Laurence Lee

February 11, 2022 in Supplements

Prescription medication can serve us in many ways. Sometimes our doctors prescribe them to help treat or even cure a disease. Sometimes we take them to help us modify behavior or ease certain conditions.

These days, it seems like everyone has an opinion on medications—what we should be taking and why we should talk to our doctor about it. Two medications that are coming up in conversation together, a lot, are Modafinil and Adderall. We decided to dig into the data and research to find out what the differences are.

First we’ll break down what each of them is, and what they’re prescribed for. Then we’ll look at the pros and cons against each other. Finally, we made sure to include an FAQ at the end.

Before we go further, please note that you need to speak with your doctor or other licensed medical professional before beginning any prescription drug regimen.

What is Modafinil and What does it Do?

Modafinil is partially classified as a weak dopamine reuptake inhibitor. If you’re unfamiliar, the basic effect is that it increases the amount of dopamine in your system by inhibiting the brain’s function of reabsorbing it. 

With more dopamine in your system you can experience slightly elevated mood. But the main effect of the dopamine is that it stimulates other areas of your brain to stay more awake.

Modafinil is prescribed mainly to help people stay awake if they suffer from any condition that prevents them from getting good, deep sleep. This can be because of sleep apnea, narcolepsy, or working graveyard shifts.

If someone isn’t sleeping well then their body will keep trying to put them to sleep during waking hours. Or, if someone works nights, their body will sense that it is dark out and send sleep signals; when they go to bed, their body will sense sunlight, and send waking signals.

It’s unclear with current research what the exact mechanisms of sleep are, and so it isn’t clear exactly how Modafinil works. It does work well enough, however, to be a controlled substance. That means it’s illegal to possess or ingest it without a prescription.


  • Helps people with a wide range of conditions.
  • Generally non-habit forming
  • Few side effects


  • Controlled substance
  • Not advised for those without a sleep condition

What is Adderall and What does it Do?

Adderall is a brand name for a combination of four types of amphetamine. Like all amphetamine drugs, Adderall is a central nervous system stimulant, and can be dangerous when taken outside of prescribed doses.

Amphetamines work by stimulating the brain’s dopamine neurotransmitters, as well as increasing norepinephrine and other hormones. This produces increased focus, euphoria, cognitive benefits, and in the muscular system can even increase performance and fight fatigue.

Adderall is primarily used to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In some cases it can be prescribed to help treat narcolepsy. Adderall is helpful for ADHD because it is thought that those suffering from the condition have neurotransmission issues in the brain. Adderall stimulates those transmitters to function properly.


  • The most successful treatment for ADHD
  • Improves cognitive functions
  • Improves focus


  • Habit forming, and could be addictive
  • Not advised for any purpose outside the prescription
  • Risk of overdose


Really there isn’t a whole lot to compare when discussing Modafinil versus Adderall. They are not used to treat the same conditions and their function in the brain are not similar. Modafinil works very subtly, while Adderall has a strong enough effect that it comes with an overdose warning.

You should be careful if someone is advising you to take one or the other, as this may indicate advice for a general stimulant. If you are looking for something to help with general fatigue, consider changing diet, exercise routine, or sleep schedule. Even weaning off of excessive caffeine can help with tiredness.

If you think that you may have a medical condition that Adderall or Modafinil can treat or help with, consult your doctor or other medical professional.


Can Adderall and Modafinil Keep Me Awake?

Yes, if you have a legitimate sleep disorder. Modafinil will only help if your brain chemistry is preventing you from getting natural sleep. Adderall is an amphetamine.

Do I Need a Prescription for Adderall and Modafinil?

Yes. They are both controlled substances.

What are the Side Effects of Adderall and Modafinil?

In general both have low instances of side effects. Adderall can cause changes to libido, sleep cycles, and appetite. Modafinil can cause dizziness and nausea. For further information consult a doctor.

Are Adderall and Modafinil Covered by Insurance?

Every health insurance program is different. You should consult your provider to make sure.

About the author 

Laurence Lee

Lee is a neuroscientist who has dedicated his career to understanding the inner workings of the brain. He has seen firsthand the power of these supplements in improving cognitive function and believes that more people should be aware of their benefits. In his articles, Lee shares his extensive knowledge on the subject and provides unbiased reviews of different products.

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