Are My ADHD Meds Working?

Frequently, I’m asked, “How do I know if my ADHD medications are working?” This is a fascinating question. I often find that people start taking meds with an expectation that they will magically become organized. Other times, it isn’t like a person is expecting to feel a buzz, but they do seem to expect to feel something cognitively. In excess, the meds can be noticeable. Some describe the experience as a calmness. In any event, you shouldn’t be feeling a buzz.

Furthermore, pills don’t teach the skills, so don’t expect to magically or instinctively become organized. In simple terms, ADHD stimulant medication helps a person sustain focus. In other words, maybe you could read only four of five pages of a book before starting to take meds. If after taking meds you can read three chapters, then you will know the meds are having an impact because you are able to sustain focus for a longer period of time.

Another thing to be mindful of when it comes to taking meds is the simple fact that the meds help you sustain focus, but they don’t tell you what to focus on. Knowing what to focus on is still a function of mindfulness. What I mean is that you should pause and pay attention to what you are attending to. Then question if it is the right thing for you to focus on or if you should be spending so much time focused on it. Alternatively, have the awareness to find a structure, person, or system that helps you determine what to attend to.

In short, pills don’t teach skills, so if you are feeling a buzz, there is a chance you are overmedicated. The litmus test is whether or not you are able to sustain focus on a task you couldn’t attend to before taking the meds or if you are able to sustain focus on a task for a longer period of time. If you can, then your meds are having an impact.

Jeff Copper, Attention and ADHD Coach

6 thoughts on “Are My ADHD Meds Working?

  1. Hi All! For me, the medication provides two distinct, important forms of support.

    There is the focus, which is allied with a sense of “mental energy”. Another way to phrase that is a feeling of sustained momentum, which is different but related to focus. I feel focused, and more able to keep going.

    The second support is conceptual; if I don’t get things done as planned, it is a huge improvement to know that tomorrow will bring a solid opportunity to follow up. Before medication, there was always a subtle, probably subconscious doubt of what I could achieve the next day. This was very undermining of long-term confidence and basic optimism. Now, I know there is help at hand!

  2. Jeff: In addition to studying ADHD and getting some coaching from you, I was taking bupropion (an antidepressant) for my ADHD–my MD recommended against stimulants as not medically appropriate for me. I also started meditating on a daily basis. I was never really sure how well the bupropion was working, but I have found that meditation has been very effective, and so I recently stopped my medication. Since then, as one illustration of how meditation seems more effective for me than medication, I sometimes count my breaths during meditation. When I started, I quickly lost count within a few seconds because of distractedness. Today I went for about two minutes without losing count before moving on to another exercise.

    1. “Booya! I loved how you shared your experience meditating… counting your breaths. In my world I translate it as you are practicing using meditation as an exercise… like an athlete does exercises to practice developing a skill. The more you practice the better you get… up to 2 minutes! Love it!

  3. This is concise and very helpful. It is so true that increased focus is just one piece of the puzzle. Mindfulness, self analysis and systems complete the picture of a better functioning life.

    Just a couple of weeks ago in a meeting with my supervisor, I was able to articulate where I get off track with completing important tasks and together we came up with a simple list to help me prevent that.

    The meds help me look objectively at my own behavior and thought patterns.
    They also enable me to focus on my list and not feel overwhelmed or mentally tired from my work. But without the list itself, I’d be far less efficient.

    1. Thanks for your post. Well articulated. For many, the meds help them sustain focus. The meds don’t get you organized and they don’t tell you what to focus on… they just help you sustain focus. Further, they help but don’t resolve working memory issues. In the end, I’m thrilled that they help you PAUSE and get on track!

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