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How long does Ritalin last?

How long does Ritalin last?

Ritalin typically lasts 3-4 hours and takes around half an hour to start working.

Reviewed by:
Caitlin Gardiner, MD
|
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May 23, 2024
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Key takeaways

Ritalin is a popular brand name for the stimulant medication methylphenidate, which is FDA-approved for the treatment of ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) in adults and children aged 6 and older. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ADHD and prescribed Ritalin you might have some questions. Specifically, you might wonder how long its effects will last, as well as how it compares to other ADHD medications like Adderall.  

Ritalin is a short-acting drug and in this article, we’ll explain the timing effects of Ritalin, as well as provide information about other treatments for ADHD, including non-stimulant medications.  

How quickly does Ritalin work?

The short answer is that Ritalin works fairly quickly, but not immediately. Typically you’ll start to feel your ADHD symptoms getting better in 20 or 30 minutes after taking it. For example, your concentration may improve, and you may have an easier time staying on task.  

One factor that can complicate how long it takes for Ritalin to work is the dosage. Your doctor may start you on a relatively small dose to see how it affects you. With smaller doses of Ritalin, the medication’s effects may be harder for some people to notice, even if it’s working. If that’s the case, your psychiatrist may choose to prescribe higher doses.  One way to know if it’s working might be if you notice any side effects of Ritalin, like an dry mouth or muscle twitching. Among the more rare and serious effects are an elevated heart rate and high blood pressure. If you’re experiencing either, reach out to your doctor immediately.

Finding the right medication that helps with your symptoms can take time, and your doctor will guide you. It’s important to remember that you should never adjust the amount of medication you’re taking without consulting them first.

How long do the effects of Ritalin last?

Ritalin tends to work for 3-4 hours and has a short half-life. Half-life is the time it takes for half of a substance to move through your system, and Ritalin’s is quite short at just 2-3 hours. (Almost all of the medication will completely leave your body within 48-96 hours.) When a psychiatrist prescribes you Ritalin, they may instruct you to take two or three doses per day to ensure that you continue to benefit from the medication’s effects.  

How long Ritalin lasts can also depend on the formulation. Your psychiatrist may prescribe Ritalin LA, a form of the medication that acts just as quickly as regular Ritalin but lasts for a longer period of time: about 8-9 hours. Regular Ritalin is an immediate-release medication, whereas Ritalin LA includes immediate-release and extended-release components, which allow the medication to work for longer. As a result, you’ll typically take only one dose per day if prescribed Ritalin LA.

What affects the duration of Ritalin?

How long Ritalin lasts can vary from person to person. Some people have faster metabolisms than others. Other people may take medications that affect how Ritalin works in their bodies. Some specific factors that may affect how long Ritalin lasts include your age, weight, and sex.  

Your psychiatrist will consider all of this information and will work with you to optimize your dose to ensure that the medication is lasting as long as it needs to. If you’re not sure where to begin with finding a doctor, consider taking Talkiatry’s quick assessment. We can confirm a diagnosis and match you with a psychiatrist that’s right for you.  

And remember that Ritalin isn’t the only medication out there for ADHD. There are many non-stimulant options, too, that may be right for you.  

Does Ritalin last longer than Adderall?

The effects of Adderall (amphetamine and dextroamphetamin), another prescription stimulant  commonly prescribed to treat ADHD, tend to last for a bit longer than those of Ritalin. Immediate release Adderall lasts 4-6 hours for most people, while Adderall XR, an extended-release form of the medication comparable to Ritalin LA, will continue working for 8-12 hours. (To reiterate, Ritalin’s effects last 3-4 hours in its immediate-release form and 8-9 hours in its LA form.)

Another similar medication to Ritalin is Concerta, which contains the same drug methylphenidate but in an extended-release formulation. To learn more, check out: Ritalin vs Concerta

All of these medications are are controlled substances and they differ in a number of other ways and your doctor will help determine which is the better choice given your particular circumstances.

Other ways to treat ADHD

Stimulants like Ritalin and Adderall help relieve the symptoms of ADHD for many people, but can come with risk of misuse, dependence, and withdrawal. They’re not the only options available for treating the condition. In fact, they’re regularly used in conjunction with a variety of therapies.

Therapy

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps people with ADHD manage their thoughts and feelings, improve concentration, and adjust to pharmacological treatment.  
  • Behavioral therapy, which helps people be more aware of their thoughts and actions and, as the name implies, to change their behavior.  
  • Family and marital therapy, which can help the family members or spouse of a person with ADHD encourage better behavior and have more beneficial interactions with the individual.  

Medication

There are also effective non-stimulant medications FDA-approved for treating ADHD. Non-stimulant drugs come with a less chance of addiction and substance abuse and they include:

  • Strattera (atomoxetine), a selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) prescribed to children for whom stimulants have proven ineffective or intolerable.
  • Catapres (clonidine), an antihypertensive medication that lowers blood pressure and has proven to be effective in treating the symptoms of ADHD
  • Intuniv (guanfacine), which may be used alone or in concert with stimulants to treat ADHD.

In addition, antidepressants like Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Trintellix (vortioxetine) that affect levels of neurotransmitters in your brain are sometimes used “off-label” to treat ADHD. (In other words, they’re not FDA-approved to treat this specific condition, but clinicians may prescribe them anyway because they’ve found it effective in treating it.) The same is true of a number of atypical antipsychotic drugs, such as Risperdal (risperidone).  

There isn’t one best treatment for ADHD. People are different, and what’s best for one person isn’t always what’s best for another. Your optimal treatment plan is your optimal treatment plan, and it’s something you’ll discover in consultation with a qualified mental health professional.  

If you think you might have ADHD and aren’t sure where to start, your first step should be finding that qualified doctor. One option is to take Talkiatry’s quick assessment. We’ll use your answers to ensure that we’re a good match for you and that we take your insurance. Then we’ll match you with a psychiatrist suited to your specific needs.  

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

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About
Caitlin Gardiner, MD

Dr. Caitlin Gardiner is a board-certified psychiatrist specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry and psychotherapy.

Dr. Caitlin Gardiner's practice is based on the biopsychosocial model and believes that the foundation of healing is in psychotherapy and human connection. She is known for incorporating therapy into her medication management practice. Typically she offers 30-minute follow-up visits for medication management with focused therapy based on individual needs.

As a known helper, Dr. Gardiner started her career with a bachelors degree in social work from Cazenovia College in Cazenovia, NY. After changing career paths she received her medical degree from SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY. She stayed at Upstate to complete her general psychiatry residency where she was chief resident during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this, she completed her child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship at Upstate due to the high quality of training. Dr. Gardiner has completed 3 years of advanced training in Dynamic Deconstructive Psychotherapy as well as specialized training in DBT.

Dr. Gardiner is a well -rounded psychiatrist who enjoys treating youth and young adults during transitional phases of life while providing a safe and supportive environment. She believes strongly in reducing polypharmacy and providing high-quality medication management through a therapeutic and developmental lens.

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