Modafinil (Provigil) and Adderall (dextroamphetamine) are medications prescribed for the treatment of narcolepsy. Adderall, however, is more often used to address symptoms of ADD/ADHD. They are also sometimes used for non-medical purposes as study aids to increase productivity. However, significant disparities in their chemical structures cause massive differences in their potential for abuse, dependence, addiction, and risk of side effects.
Adderall is classified by the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) as a Schedule II controlled substance, while Modafinil is Schedule IV. The different classifications reflect Adderall’s higher potential for abuse and dependence.
Modafinil and Adderall both induce stimulating effects, but Modafinil is not classified as a stimulant. Modafinil is in a class of medications referred to as wakefulness-promoting agents. It works by altering the amounts of certain natural substances in the region of the brain that controls sleep and wakefulness.
Either drug, however, can improve wakefulness and decision-making capabilities. Yet, despite their use as “smart drugs” or “study drugs,” evidence does not suggest that they make people more intelligent. If misused or abused, they do not help people be more successful in their endeavors.
Adderall is more likely than Modafinil to lead to dependence and induce withdrawal symptoms if use is discontinued abruptly. Also, Adderall tends to have more severe side effects, comparatively speaking. Alcohol should not be consumed with either drug, however, and both have the potential to interfere with proper heart function.
The unique chemical structure of Modafinil means that it is not categorized as a stimulant, although it does induce stimulant-like effects. Clinically, it has been shown to improve alertness, wakefulness, and perception. Experts aren’t entirely sure how Modafinil’s mechanism of action works or how it is helpful for these purposes. However, they believe that it alters the effects of several neurochemicals in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin, glutamate, and GABA.
No significant withdrawal effects associated with Modafinil have been identified by research. That said, any stimulant-type drug can be habit-forming, encourage drug-using behavior, and lead to some level of dependence. People have reported experiencing a reduction in energy, loss of motivation, and depression when they stop taking Modafinil.
The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approves Modafinil for the treatment of narcolepsy. It is sometimes also indicated to treat extreme sleepiness related to obstructive sleep apnea or to promote wakefulness for those who work long or alternating shifts. Off-label, it can be used to improve alertness in persons with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s Disease.
It is sometimes abused by students, executives, shift workers, and others to prevent symptoms of sleep deprivation, such as fatigue. Although Modafinil is not approved for the treatment of ADD/ADHD, it is sometimes prescribed for this purpose. And, at least one study suggests it helps mitigate impulsivity in those with ADHD.
Side effects associated with Modafinil are generally mild. However, Modafinil can accelerate heart rate and increase blood pressure, so it should not be used by people with a personal history of heart problems. Headache and nausea are also frequent complaints. Other rarer side effects include rhinitis, anxiety, nervousness, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues.
Although Modafinil has been routinely prescribed for more than two decades, experts are unsure how extended use affects the brain. Some experts have voiced concerns with regard to its potential for causing chronic sleep deprivation, increased antisocial behaviors, and suppressed emotions.
Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine) is considered a true stimulant, and as such, it boosts dopamine and adrenaline levels in the brain. However, Adderall’s precise mechanism of action that is effective in treating these conditions is not fully understood.
Adderall has achieved notoriety as one of the most sought-after and misused recreational study drugs. It’s also frequently abused by individuals who work long hours to stay as awake and alert as possible for an extended period.
Compared to Modafinil, Adderall comes with the risk of many more side effects, ranging from mild to severe. The most common include the following:
- Reduced appetite
- Dry mouth
- Sleep disturbances
- Muscle strain
- Abdominal pain
- Increased blood pressure
Sexual problems, rapid or pounding heartbeat, and nervousness have also been frequently reported.
Some individuals are more sensitive to the potential effects of stimulants than others, even at prescribed doses. They may experience confusion and other psychological issues, including paranoia, auditory hallucinations, extreme hyperactivity, and mania. Adderall can worsen symptoms in those who have a pre-existing psychotic condition such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
Adderall should not be used by persons with a history of drug or alcohol use disorders. This drug has a relatively high potential for abuse, tolerance, dependence, and addiction.
Modafinil vs Adderall: Neither Should Be Combined With Alcohol
Neither Adderall nor Modafinil should be used in conjunction with alcohol. Although these drugs both have stimulating properties and alcohol is a depressant, using them in combination does not offset the other’s adverse effects. Instead, it sends the brain conflicting messages. People have reported “blacking out” after drinking only small amounts of alcohol while using Modafinil. Also, some who’ve used a standard dose of Adderall and consumed alcohol have ended up in the ER.
Both Modafinil and Adderall can adversely impact heart functioning and blood pressure. Using them while consuming alcohol increases the risk of heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and other cardiac issues.
Are They Really “Smart Drugs”?
A few studies have tried to determine if Modafinil really does improve cognition, with mixed results. In general, subjects reported feeling more attentive, alert, and energetic while under the influence of this drug. In one 2003 study, improvements in certain memory tasks, such as visual recognition, were noted. A 2014 study also revealed some improvements in impulsive decision-making, but no notable difference in the accuracy of performance.
From a research perspective, Modafinil also does not appear to affect working memory or promote the understanding of different perspectives. A few studies found that its use adversely impacts creativity.
Adderall has been used by students for academic purposes based primarily on the fact that stimulants used to treat ADD/ADHD can help improve attention and focus. However, scant research has been conducted with the mission to determine if Adderall actually leads to improvements in these areas for those without ADD/ADHD. Overall, studies that have thus far have been conducted have revealed only minor improvements at best, with some revealing adverse effects or no effect at all.
While Adderall may promote wakefulness and academic or work performance in certain settings, it does not increase overall intelligence. Furthermore, any short-term enhancements experienced by those without ADD/ADHD or narcolepsy are more or less neutralized by withdrawal symptoms, crashing, other adverse side effects, and the potential for dependence and addiction to Adderall.
Treatment for Stimulant Abuse
Both Modafinil and Adderall should only be used as prescribed by a health provider. Those who abuse these drugs for non-medical purposes risk encountering unnecessary side effects and health complications. They also risk developing dependence that will result in withdrawal symptoms when they attempt to quit.
Just Believe Detox and Just Believe Recovery centers offer comprehensive, evidence-based programs designed to treat substance abuse, including that which is related to stimulating substances. We employ caring, highly-trained addiction professionals who deliver services to those we treat with compassion and expertise. Services and activities include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Behavioral therapy
- Individual and family counseling
- Health and wellness education
- Life skills training
- Relapse prevention
- Art therapy
- Aftercare planning
If you or someone you love is abusing Modafinil, Adderall, or other substances, we urge you to contact us today! Discover how we help those who need it most break free from the shackles of addiction for life!