How Long Does It Take for ADD Medication to Work?


If you or your child were recently diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder, you are probably holding a bottle of pills and wondering how long they'll take to work. Some, like Ritalin or Adderall, work immediately, releasing a chemical that enters the blood stream in a large enough dose to affect the brain, while others like Strattera must build up over a period of time until it becomes effective.

Types of ADD Medication

The FDA has approved a variety of brand-name drugs to treat symptoms of Attention Deficit Disorder. Some are also available in generic formulations. Stimulant medications are prescribed under brand names like Adderall, Concerta, Daytrana, Focalin and Ritalin, while Strattera is the only non-stimulant approved by the FDA. Some doctors may use other drugs to treat ADD that are not specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration for treating Attention Deficit Disorder. Drugs used in this "off-label" way include the anti-narcolepsy medication Provigil, certain anti-depressants or supplements such as Fish Oil or St. John’s Wort.

How do they work?

To understand how long it takes each medication to work, you have to understand the way each is taken. Methylphenidate hydrochloride, for example, carries the brand name Ritalin. Standard release Ritalin is taken as a pill, quickly broken down in the stomach and absorbed into the bloodstream through the stomach walls. Methylphenidate hydrochloride is also the active ingredient in: Ritalin LA--a long acting formula that breaks down less quickly in the stomach. Concerta and Metadate--different pill technology that delivers the drug in a long, sustained release) Daytrana--a skin patch. Methylin--as a liquid or chewable tablet. Each of these takes a different amount of time to get absorbed into the blood stream at a different dose, so regular Ritalin might work faster--within five or 10 minutes--while Concerta takes a bit longer to work but lastz longer.


Even if you are taking your pills exactly as prescribed, it may not "work" right away, because it can take a couple of weeks for the Doctor to get the correct amount prescribed for you. Each of these drugs can be taken in different doses, depending on body weight and seriousness of the condition, until symptoms are relieved. This is done through a process called "titration" where the doctor begins with a low dose and gradually escalates until symptoms are relieved.

So when do I feel it?

The way a stimulant like Ritalin or Adderall works is similar to the way aspirin works. You take it, it dissolves, goes into the blood stream and is gradually excreted when you go to bathroom or sweat. According to Shire Pharmaceuticals, Adderall’s standard release formula is fully absorbed about three hours after you take it, though you may feel effects much earlier as the outer edges of the pill begin to dissolve. Adderall’s extended release takes about seven hours on average to reach the same level in the bloodstream, according to DailyMed.

Bottom Line

There is no cut or dry guide for how long it takes the medication to work—it may need to build up in your bloodstream for an hour or more before you begin to feel more focused, or you may need to take a different type of medication or adjust. Generally, however, all FDA formulations will work within two to four hours of the initial dose, with the exception of Strattera, which requires a week or more of consistent intake to build to appropriate levels. Read the information your pharmacist gives you with the prescription and it will give you a good idea of how long that medicine will take to work


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