How Long Does It Take for ADHD Medication to Work?

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How long ADHD medication takes to work depends on the type of medication you have been prescribed. Typically, ADHD medication falls into two categories: stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulants become effective fairly quickly, often in less than an hour. Non-stimulants can take days or weeks until their full therapeutic effect is felt.

Stimulant Medications

Stimulant medications are the first line of ADHD treatment, as they are considered to be the most effective in treating symptoms. They act on the central nervous system and increase a number of neurotransmitters in the brain. The increase of the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine causes focus and concentration to improve while hyperactivity and impulsive behavior are reduced.

Stimulant medications are either forms of amphetamine or methylphenidateHere is a list of the common stimulants prescribed for ADHD and how long they typically take to work:

  • Adderall and Adderall XR (amphetamine and dextroamphetamine): Adderall starts to work in approximately 30 minutes to one hour. The effects of Adderall typically begin to wear away after four hours. Adderall XR lasts approximately 12 hours.
  • Concerta (methylphenidate): Concerta is a long-lasting methylphenidate medication that uses a unique delivery system called OROS (osmotic controlled release oral delivery system). Its effects are usually felt within one hour of swallowing the tablet and last between 10 to 12 hours.
  • Daytrana (methylphenidate): Daytrana is a methylphenidate patch for children to wear. The medication travels through the skin and is absorbed directly into the bloodstream. The patch takes approximately two hours to start working and remains effective between one and three hours after it has been removed. It can be worn for up to nine hours.
  • Dexedrine (dextroamphetamine)Dexedrine becomes effective within 30 minutes to one hour. It is available in short-acting tablets, which are effective for about four to six hours. Extended-release capsules of Dexedrine are called Spansules and are effective for approximately eight to 10 hours.
  • Focalin and Focalin XR (dexmethylphenidate): Focalin and Focalin XR can become effective within 30 minutes of taking the medication. Focalin lasts approximately four hours and Focalin XR can remain active for up to 12 hours.
  • Jornay PM (methylphenidate hydrochloride): An extended-release methylphenidate capsule, Jornay PM is unique in that it is given the evening before, usually between 6 p.m. and 9 p.m. The effects do not begin to occur for about 12 hours and then last much of the following day.
  • Mydayis: Mydayis is a longer-acting, mixed amphetamine salts formulation that starts working in about two hours or so and can last up to 16 hours.
  • Ritalin and Ritalin LA (methylphenidate): Ritalin takes 20 to 30 minutes after swallowing before it starts to work. Short-acting Ritalin lasts three to five hours and long-acting (Ritalin LA) lasts for approximately eight hours.
  • Quillivant XR (methylphenidate): Quillivant XR is a methylphenidate liquid formulation designed for children who have problems swallowing pills. It becomes effective within 45 minutes and continues to work for up to 12 hours.
  • Vyvanse (lisdexamfetamine)Vyvanse is a prodrug, which means it needs to be taken orally and metabolized by the body’s enzymes to become effective. Because of this, it can take approximately one to two hours to take effect and lasts approximately 14 hours. It is often described as a "smooth" drug because there is no jolt to the system when the medication begins to work, and there is less of a medication rebound when it begins to wear off.
  • Nuvigil (armodafinil) and Provigil (modafinil): Typically prescribed to treat excessive daytime somnolence caused by conditions like sleep apnea, these medications are used off-label to treat ADHD. Usually, these medications are taken once per day to treat narcolepsy or obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) and an hour before a shift to treat shift work sleep disorder (SWSD).

Non-Stimulant Medications

Non-stimulant medications are second-line treatment options for ADHD. This is because, while they are effective in treating ADHD, their effectiveness is not as universal as stimulant medications. Non-stimulants are a helpful option for someone who is not able to tolerate stimulant medication because of side effects or the presence of an underlying medical condition.

Non-stimulants take approximately two to six weeks to become effective as the drug needs to be present in the body over time before the benefits can be seen. Because they take longer to work, adjusting medication to the right therapeutic dose also takes time.

