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Why ADHD Medications Can Stop Working

Adult ADHD medication stop working
Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Dr. David Toomey



A lot of people with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) use medication to treat their symptoms. These medications can help patients focus, decrease impulsiveness, and aid with many other symptoms. Usually, these medications are effective; however, there are cases when the medicine fails to work or becomes less effective with time.

Here’s what people should know if they suspect their ADHD medication isn’t working as intended.

Consult a doctor to get personalized treatment and receive a prescription for your ADHD medication online

What Influences the Effectiveness of ADHD Meds

ADHD medications are classified as stimulants or non-stimulants and start working at different rates:

  • Stimulants reach their peak efficacy quickly, but usually do not last more than 12 hours. That is why taking a single dose daily, or taking multiple daily doses is required. You will notice the effects wearing off with these medications.
  • Non-stimulant ADHD meds can take up to four to six weeks to reach their maximum effectiveness. Many of these medications work for most individuals; however, there are cases when they may fail. The most common reasons are explained below.

Body Chemistry

Some people don’t respond to either non-stimulants or stimulants due to their body chemistry. Experts aren’t sure why this happens and state that some medications may stop working even when they worked in the past.

Changes in Symptoms

At times, issues impairing a medication from working are because of changes in symptoms rather than the medication itself. For instance, the symptoms of ADHD may become unresponsive to the medications due to new, increasingly stressful life events, and demanding situations, making it harder for such individuals to manage their ADHD.

Other Health Issues

An adult with ADHD may have other concomitant conditions like depression, anxiety, substance abuse, addiction, etc. These new conditions, especially depression and anxiety, could contribute to a more complicated symptom complex, making it harder to manage the symptoms of ADHD.

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How to Make ADHD Medication Work Again

Note that any of the methods listed below can only be implemented after consulting with your doctor. The article is for informational purposes only. Do not alter your treatment plan on your own.

Increasing the Dosage

Often, medication management starts with a lower dosage to minimize side effects. However, doctors may recommend a dosage titration over time to effectively manage the symptoms. This process is followed by an observation period to determine possible side effects and effectiveness.

Signs ADHD medication dose is too low include minimal symptom relief, difficulty paying attention, impulsive behavior, and hyperactivity. On the other hand, the symptoms of too high a dosage can include jitteriness, increased irritability, insomnia, headaches, loss of spontaneity and humor, and others. Consider consulting your doctor about the possible signs that you should monitor, and then the professional will decide when to lower or when to increase the ADHD medication’s dosage.

Changing Formulation

At times, a medication’s dosage isn’t the problem. To ascertain where the issue lies, doctors often ask questions regarding the time when the medication is taken, how long did it take until the effects were felt, and how long did the medications effect last. Thus, it may be crucial for the patient and physician to select the correct formulation to ensure the medication’s effectiveness.

This includes a trial-and-error period to know whether an extended or quick-release formulation works best with your schedule. Alternatively, the physician may recommend that the patient mix the two formulations. For instance, they may start their day with a slow-release alternative and use a short-acting dose in the afternoon.

Changing the Type of Medication

Changing to a different type or class of medication can also help. For instance, the list of adult ADHD stimulant medications has several alternatives including amphetamines and methylphenidate. Suppose a specific medication doesn’t work for the patient. In that case, the doctor may switch to a different type of medication within the same class (e.g., amphetamine to methylphenidate) or change entirely to a separate class, like switching from stimulants to non-stimulant medications.

Adding a Second Medication

The physician may recommend that the patient try a second medication if one medication isn’t working. A 2013 study [1*] concluded that adding a second medication may help treat ADHD symptoms of patients whose primary medication wasn’t working as expected.

Consult a doctor to know how to achieve better results in your ADHD treatment.

Presence or Absence of Side Effects: What is Normal?

Like any other medication, ADHD meds can cause side effects. However, not everyone experiences specific adverse effects, and some people may not have any such issues with ADHD medications at all. 

The most common side effects of ADHD medication include:

  • Trouble sleeping,
  • Dry mouth
  • Loss of appetite,
  • Irritability,
  • Jitteriness,
  • Headaches,
  • Fast heart rate,
  • Moodiness,
  • Stomach ache,
  • High blood pressure.

These side effects can be addressed by sharing your experience with your physician and adjusting the dosage or changing the medications accordingly. Thus, patients may expect to experience some side effects initially, but talking to a physician to determine how to resolve the issue is warranted.

ADHD Meds Not Working: What to Do

Patients who notice a decrease in the effectiveness of their ADHD medication can stop taking the medicines for some time, a medication holiday. This can maintain the medications effectiveness; however, the patients may experience increased ADHD symptoms during these holidays. Patients should always discuss and follow their physician’s instructions before taking a break from their medication.

The effectiveness of medicinal treatment can be increased by supplementing it with other symptom management methods like lifestyle adjustments and psychotherapy. Therefore, patients should also participate in various non-medicinal treatments, including physical activities, mindfulness and meditation. They can also talk with therapists or psychologists specializing in ADHD.

Consult a doctor to know how to achieve better results in your ADHD treatment.


ADHD is treatable with proper medication, support, and natural self-care techniques for symptom management. However, affected individuals should seek help from a doctor, be ready to share, and find permanent solutions to managing the issues causing their ADHD.

Consult our medical doctors online if you suspect your ADHD medication isn’t working appropriately.


1 sources
  1. A Systematic Review of Combination Therapy with Stimulants and Atomoxetine for ADHD, Including Patient Characteristics, Treatment Strategies, Effectiveness, and Tolerability
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Written by:

Rabia Khaliq

MSc in Applied Psychology

Dr. David Toomey



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Evidence Based

This article is based on scientific evidence, written by experts and fact checked by experts.

Our team of experts strive to be objective, unbiased, honest and to present both sides of the argument.

This article contains scientific references. The numbers
in the parentheses (1, 2, 3) are clickable links to peer-reviewed scientific papers.