Modafinil vs Adderall: Understanding the Differences
Structure and Effects
Modafinil and Adderall both have stimulant-like effects, but modafinil is not classified as a stimulant. Modafinil improves wakefulness and decision-making, while Adderall is more likely to cause addiction and dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and side effects without improving IQ. Both drugs can adversely affect the heart and should not be taken with alcohol.
Modafinil was first approved by the FDA in 1998 to treat narcolepsy and is also used to treat excessive sleepiness caused by obstructive sleep apnea or shift work. It has also been used off-label to help people with Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis stay alert and has been favored by students, executives, and the military as a way to combat sleep deprivation and fatigue. Adderall is usually prescribed to treat people with narcolepsy or ADHD.
Modafinil has generally milder side effects compared to Adderall, although it can significantly increase heart rate and blood pressure. Over one-third of people who take modafinil report headache as a side effect, with nausea being the next most common complaint. Adderall tends to have a broader range of side effects, including loss of appetite, dry mouth, short-lived blood pressure elevations, insomnia, headache, abdominal pain, disturbances in sexual function, a slowing of the growth rate in children, fast heart rate, and nervousness. Psychiatric side effects reported with Adderall include hearing voices, becoming suspicious for no reason, or becoming manic.
Neither modafinil nor Adderall should be mixed with alcohol. Mixing them with alcohol increases the potential of arrhythmias and other heart complaints.
Do They Really Make You Smart?
Several small trials have tried to determine if Modafinil really does enhance cognition, with mixed results. Participants reported feeling more alert, attentive, and energetic on the drug, and some improvements in certain memory tasks were reported. Adderall has been used as a study aid based on the assumption that stimulants used for ADHD help reduce hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. However, there are very few trials investigating whether Adderall does enhance cognition in individuals without ADHD.
Use in Combat
Modafinil has been used to optimize performance in sleep-deprived soldiers, pilots, and also fatigued astronauts. Studies have shown it helps maintain alertness, improves judgment, cognitive function, feelings of well-being, and increases risk perception and situation awareness.