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.

The three common reasons why people ask how long it takes for their ADHD meds to work relate to their individual responses to medication:

  1. 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.
  2. No improvements: Other people have the opposite experience. They start to 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.
  3. Are not sure: This group of people is not sure if their medication is working. They think it might be but any changes are subtle.

Stimulant Medication

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 means to focus and concentration improves and hyperactivity and impulsive behavior is reduced.

There are two groups of stimulant medications, amphetamine, and methylphenidateHere is a list of the common stimulants prescribed for ADHD and how long they typically take to work:

  • Ritalin: Ritalin takes 20-30 minutes after swallowing before it starts to work. Immediate release Ritalin is effective for approximately three hours, and the extended release (Ritalin SR) lasts for approximately eight hours.
  • Concerta: 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 capsule and lasts between 10 to 12 hours.
  • 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.
  • Quillivant XR: Quillivant XR is a methylphenidate liquid formula of designed for children who have problems swallowing pills. It becomes effective within 45 minutes and continues to work for up to 12 hours.
  • Focalin and Focalin XR: 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.
  • Adderall and Adderall XR: Adderall starts to work approximately 30 minutes to one hour. The effects of Adderall typically begin to wear away after four hours. Adderall XR last approximately 12 hours.
  • Vyvanse: Vyvanse is a pro drug, which means after 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.
  • DexedrineDexedrine 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.

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"

  • Strattera: 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: Wellbutrin is the trade name for bupropion. It 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 last 24 hours.
  • Intuniv: Intuniv is a time-release form of the antihypertensive drug Guanfacine.  It has been developed for sustained release over waking hours. It takes approximately two weeks for Intuniv to become effective. 
  • Clonidine: One of Clonidine’s trade names is Kapvay. It was originally prescribed to help with high pressure. It can take two weeks or more to become effective.

What If My Meds Are Not Working?

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

Your doctor will usually start at a low dose and gradually increase the dose until the right therapeutical 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 ADHD medication to a methylphenidate medication or vice versa. A non-stimulant medication might be suggested, either alone or with a stimulant medication, as another option.

Although some people experience positive results on the first day of taking medication, many people go back and forth with their doctor until they find the right medication and dosage that works for them.  Although this can feel disappointing, it does not mean ADHD medication does not work for you. It just means you have not found the right medication and dose yet.

A great way to know if your meds are working is to be strategic! In a notebook write down the ADHD symptoms you would like to see improvements with. Then, when you start taking medication document any changes,  personal observations and ask your spouse 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, their teacher’s feedback as well as your child’s feedback.

In addition to being helpful for you, this information will be beneficial for your doctor too.

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