Here is a list of the common non-stimulants prescribed for ADHD and how long they typically take to work:

  • Kapvay (clonidine): Originally prescribed to help with high blood pressure, Kapvay can take two weeks or more to become effective.
  • Norpramin (desipramine): Norpramin is a tricyclic antidepressant used for ADHD. Unlike stimulants, it may take several days or even weeks to see the therapeutic benefits from tricyclic antidepressants, but once this level is reached, benefits last throughout the day.
  • Intuniv: Intuniv is a time-release form of the antihypertensive drug guanfacine. It has been developed to have a sustained release lasting for the waking hours. It takes approximately two weeks for Intuniv to become effective.
  • Strattera (atomoxetine)Strattera is a norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (NRI) and chemically similar to an antidepressant. It can take between four to six weeks before the maximum therapeutic effect is felt. When therapeutic levels are reached, Strattera is effective for 24 hours.
  • Wellbutrin (bupropion)Wellbutrin is an antidepressant that can be prescribed as an off-label ADHD treatment option. It can take approximately three to seven days to become effective and four to six weeks to reach full effectiveness. The XL version is taken once a day and lasts 24 hours.

Approved by the FDA in 2021, Qelbree (viloxazine) is an extended-release non-stimulant medication option for children and adolescents (ages 6 to 17) with ADHD, and it can be taken once per day. Like other non-stimulant medications, it takes a week or more to start working.

Are My ADHD Meds Working?

People often wonder how long it takes for their ADHD meds to work—or if they are working at all. Some of this uncertainty is due to the fact that people can experience noticeable improvements right away, subtle improvements, or delayed or no improvement.

  • Immediate improvement: Some people notice improvements in their ADHD symptoms on the first day of taking their medication. They wonder if their medication could really be working that quickly or whether the difference they felt was a placebo effect.
  • Subtle improvements: This group of people is not sure if their medication is working. They think it might be, but any changes are subtle.
  • Delayed improvements: Some people take medication and do not notice a difference in their ADHD symptoms. They are not sure if it is because of a time delay between taking ADHD medication and it being effective, or if their medication isn’t working for them.

In addition, some people may notice side effects before they notice an improvement in their symptoms. Side effects for stimulant medication may include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Headaches
  • Increased heart rate or blood pressure
  • Irritability as medication wears off
  • Mood swings
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep

Side effects for non-stimulant medication may include:

  • Constipation
  • Decreased appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Dry mouth or throat
  • Insomnia
  • Itching or skin issues
  • Nausea, upset stomach, and vomiting
  • Persistent cough

In general, if your ADHD medication is working, you’ll begin to feel less anxious and experience fewer mood swings. In addition, you'll be better able to:

  • Complete “boring” tasks
  • Control impulsive behaviors
  • Listen during conversations
  • Sit still
  • Stay on task

While most ADHD medications will make these symptoms more manageable, they won’t all disappear completely.

Finding the Right Meds

If you have been taking ADHD medications and have not experienced an improvement in your symptoms, visit your doctor and tell them about your experience.

Your doctor will usually start you at a low dose and gradually increase it until the right therapeutic dose for you is found. This is where there is an improvement in your symptoms without negative side effects.

If higher doses of the medication are not helpful, your doctor might change your medication from an amphetamine medication to a methylphenidate medication or vice versa. A non-stimulant medication might be suggested, either alone or with stimulant medication, as another option.

Although some people experience positive results on the first day of taking medication, for many people, it takes a few tries until they find the right medication and dosage that works for them. 

Although it can feel disappointing to not get immediate results, it does not mean ADHD medication won't work for you. It just means you have not found the right medication and dose yet.

If a child isn't responding to medication, your healthcare provider may also test for any coexisting conditions, including depression, bipolar disorder, or a learning disability or behavioral problem.

A Word From Verywell

A great way to know if your meds are working is to be strategic. Jot down the ADHD symptoms you would like to see improvements with. Then, when you start taking a medication, document any changes or personal observations. Ask your partner or family members for feedback, too, as they might notice changes that you were not aware of. 

If you are a parent, you can write down the changes you notice in your child as well as your child's feedback and that of your child's teacher. In addition to being helpful to you, this information will also be beneficial for your doctor.

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