Since first being formulated during the mid-1970s there has been a tug-of-war between Modafinil and Adderall. The latter has been around for many decades longer and has historically taken prominence when it comes to the treatment of narcolepsy and ADHD. However, there is an increasing amount of research and studies being published in recent years suggesting non-amphetamine based Modafinil actually delivers better results. Considering that both drugs are used widely by an enormous number of people and professions, the question of which is better, safer and less addictive has never been more important. So which is superior? Let’s take a look at the facts.
The Big Amphetamine Question
To begin with, it is important to identify the clear difference between the two drugs. Unlike Adderall (and Ritalin), Modafinil is not based upon amphetamines. Truth be told, even today nobody is quite sure on how it actually works. Regardless of this big question mark, both are FDA approved and licensed primarily for the treatment of narcolepsy – persistent sleepiness in layperson’s terms. Adderall has been around for decades in various forms and brand names, even being used widely during WW2 to keep personnel alert and in a positive mood. A recent study demonstrated that it is widely used to treat ADHD as well, with a staggering 11% of American kids holding a script.
You may be thinking ‘so far so good’ for Adderall. It has been effective in treating millions of people over many years – so what’s the problem? The issue surrounds the way the amphetamine-based drug works. It compels the brain to release dopamine and norepinephrine, both of which deliver a sense of euphoria. However, it is widely thought that over long-term use this can cause patients to become addicted, much like some recreational drug users can become hooked on MDMA. By no means is this a universal consequence of taking Adderall, but it is a demonstrable risk.
Modafinil, on the other hand, contains no amphetamine yet still produces a very similar reaction. As mentioned above, there’s no straightforward explanation for how scientists understand this reaction, but the general finger waving points towards it somehow reducing gamma-aminobutyric acid. This is a chemical naturally produced that slows down the brain, but can be overactive in some people leading to them becoming overtired and consequently depressed/inactive. Crucially and unlike Adderall, it does not provide the sense of euphoria.
So to put it simply, Adderall is an additive while Modafinil is reductive. Is it better to stimulate or adjust the brain’s chemistry? This is the million dollar question when it comes to comparing the two.
Access & Regulation Are Indicative Of Potency & Risk Of Abuse
- Although both drugs are used to successfully treat similar conditions, there is a considerable distance between the two when it comes to their drug classification. The DEA lists both as being restricted and prescription only, making it illegal to possess them without the said script. Yet Modafinil – thanks to being not euphoric – is listed only as a class four while Adderall – which clearly is more open to abuse – is listed as a class two. That’s the same as well known drugs frequently abused such as alprazolam (better known as Xanax), temazepam and diazepam.
- The easy route to take here would be to just claim that Modafinil must be better because it is clearly more benign. If the DEA thinks so then who are we to argue? That is indeed partially the case due to it carrying a lower risk of addiction – but people can and do get hooked. Just to a proportionally far lower percentage and typically over dependency instead of a thirst for euphoria.
Does Adderall Have An Addiction ‘Epidemic’?
Most people will likely be aware that the use of Adderall has grown exponentially in recent years. One particular group that has taken to the drug in a big way is among college students who use the drug not just as a study aid, but increasingly in a recreational sense. A study by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009 suggested some alarming statistics that will only have become considerably worse over the last few years. It found that over half of students obtained Adderall illegally (without a script), and those who did so were also likely to have other addictive personalities with drugs and alcohol. Nonmedical use has been linked to numerous deaths, and countless students having to drop out of their studies.
One way to consider these findings is that if over a decade more people are taking Adderall, then, of course, there will be a greater number of deaths/illnesses through misuse. While the majority of deaths related to Adderall have been through unrecognized heart problems (the likes of people to whom a doctor would never offer a script) there are other problems associated with abusing this powerful drug. A big one – that is likely very under-reported – is the negative effect it can have on some people psychologically. Cases of depression and even psychosis have been reported alongside aggressive and anti-social behaviors.
Where Does This Leave Modafinil?
While plenty of people have reported excellent success from taking up Modafinil, it is not always rosy in the garden. It is easy to forget that the drug does cause psychoactive changes in the brain despite containing no amphetamines. Yet despite this, a report in The Journal of the American Medical Association (April 2013) discovered that doctors had upped their prescriptions of Modafinil a staggering fifteen times over the seven years of the study’s research. 89% of patients who expressed interest in taking up a course of the drug walked away with a script – far greater than that expected with Adderall – likely due to drugs far lower classification.
Clearly, the medical profession as a whole considers that Modafinil is a safer – if imperfect – means of treating narcolepsy, and the statistics quoted above must explain how it has been taken by an ever wider range of people. Nootropics such as Modafinil are no longer the preserve of the college dorm – people do take them across an enormous range of industries and professions. This is despite the withdrawal symptoms from long-term use being pretty unpleasant – after all, if it so apparently easy to obtain – then what’s the problem?
Some argue that this attitude towards Modafinil as being some kind of wonder drug that everyone should take to improve their cognitive performance is very dangerous. Yet if there were a ‘ticking time bomb’ one would have expected there to be some kind of clear-cut evidence – as there has been with Adderall – that it can be a dangerous drug. An interesting opinion is that college students are more likely to suffer negative side effects because of the temptation to use it on a daily basis, whereas most professionals only take occasional doses as a ‘pick me up’.
So Are Both Modafinil & Adderall Addictive?
Unquestionably yes. A Federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report claimed that an estimated 137,000 college students took up an unscripted restricted medication each year. Yet the key difference comes in how far each of the drugs stimulates the individual.
A common feeling within educational communities is that Modafinil is a ‘lighter’ version of Adderall because it delivers all the advantages without the full-blown rush. Just bear in mind though that neither has been approved as being a kind of study aid’ – they are only supposed to be for the treatment of narcolepsy, although as noted above it seems many doctors take a relaxed view when dishing out Modafinil.
If you were in a position of having to choose between either, it is easy to understand why so many people are leaning towards Modafinil nowadays. Despite being powerful (it is not recommended to take a tablet after 9 am to avoid sleep issues) it is not too powerful, whereas Adderall has a long history of being abused and causing mental and physical disorders/addiction. Perhaps this means that despite there is anecdotal evidence of people becoming dependent on Modafinil, medically speaking it carries no agents that thought to be of themselves addictive. This is a clear advantage and the main reason why Modafinil is the safer of the two for those who use it carefully and occasionally. While it is possible to get ‘high’ with Modafinil it will require a ridiculously large dose – 600mg+ to achieve.
A good way to consider Modafinil would be akin to that feeling first thing in the morning after a long nights restful sleep. But you feel that way when wide awake. On the other hand, Adderall delivers a more intense and heart pumping buzz. Most medical practitioners would agree that Modafinil is ok to take on a daily basis for reasonable lengths of time, yet would likely advise a similar level of intake witch Adderall.
It is also worth noting as an aside that there is increasingly thought to be plenty of other usages for Modafinil which Adderall is either incapable of or would be inappropriate to use. From supporting chemotherapy patients through to helping with substance abuse detox plans. In terms of general use, the side effects are far lesser with Modafinil and easier for most people to handle. Even suddenly stopping after a long-term dosage will lead in most cases to pretty tame withdrawals. Neither of these can be said for Adderall where both can often be highly unpleasant.
So, while physicians continue to provide millions of prescriptions for both drugs per year, it has to be said that considering it is not deliberately abused the evidence suggests that Modafinil is the superior of the two.