as Ritalin. It writes,  “These two chemicals are critical for those functions, dopamine for decreasing signals from the external stimuli that might be distracting to you, and norepinephrine for improving the signal you’re trying to focus on, to pay attention to.”

Similarities of Methylphenidate and Ritalin

Both of these medications are the same; therefore, the side effects of both are the same.

They include:

  • Headache
  • Decreased appetite
  • Upset stomach
  • Nervousness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Mood swings
  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate

What is the Difference Between Methylphenidate and Ritalin?

Methylphenidate is a generic prescription stimulant provided to people with ADHD. Its brand names include the different formulations of Ritalin. Both work in the same way, and both have the same side effects.

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