New Study: Benefits of Rx Increase Over Time

ADHD medication more effective over time

A new study offers good news about the cumulative benefits of ADHD medications taken over time:

Results showed that adult ADHD patients who received drug treatment for more than two years had fewer symptoms and less psychological distress compared to those treated for two years or less.

Just yesterday, a consulting client asked me, “How long will it take after starting medication for my ADHD to start seeing the benefit?” My answer was the same as given in my book:

  • Symptoms tend to get better within weeks.
  • Functioning gets better within months.
  • Perhaps most important, careful observation may identify changes in development taking place over years. For example, the individual who never had a friend now makes and keeps them. Another who could not keep a job has now kept one for a year.

In other words, this study seems to confirm that the “higher-order” functioning does not happen immediately after starting medication. (Even if, by some miracle, you happen upon the best type of medication for you in the early days of treatment.)

Rather, it happens more gradually over time. Of course, some symptoms can be alleviated immediately — suddenly, you “see” that sock lying on the floor or how to clear that garage of longstanding clutter. But the more complex Executive Functions? Those connections might take longer to develop.

Implications for the Famous MTA Study

Another reason this study is important: Many people who should know better, including psychologist Alan Sroufe writing in a New York Times op-ed, have spread far and wide their gross misinterpretations of a well-known study called the MTA.

The MTA is a long-term, rigorous, multi-site study examining the effects of medication and other strategies on school-age children with ADHD. (Sorry but I’m not providing the link to the Times story; it only encourages them.)

These people claim the MTA offered proof that medications stop working after two years. (They don’t! the truth is more complicated!). They either are willfully misinterpreting the study or, honestly, they just aren’t smart enough to understand it. A source I respect, the Child Mind Institute, wrote a clear essay on this topic.

When it comes to misinterpreting the MTA findings, it’s not just the academics with an ax to grind (e.g. they’re miffed that medication works better than their specialized “therapies”). It’s also the anti-ADHD wingnuttery. Moreover, it is also certain people seeking to exploit the “ADHD Market” by offering their dubious services. Please consider your ADHD information sources carefully.

The study was led by Michael B. Lensing, MA, of Oslo University Hospital in Norway. You can read more about”Long-Term Treatment For Adult ADHD and here.

17 thoughts on “New Study: Benefits of Rx Increase Over Time”

  1. Hello,
    I was diagnosed with ADD about 3 years ago as an adult, and have been on medication since. I actually found your site because I was searching for information on long-term effects (both effectiveness and onset of new side effects). Lately I just haven’t felt that the medication has been as effective, and I’ve seen some changes in my mood overall.

    Your post makes the comment: “These people claim the MTA offered proof that medications stop working after two years. (They don’t! the truth is more complicated!).” Can you explain what this means a little more, or point me in the direction of another post that discusses it? Specifically, why do people believe the medications stop working after a couple years and what the “more complicated” answer is.


    1. Hi Kat,

      There are so many misconceptions and even propaganda-tropes on the Internet. If I addressed all of them, it would be another unpaid full-time job! 🙂

      Bottom line is: The MTA subjects’ medication “stopped working” because they stopped taking it—or they relied on “community care”. That is, prescribers in the community, not the more careful and attentive prescribers who worked with them for the study.

      Other reasons the medications “stop working”:

      1. Over-relying on the stimulant to propel one through the day instead of implementing supportive strategies.
      2. Developing sleep deficits
      3. Eating a poor diet, therefore depriving the brain and medication of the building blocks of neurotransmitters.
      4. The prescriber failing to account for co-existing conditions (e.g. depression, anxiety, etc.) that could be exacerbated by a stimulant alone and therefore reduce effectiveness.

      When it comes to Adderall, it has a different mechanism of action, compared to the other stimulants. And it can actually deplete cells of key neurotransmitters.

      Just a few possibilities!


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