Modafinil vs. Adderall

Modafinil vs. Adderall – Modafinil (Provigil) and Adderall (an amphetamine) are both prescribed for the treatment of narcolepsy. They are also sometimes used recreationally as study and productivity aids. However, there are significant differences in their structures that equate to massive differences in their potential for abuse, addiction, and risk of side effects.

Adderall is classified by the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule II controlled substance, while Modafinil is a Schedule IV. This distinction reflects Adderall’s higher capacity for abuse and dependence.

Modafinil and Adderall both have stimulating effects, but Modafinil is not classified as a stimulant. Either drug can improve wakefulness and decision-making capabilities. Yet, despite their use as so-called “smart drugs” or “study drugs,” evidence does not suggest that they indeed make people smarter.

Adderall is more likely than Modafinil to result in dependence and produce withdrawal symptoms if use is stopped abruptly. Also, Adderall has comparatively worse side effects. Neither drug should be used with alcohol, however, and both have the potential to impact heart function.

Modafinil vs. Adderall: Structures and Uses


Modafinil has a unique chemical structure—it is not considered a stimulant, though it does have stimulant-like effects. It has been shown to improve alertness, wakefulness, thinking, and perception. Experts aren’t entirely sure about Modafinil’s mechanism of action. However, they believe that it enhances the effects of several chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, GABA, and histamine.

Research has not identified any significant withdrawal effects for Modafinil. That said, any stimulant-type drug enforces drug-using behavior to some level and may have potential for dependence. People have reported experiencing reduced energy, a loss of motivation, and depression when they stop using Modafinil. Therefore, a person should be placed on a tapering schedule if it has been used for an extended period.

The Food and Drug Administration approves Modafinil for the treatment of narcolepsy. It is also used to treat extreme sleepiness caused by obstructive sleep apnea. Off-label it’s used to improve alertness in those with Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis.

It is sometimes recreationally abused by students, executives, and others to stave off sleep deprivation and fatigue. Although it is not approved for the treatment of ADHD, it is often prescribed for it. And, one study suggested it helps mitigate impulsivity in those with ADHD.

Side Effects

Side effects encountered with Modafinil are generally considered mild. However, Modafinil can elevate heart rate and blood pressure, so it should not be used by people with a history of certain heart problems. Headache and nausea are other common complaints.

Other rarer side effects include rhinitis, nervousness, anxiety, back pain, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues. And, Modafinil is known to counteract the effectiveness of some hormonal contraceptives.

Although Modafinil has been prescribed for more than two decades, experts are unsure how prolonged use affects the brain. Some experts voice concerns with regard to its potential for causing chronic sleep deprivation, inability to sleep, increased antisocial inclinations, and emotional suppression.

Modafinil vs. Adderall


Adderall is the trade name for a combination tablet containing amphetamine and dextroamphetamine that is most often prescribed to treat people with ADHD or narcolepsy. As a true stimulant, it boosts the concentration of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. However, Adderall’s precise mechanism of action used for treating these conditions is not fully understood.

Adderall has also gained notoriety as one of the most popular recreational study drugs. It’s also frequently abused by people who work long hours for the purpose of staying awake and alert.

Side Effects

Compared to Modafinil, Adderall has a broader range of side effects, which some people will experience more intensely than others. The most common side effects of Adderall include the following:

  • Headache and muscle strain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Temporarily increased blood pressure

Problems with sexual functioning, a reduction in the growth rate of children, rapid heart rate, and nervousness have also been reported.

Some people are more susceptible to the effects of stimulants than others. They may experience confused thought processes, regardless of what dose they use. Psychological side effects linked to Adderall use include hearing voices, becoming suspicious for no reason, and mania. Adderall can also worsen symptoms in those already experiencing psychotic disorder or bipolar disorder.

Adderall should not be used by people with a history of drug or alcohol problems. It can cause tolerance and dependence and has the potential for abuse and addiction. If Adderall is suddenly discontinued, this may result in withdrawal symptoms, which include extreme fatigue, depression, and sleep disturbances.

Neither Should Be Used With Alcohol

Neither Adderall nor Modafinil should be combined with alcohol. Although these drugs are both stimulants and alcohol is a depressant, using them together does not counteract the effects of either. Instead, it sends the brain conflicting messages.

People have reported blacking out after only small amounts of alcohol while using Modafinil. Also, some people who have used a standard dose of Adderall in conjunction with alcohol have ended up in the emergency room.

Both Modafinil and Adderall can adversely affect the heart and blood pressure. Combining them with alcohol increases the risk of arrhythmia and other heart problems.

Are They Really “Smart Drugs”?

Modafinil vs. Adderall

Several studies have tried to find out if Modafinil does improve cognition, with mixed results. In general, subjects reported feeling more alert, attentive, and energetic while on the drug. In one 2003 study, some improvements in specific memory tasks, such as visual recognition, were reported.

A 2014 study also showed enhancements in impulsive decision-making, but no difference in the accuracy of performance. Modafinil was found to improve attention, learning, decision-making, and planning in a review of more than two dozen studies. However, it did not appear to make a difference for working memory or understanding different perspectives. It also adversely impacted creativity in a few studies.

Adderall has been used for study purposes based on the fact that stimulants used to treat ADHD can help improve attention. However, there hasn’t been much research conducted to find out if Adderall actually improves cognition in those without ADHD. Overall, studies showed only minor improvement at best, with some revealing no effect or an adverse effect.

While Adderall may promote wakefulness and performance in certain settings, it does not improve overall intelligence. Furthermore, any short-term enhancements in alertness experienced by those without ADHD or narcolepsy are offset by withdrawal symptoms, adverse side effects, and the potential for the development of addiction.

Treatment for Stimulant Abuse

Both Modafinil and Adderall are prescription drugs and should only be taken as directed by a doctor. Those who use these drugs recreationally risk encountering side effects and health complications unnecessarily. They also risk developing a dependence that will result in withdrawal symptoms when they try to quit.

Midwood Addiction Treatment offers comprehensive programs designed to treat substance abuse, including stimulant abuse. We employ caring, highly-trained addiction professionals who render services to clients with compassion and expertise. Services include those clinically-proven to be beneficial to the recovery process, such as the following:

If you or someone you know is abusing Modafinil, Adderall, other drugs, or alcohol, contact us today! Find out how we help people break free from the chains of addiction for life!

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