I often get asked about ADHD medications especially how to know if they are working. I wrote this blog in 2017 and wanted to reshare it so you can begin to notice!
It happens all the time, in fact, it happened recently. I was talking to a new ADHD coaching client and she wasn’t sure how to know if her ADHD medication was working correctly.
It’s a common question that arises even when people are seeing high-profile doctors. This lovely woman received her ADHD diagnosis and prescription from one of the world’s most well-known ADHD physicians and yet she still didn’t know what to expect from her medication.
It comes with changes in science. In the olden days of ADHD treatment, the medication gave you a clear signal when it hit your system. Since the only medications available were short-acting stimulants, such as Ritalin and Adderall, each dose would last around four hours and you’d need to take multiple doses each day. You knew your medication was working because a short while after taking your pill you’d feel a jolt and immediate focus.
Science has progressed greatly since then. Now we have extended-release versions of ADHD medication and very long-acting versions as well. This is good because many people can get by with taking just one pill in the morning. Also, drug addicts don’t like long-acting medications so there’s less abuse.
The challenge lies in the fact that long-acting medications have a much more subtle feeling than short-acting versions. If you’re deciding whether your ADHD meds are working by looking for that immediate jolt of a clear brain and an immediate focused feeling you won’t be able to get it.
So, though long-acting ADHD medications are easier to use, we have to change the way we determine if the medication is working or not.
And that begs the question…
How do you know if your ADHD medication is working?
ADHD medication is an aid to help you manage your behavior and your emotions more effectively. So we’re not just looking at the physical behavior, like is this person hyperactive or inattentive or not. We’re looking at how the brain is working and how well emotions are controlled.
In order to gauge whether your medication is doing its job you need to know what job you want it to do. You need to know your targets. You need to know what you expect to be able to do at work, with your family, and in your emotions.
You need to dive in and lay it out clearly and specifically.
1. What do you want your ADHD medication to do for you at work?
Do you want it to help you:
Be on time for work?
Be able to focus on completing your paperwork in the office?
Read those boring reports and remember the details you read?
Concentrate in meetings?
Keep your desk more organized? Get those folders back in the filing system?
Be able to manage projects more effectively instead of waiting for the last minute to get everything done?
2. What do you want your ADHD medication to do for you at home?
Do you want it to help you:
Assist the kids with their homework?
Pay attention to your wife when she talks about her day?
Get the kids to bed without you being the cause of the chaos?
3. What do you want your ADHD medication to do for you and your emotions?
Look at your emotional regulation as well:
How’s your anxiety level?
What about that flash anger that so often comes with adult ADHD?
How are you able to control these things?
Are your emotions more even and not fluctuating as much?
There isn’t a right or wrong here. Everyone will have different targets. You need to know what target you’re aiming at in order to know if your medication is working correctly.
And remember that it’s not about the buzz. If you think your medication is working because you feel a buzz but you’re not paying attention or you’re paying attention to the wrong thing, then your medication is not working.
So it’s really subtle. It’s about noticing how you behave when you’re not taking your medication and how you behave when you are taking it.
It’s noticing how your brain is working and how your emotions are controlled. Noting these things will let you know if your medication is working correctly or not.
- Much of my ADHD medication information comes from training I’ve received from Dr. Charles Parker. If you really want to understand ADHD medications and how they work I recommend you check out his book ‘New ADHD Medication Rules’ and his YouTube videos.
- Blog: Four Common ADHD Medication Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
- Blog: How Do You Know If Your ADHD Medication Is Working?
- Kick Some ADHD Podcast Episode #32: Is Your ADHD Medication Working?
How do you know if you are on the right dose of medication? I have been taking adderall (generic) for close to a year now. I was diagnosed as a child with ADHD but quit using medication at the age of 18. Once my son was diagnosed his psychologist suggest I try the medication again. I take a 10mg XL and a 10mg short. I am prescribed a 10mg xl and 2mg short a day. I prefer not to take the additional short in the afternoon as it disrupts my sleep. I feel like the medication certainly gives me my boost I need to get my myself and children off in the morning, do a early work out and come home and get my morning/early afternoon tasks completed. However I have started feeling like the medication is wearing off sooner than it used to and I am loosing my motivation earlier I would say around 12/1pm. I am taking my initial dose of 10xl/10short at approx. 7:30am. Thoughts?
Hi Julia, work with your physician to get your ADHD medication dosage adjusted. Sometimes that’s needed. When you take the right dose of the medication that works best for you at the right time of day you ought to be able to focus and be motivated all day long. Good luck, Dana
hello. I have been on Vyvanse on and off for at least five years. I stopped taking it when I got pregnant. Now when I take it, I start to feel really tired like three to four hours after? is that a sign that perhaps I am on the wrong dose?
Interesting…something has changed. Perhaps it’s the wrong dose or maybe you need to try a different ADHD medication. Talk to your doctor. Dana
Hi I just finally got diagnosed with ADHD about 3 weeks ago. My doctor started me off with strattera 25mg but had bad side effects. So now I’m on Adderall 10mg twice a day. I am starting by taking it at 7am but I think I should take it earlier so I can get all tasks done in the morning early. But I feel like my attention concentration and anxiety goes up when it starts to wear off early and then I take at 12 and then it starts to wear off at 4 which gives me anxiety as well and can’t concentrate but can sit still. I don’t know if I’m on the right Ned or if it’s just the dose what should I speak to my doctor about. How do I explain this or what should I ask. My alertness is really better
That stays longer than anything else. And I’ve only been on it two days. Thank you.
Hi Michelle, explain to your doctor just what you wrote in the comment. Getting the medication working right usually means adjusting the dose and when you take it. This can take some time to figure out. Good luck! Dana
Hi, I was recently diagnosed with ADHD as well. My psychiatrist started me off on 20mg Adderall IR (generic), taken twice a day, however, I am not sure whether the medication has been working that effectively. It certainly does suppress my appetite but I can’t really tell whether I am able to focus more easily. It’s been about two weeks since I was prescribed with Adderall and I just don’t know whether its the right thing for me. Could it be an issue with the generic or just me needing to try some other medication? Thanks!
Hey Nick, it’s hard to say. You may need a higher dose. It could be the wrong medication. Or, the generic – though there is disagreement about that. Best talk to your doctor and see what he/she suggests. Good luck, Dana
I was diagnosed a month ago and started on vyvanse. It didn’t seem to do much for me and it didn’t last as long as I would like it to. So my doctor prescribed Mydayis 37.5mg. the first 2 weeks I could finally tell a difference! However I still always have other things on my mind. When I’m at work I can do my job better but my mind is still thinking about something else. I can read and understand things better but on occasion my mind will still wander. Now for the past 3 days it seems like it has been not working at all, especially today. Is this normal? after 2 weeks on it will my body start to get used to the dosage and feel less effect? My side effects don’t seem to be as bad either. I will talk to my doctor about maybe upping the dose but am wondering if I should wait it out and finish the month or ask about a higher dose now.
Hi Harry, talk to you doctor about adjusting to a higher dose. Mydayis is a stimulant, and often stimulant dosage adjustments are normal. Wise doctors start at a lower dose and slowly increase until the symptoms are managed with fewest side effects. Good luck, Dana