Medication can help to control ADHD symptoms that interrupt daily life, but it can be difficult to tell whether it is working. When symptoms of ADHD start to ease, it is often not obvious.
The following are signs that medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is effective. A person may notice themselves:
- finishing small or "boring" tasks
- waking up and leaving the house on time more regularly
- easily recalling details from conversations
- remembering details from meetings or work emails
- recalling things learned in class that day
- finishing small assigned tasks at work
- cleaning up after themselves
- going to bed on time
- finishing homework assignments
- avoiding distractions like social media or television while working
When a few symptoms improve, this is a good indication that medication is working.
To tell whether a medication is effective, it is important to understand what it is designed to do. Medications may be used to:
- help a person focus
- balance emotions
- make daily energy levels more even
- reduce impulsive behaviors
It is unlikely that all symptoms will disappear completely, but most ADHD medications can help to make physical and mental symptoms more manageable.
Medication may be working if a person is:
- feeling less anxious
- consciously controlling impulsive behaviors
- noticing fewer mood swings
When medication is working, some symptoms may remain, while others become easier to handle.
Most ADHD medications have side effects, and these can show that the drug is having an effect on the body.
Side effects of ADHD medicines can impact each individual differently. If they become difficult or impossible to manage, a doctor should adjust the medication.
How do I tell if stimulant drugs are working?
Stimulant drugs like Ritalin and Adderall may help a person to be more attentive, stay focused on a task, and listen to instructions.
These results may not be apparent at first, and some people notice side effects before an improvement in symptoms.
Side effects for stimulant-type drugs often include:
- increased heart rate or blood pressure
- decreased appetite
- trouble falling or staying asleep
- irritability, as the medicine wears off
- nausea or vomiting
- mood swings
These should be manageable for most people, and they may fade after a few weeks of taking the medication.
How do I tell if non-stimulant drugs are working?
Non-stimulant drugs for ADHD can also cause side effects. These vary, based on a person's age and the type of drug.
Side effects may include:
- decreased appetite
- upset stomach, nausea, and vomiting
- fatigue and drowsiness
- dry mouth or throat
- persistent cough
- itching or skin issues
Sexual side effects can also occur. A person may experience a loss of interest in sex or trouble having an orgasm.
While side effects show that the drug is having an effect on the body, they do not always indicate that the medicine is working.
Anyone who experiences side effects without noticing a change in their symptoms may need to see a doctor, who can alter their dosage or switch their medication.
The following are some common signs that ADHD medication should be adjusted:
- irritability or increased hyperactivity when the medication is in a child's system
- consistent weight loss or problems with appetite
- symptoms that respond well to medication during work or school hours, but seem to get worse at home in the evening
- reduced ADHD symptoms coupled with changes in personality or the ability to feel emotions
Signs that medication should be changed vary. The dosage may be too high or low, or an individual may need a different type of medicine.
Medications should be seen as one part of a broader ADHD treatment plan.
When prescribing medication for ADHD, many doctors also recommend behavioral therapy.
A mental health professional can identify patterns in behavior and help a person to work toward personal goals.
Making lifestyle changes can also help a person to feel satisfied with their treatment.
A full night's sleep can refresh the brain and body, helping an individual to feel rested and alert throughout the day.
This can stimulate brain function and release pent-up energy. Chemical medications are designed to increase receptors in the brain, and exercise may have a similar effect.
Mindfulness meditation can help to calm the mind. It may be a beneficial addition in a broader ADHD treatment.
ADHD can affect people differently, and the same is true for ADHD medication. Doctors often have to fine-tune dosages, and some people may notice side effects more than an improvement in symptoms.
Anyone feeling unsatisfied with the results of their medication or experiencing side effects with no reduction in symptoms should see a doctor to discuss other options.