Josh Chandler | July 2, 2024

Modafinil vs. Adderall: Differences and Similarities

Because both medications have stimulating effects, it can be confusing sometimes to understand the differences between Modafinil vs. Adderall. However, these medications are used for different reasons — and the level of stimulation provided by the drugs is not equal. If you’re wondering about the differences between the prescription medications Modafinil vs. Adderall, we’re here to help you understand when they’re prescribed, what they treat, and the differences and similarities between the two, as well as how we can help with stimulant addiction treatment in Los Angeles.


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What Is Modafinil?

Modafinil is a prescription medication most often prescribed by a doctor to help people who experience excessive sleepiness because of narcolepsy. It is also sometimes given to shift workers who have a shift work sleep disorder and to individuals who are excessively sleepy during the day because of their sleep apnea. It’s a wakefulness-promoting medication or stimulant. While researchers are still learning how it works, they believe it is effective because it stimulates excitatory neurotransmitters like glutamate and dopamine while decreasing inhibitory neurotransmitters like GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). 

Some of the most well-known brand names for Modafinil are:

  • Provigil.
  • Altertec.
  • Modavigil.


What Is Adderall?

Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant medication usually prescribed to treat ADHD symptoms or the daytime sleepiness associated with narcolepsy. It comes in both immediate and extended-release forms, and it works by altering neurotransmitters in your brain, increasing norepinephrine and dopamine levels to increase alertness. This medication is often the first choice for treating ADHD. Because of its stimulant effects, Adderall is also used off-label to address obesity issues and to increase alertness in some individuals. 


Similarities Between Modafinil and Adderall

Both of these medications have stimulating effects that can be used to treat narcolepsy and other similar sleep disorders. They’re both controlled substances due to their potential for abuse, and they both work by affecting neurotransmitters in the brain to increase the feeling of wakefulness. Some other similarities between these two drugs are:

  • They’re both dangerous to use with alcohol.
  • Both are only available with a prescription.
  • They both have multiple off-label uses.
  • Both are mistaken for “cognitive-enhancing” drugs.
  • Each has a potential for abuse, and there are early signs of Adderall addiction to watch out for.


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Key Differences Between Modafinil vs. Adderall

When comparing Modafinil vs. Adderall, the key difference is that Modafinil is much milder overall. It can address sleep issues without causing the agitation and jitteriness Adderall is known for. This is because they have different chemical structures. Modafinil is not technically a stimulant; it’s a “novel” stimulant or “eugeroic” medication that increases alertness by preventing the body from removing dopamine from the brain. 

Modafinil is not FDA-approved to treat the symptoms of ADHD, but it may be used off-label for this purpose at times. Because it’s not officially approved for this use, insurance companies may not cover the cost if it’s prescribed to treat ADHD.

They’re also different in their drug classification, as Adderall is a Schedule II drug, and Modafinil is a Schedule IV with a lower potential for abuse. This is due to the euphoric high some people experience when they misuse the drug. The nature of Adderall’s side effects, including that it can help people stay awake and concentrate for long periods, makes it one of the most abused drugs on college campuses. 


Efficacy and Side Effects

Modafinil effectively promotes wakefulness in people who experience daytime sleepiness but doesn’t replace the need to get enough sleep, nor does it help with cataplexy. It’s a good choice for those with narcolepsy because it does not seem to affect patients’ ability to nap or the way they feel when they wake up in the morning. Some side effects you may experience from Modafinil are:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.
  • Unusual taste or dry mouth.
  • Nausea, diarrhea, gas, or constipation.
  • Dizziness.
  • Drowsiness.
  • Headache.
  • Excessive thirst.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Heartburn.
  • Flushing and sweating.
  • Back pain.
  • Tight muscles.
  • Confusion.
  • Uncontrollable shaking.
  • Difficulty moving.
  • Burning, tingling, or numb skin.
  • Eye pain or vision changes.

If you feel frenzied, start to hallucinate, have serious changes in your mental health, or experience signs of an allergic reaction, seek medical attention immediately. 

