Extended-Release Adult ADHD Medication: What to Know

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Stimulant medication is the most common treatment for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). It has been shown to improve symptoms in about 80% of adults, controlling impulsive behaviors, sharpening attention span, and improving the ability to maintain healthy relationships. If you’ve been diagnosed with adult ADHD, you have more options than you may know in terms of when and how often you take ADHD medication, what form it comes in, and when it peaks. Keep in mind that any medication comes with benefits and risks. Talk with your doctor to make sure you understand the side effects of taking a specific stimulant. 

First Things First: Understand the Two Classes of Stimulants

All stimulant medications for ADHD work in essentially the same way. They increase, or stimulate, the chemicals dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain. While there are many brand names for ADHD medication, there are only two classes, or main types: methylphenidate and dextro-amphetamine.

Out of the 80% of adults whose symptoms improve with stimulant medication, about half see improvements with either class of medication. The other half see more improvements with one class or the other. It’s important to work closely with your doctor to identify the class of medication that works best for you.

Weigh the Forms of ADHD Medication Available

ADHD medications come in pill, liquid, and patch forms. Often, the best form is the one you are most likely to take, or comply with. Compliance means taking medication as prescribed, and it’s necessary to experience the full benefits of treatment.

If you have trouble taking pills, a liquid option may be less stressful. If it’s hard for you to remember to take multiple doses of pills throughout the day, or if it’s difficult for you to find privacy, a once-daily, long-acting pill or patch may be more convenient.

Synchronize: Your Schedule & Your ADHD Medication Release

Not only are ADHD medications available in different forms, they also have different release mechanisms. Common terms are short-acting, medium-acting, and long-acting. As a range, short-acting medications can last several hours, but are often taken two or three times a day. Long-acting medications can last eight to 12 hours and are often taken once a day.

Think about your schedule, how often you can realistically stop to take medication, and when you need the medication to “kick in” or “wear off.” A patch, for example, starts working at its peak about two hours after you put it on and stops working about an hour and a half to two hours after you take it off. A short-acting pill starts working within 30 to 45 minutes and lasts three to four hours. An long-acting, extended-release pill provides an ascending, peak, and descending dose throughout the day. Depending on the pill you choose, the dose can be at its peak in the morning, afternoon, or both.

Consider Your Health as a Whole

It’s important to know that while ADHD stimulant medications have been proven safe and effective, stimulants are not right for everyone. Before you begin ADHD treatment, make sure your doctor knows your complete medical history, current medical conditions, and any other medications you are taking,

Remember, if you have been diagnosed with adult ADHD, many treatment options are available that can work with your schedule, lifestyle, and personal preferences. An open, honest, and ongoing conversation with your doctor is vital to finding relief from your symptoms with your overall health in mind.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Aug 27

  1. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Stimulant Therapy. Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-stimulant-therapy

  2. Understanding ADHD Medications. Child Mind Institute. https://childmind.org/article/understanding-adhd-medications/

  3. FDA Approves Liquid, Extended-Release ADHD Med. Medscape.

  4. Short-acting versus Long-acting Medications for the Treatment of ADHD. Psychiatry. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2695738/

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