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What is the difference between short- and long-acting ADHD medications?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Medicine
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications vary in the amount of time that they stay active in the body. Some medications are short acting, working to reduce symptoms for about four hours. Long-acting, also called intermediate-acting, drugs work for about eight hours. Others are extended-release formulas, lasting up to 12 hours.

Depending on your child's age, responsibility level, and schedule, your doctor may choose to prescribe a short-acting, long-acting, or extended-release formula. One advantage of the longer-acting formulas is that young children can take one pill in the morning that will last all day. They will not need to remember to visit the school nurse or take a pill during the school day.

Older teens and adults may choose to take short-acting formulas only when they are most in need of the medication, such as before classes or before a big presentation at work.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

Short-acting and long-acting ADHD medications are exactly the same drugs; they differ only in how long the effects last, which determines how frequently you have to pop a pill. The short-acting medications typically have an effect for only a few hours. That means you need to pop a pill several times a day. The effects of long-acting or extended-release forms typically control symptoms for the whole day. That means you only have to take one pill a day. One added benefit associated with the long-acting medications is that they prevent the roller coaster ups and downs that are sometimes associated with short-acting medications.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.