How Long Does It Take for ADHD Medication To Become Effective?

ADHD Medication Results
Prescription pill bottle of ADHD medication that features a clock and calendar due to different lengths of time to reach efficacy.

Different categories of ADHD medication start to take effect at different times from one another.

Albert Hernandez

December 2, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 21, 2022
  6 min read

December 2, 2021
 Medically Reviewed by Tanya Hernandez, PMHNP-BC
Updated on: October 21, 2022
  6 min read


I’m based in the southwest, so sometimes if I travel to a colder area, like Santa Fe in the winter, and then back home, the climate change messes with my sinuses. I might get a cold or something worse. If it gets bad enough that I need to check in with my primary care provider, I don’t want to mess around. I want something that will help me feel better fast. I think we’ve all felt that way at one time or another as it relates to our physical health.

For some of my patients, it takes a lot of courage and effort to seek treatment for their adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms. I see patients with adult ADHD that have been struggling with symptoms like inability to pay attention, losing important items, and talking too much. At times these symptoms in my patients have led to some of them having been put on a performance improvement plan at work. Some patients have even lost their job due to their ADHD symptoms. Maybe their relationship with their spouse is struggling due to the strain and exhaustion they experience when trying to manage household or job responsibilities while experiencing ADHD. So it’s no wonder that when my patients come to Upper Valley Behavioral Health for help, they want to know when their ADHD medication will start to work. 

Most people are of course hoping that their Adult ADHD medication will start to become effective as quickly as possible. They’ve likely dealt with their symptoms for many years, and they hope to get relief soon.

How quickly ADHD medication will start to work for a patient depends on the type of medication that is prescribed.

Adult ADHD can be treated with stimulant and non-stimulant medications. Stimulant meds, like Adderall, Vyvanse, Concerta, and non-stimulant meds, like Strattera and Intuniv, work differently to treat adult ADHD symptoms, so they become effective over different periods of time.

How Stimulant Medication Works to Treat Adult ADHD

Stimulant medications like Vyvanse, Adderall, and Concerta are considered to be very effective in the treatment of adult ADHD. The research community’s understanding of exactly how stimulants work in the brain to decrease the symptoms of ADHD is always improving. The neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that contribute to the distractedness and impulsive behavior of ADHD are norepinephrine and dopamine.  Our current understanding is that stimulants help make these neurotransmitters more available and/or better used by the brain. When stimulant medications help the brain use dopamine and norepinephrine more effectively, patients often respond by being able to focus better and by feeling less restless.  

Stimulant medications only work while they are in the patient’s body, and they begin to work from the very first dose. Many of my patients report feeling more focused and calm on their first day of taking Concerta, Vyvanse, or Adderall. 

Prescription pill bottle of ADHD medication and spilled capsules of stimulants.

When considering whether a medication will be right for you, you and your mental health provider will also want to consider the potential side effects of a medication, and if relevant, the potential for a medication to be abused. Side effects of stimulant medications can include reduced appetite, trouble sleeping, increased heart rate or blood pressure, and headache.

Patients who have a history of substance abuse may end up abusing a stimulant that is used to treat their ADHD. Long-acting stimulants are less likely to be abused than immediate-release stimulants.

How Non-Stimulant Medication Works to Treat Adult ADHD

Two non-stimulant medications that can be prescribed for adults with ADHD are Strattera (generic name: atomoxetine) and Intuniv (generic name: guanfacine). Strattera impacts the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, as does Intuniv, although they work differently from one another. Both Strattera and Intuniv can take from four to eight weeks to reach their full beneficial effects. 

Neither Intuniv or Strattera have the potential to be abused, so that is useful for patients who have had an issue with substance abuse or addiction in the past. Possible side effects for Intuniv include tiredness, irritability, upset stomach, and decreased blood pressure. Possible side effects for Strattera include sleep disruption, poor appetite, GI upset, and decreased sex drive. 

Clock and calendar that convey the different times it takes stimulant and non-stimulant ADHD medications to work.

Will Stimulant or Non-Stimulant Medication Be a Better Fit to Treat My ADHD?

Stimulant medications are often preferred to treat adult ADHD. They work on ADHD symptoms from the first day of treatment, which is very helpful for people who are seeking immediate relief. For a patient who can’t tolerate stimulants due to an allergy, who isn’t helped by stimulants, or who is at a high risk of abusing stimulant medication, a non-stimulant ADHD medication may be the correct choice. Behavioral health providers need to make sure to educate their patients who are starting a non-stimulant medication so that the patient will understand that the medication will take a few weeks to become effective.

When determining whether stimulant or non-stimulant medication will be the most effective treatment for your ADHD, it’s important to work with a behavioral health expert who specializes in treating adult ADHD. Your provider can then create a treatment plan with you by discussing your medical and social history, your current symptoms, and your desired outcomes. 

If you live in or near Albuquerque, El Paso, or Las Cruces, and you’re ready to discover the best treatment for your ADHD symptoms, click here to fill out our application for treatment. An Upper Valley Behavioral Health expert will work with you to determine what medication will best fit your needs. Our board-certified experts also see patients in other areas of the US; click here for a complete list of our locations. We look forward to speaking with you soon!

Disclaimer: This post is for informational purposes only. It does not replace instructions from your licensed prescriber. Please consult your healthcare provider for guidance on your specific medication regimen.

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