Adderall is an effective medication for symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, aggression, and inattention. It is highly rated in treating the global behavior of individuals with ADHD, especially when used in conjunction with therapy. Some side effects you may experience when taking Adderall include: 

  • Difficulty sleeping.
  • Increased heart rate.
  • Nervousness or restlessness.
  • Headaches.
  • Dizziness.
  • Vision changes.
  • Decreased appetite.
  • Stomach ache, diarrhea, vomiting, or constipation.
  • Dry mouth.
  • Irritability.
  • Decreased sex drive.
  • Hair loss.
  • Increased blood pressure.

If you experience blurred vision, worsening mental health conditions, hallucinations, paranoia, uncontrollable tics, seizures, stroke, or heart attack symptoms, seek emergency care right away. 


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Potential for Abuse and Dependency

When comparing Modafinil vs. Adderall, it’s important to remember that both have the potential for abuse. Stimulants are one of the more commonly abused prescription medications in the US. Modafinil has a much lower abuse potential than Adderall, as it isn’t known to produce the same euphoric feelings or severe withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal from Modafinil usually involves feelings of apathy and lethargy. 

Adderall, on the other hand, is a commonly abused substance. Younger people see Adderall as a “smart drug” or cognitive enhancer because they’re known to help increase concentration. Still, when abused or taken by people who don’t need it, it can cause serious health problems and can lead to addiction. Some people even wonder if you can overdose on Adderall.

Whether you’re taking Modafinil or Adderall, the body will develop a tolerance to these medications over time, and you may not notice their effects as much. Still, it’s important not to misuse or overuse them, as they can be habit-forming. This means you should never take more than prescribed, take them more often than prescribed, or mix them with any other substances, including other prescription medications, alcohol, or street drugs recreationally. Not only will this increase the potential to develop an addiction, but it can also result in a deadly overdose. Talk to your doctor if you notice signs of dependence like:

  • Cravings or a strong desire to continue taking the medicine.
  • Wanting to take more of the medication to feel its effects.
  • Experiencing withdrawal when you cut back or stop using it, with symptoms like mental confusion, depression, drug cravings, and irritability.


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Choosing Between Modafinil and Adderall

Your doctor will be best able to help you choose between Modafinil vs. Adderall, depending on your symptoms and your history of substance use. While Modafinil doesn’t cause as much alertness as Adderall, it’s also milder. It may have a lower potential for addiction, making it a better choice for those who struggle with a substance use disorder. 

In general, Adderall is the first choice for ADHD medication, while Modafinil is most often tried first for the daytime sleepiness that comes with narcolepsy and other sleep disorders. If you’ve tried one of these medications and found it did not work well, you can speak with your doctor about switching to another option.


Muse Treatment’s Approach to Medication Management

Muse is a permissive rehab center that offers a full range of addiction treatment services, including medical detox. We understand that you’ve been prescribed prescription medications to treat serious sleep disorders and ADHD, and without these medications, you may have a hard time concentrating or focusing during treatment. If you have been prescribed pharmaceutical stimulants like Adderall and Modafinil, you may be able to continue taking a regular, prescribed dose during your rehabilitation. We’ll speak to you in-depth about your options during your intake appointment so you know what to expect when you join us. 

If you or a loved one have been taking either of these medications or other drugs recreationally, have developed a tolerance to them, or if taking these medications is beginning to affect your life negatively but you can’t stop using them, please call Muse today at 800-426-1818 or use our online contact form to find out more about our Los Angeles prescription drug rehab. We can help.


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Josh Chandler
Josh Chandler
After growing up in Chicago and North Carolina, Josh chose to get help with substance use disorder and mental health in California because of the state's reputation for top-tier treatment. There, he found the treatment he needed to achieve more than five years of recovery. He's been in the drug and alcohol addiction rehab industry for four years and now serves as the Director of Admissions for Resurgence Behavioral Health. Josh remains passionate about the field because he understands that one phone call can alter the course of a person's life.

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