How Quickly Do ADHD Medications Work?

Expert ADHD Q&A

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Is ADHD affecting your child's school work?. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Q. Is it possible for Adderall XR to work on the first day or was it all in my boy's head? I could not believe the difference it seemed to make at school the first day. I stayed at school to make sure he wouldn't be sleepy with the medicine.

He was paying attention, raising his hand, studying at recess and lunch on his music book on notes. For the first time this year, he was able to go to the game room (free time) instead of study hall. Isaac is in the 5th grade. I was beaming with pride and so proud of him the whole day. Is it possible one day could make a difference? Kim, Columbus, Ohio

A. Unlike many other medicines, Adderall XR doesn't need to build up in your body over several days or weeks to get to the steady level at which it begins working.

Instead, it can work as soon as you begin taking it, as you have seen.

Fast Acting ADHD Medications

Most stimulants for ADHD work very quickly, including:

In fact, sometimes the improvement is so dramatic that parents feel guilty that they didn't get their child evaluated and treated for ADHD at an earlier age.

Slow Acting ADHD Medications

Other ADHD medications take more time to work.

This includes the non-stimulants for ADHD, like:

Although some parents prefer a non-stimulant medication, the fact that they take so long to work is a big downside.

Waiting for ADHD Medications to Work

There are many reasons why some parents will not see such a quick and dramatic improvement though after starting an ADHD medication, though, even if their child was prescribed a stimulant, including that:

  • they started at too low a dose and it needs to be increased, keeping in mind that pediatricians often start at a low dose and work their way up to an effective dose. This helps to avoid side effects and
  • their child is having side effects, like being irritable or moody, and they have to wait for the child to 'get used to' their medication before seeing the beneficial effects
  • they aren't going to see the benefit, no matter what dosage they get to or how long they take it, and they need to either try another medicine or get their diagnosis of ADHD reevaluated

Most importantly, talk to your pediatrician if your child's ADHD isn't working as quickly as you expected.

And make sure you have realistic expectations for how quickly your child's ADHD should start working. Although it is possible, not everyone will see a quick and dramatic response.


American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Practice Guideline. ADHD: Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 108(4):1033.

Caring for Children with ADHD: A Resource Toolkit for Clinicians, 2nd edition

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