Feel Like Your ADHD Meds Aren’t Working? You’re Not Alone

People say medications like Adderall aren’t working like they used to. We asked them how they’re coping.

by Camille Beredjick

Taking Adderall, Kait Visser says, was “a very good decision.” When Visser was diagnosed with ADHD in 2021 in her mid-20s, she was hesitant to try medication; psychiatric meds had given her trouble in the past. But Adderall quickly proved different. It boosted her motivation, reduced intrusive thoughts, and even helped alleviate her depression. Projects that used to take her 10 hours would be finished in five. She felt “not amazing, but functional.”

Two years later, in early February of this year, Visser noticed that her Adderall didn’t seem to be working as usual. She couldn’t focus on work, and when she did, getting things done took longer. But she had just increased her dosage. It didn’t make sense.

“Why, all of a sudden, am I getting behind on all these things?” says Visser, who’s based in Bellingham, Washington. “I’m really trying but the focus I usually have just isn’t there.”

Visser is an online business coach and mentor who specializes in working with neurodivergent individuals, including those with ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. She prides herself on meeting clients with compassion, and worked hard to build a business that could sustainably respond to the ups and downs of ADHD — both hers and her clients’.

Now, she says, she’s facing missed deadlines, low energy, and decreased productivity. “All of a sudden it’s operating how I was when I was unmedicated,” she says. “It feels like I can't trust myself again, and that’s really scary.”

The nationwide Adderall shortage, now ongoing for more than half a year, has left millions of people with ADHD struggling to access the medical care they need. But for some patients like Visser, even when they can access their prescriptions, the pills aren’t working quite the same.

“I’m taking all this Adderall, I’m drinking three cups of coffee, and I still can’t get anything done. I’m basically sh*t out of luck.”

That means people living with ADHD — a chronic condition whose hallmark symptoms include difficulty focusing, starting tasks, or staying organized — are looking for ways to manage their ailments without the usual support of their medications.

For Visser, that’s meant seriously adjusting her work hours and deadlines to accommodate her unsteady focus, and having transparent conversations with clients about expectations and needs. She’s investing more time into things that give her a dopamine boost, like DIY projects around the house. She’s drinking lots of caffeine, and is on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist.

“I’m taking all this Adderall, I’m drinking three cups of coffee, and I still can’t get anything done,” she says. “I’m basically sh*t out of luck.”

In March, a spokesperson from Teva Pharmaceuticals, a major manufacturer of Adderall, told the New York Times that manufacturing processes for the drug had not changed. There’s been no indication from the FDA that other ADHD drugs’ efficacies have decreased, either.

With no way to validate their suspicions, many ADHDers are turning to TikTok to express their frustrations. Some are securing professional toxicology screenings — which test for the presence of drugs or certain chemicals in the body — to check whether their systems contain amphetamines, a type of stimulant used to treat ADHD. Others are simply sharing their experiences, looking for anyone who can relate.

Jessica Carter, a 24-year-old graduate student in Virginia, noticed her usual Adderall prescription wasn’t working when she couldn’t muster the energy to get through her morning routine, let alone a roster of afternoon classes. She’s also heard stories mirroring hers on TikTok — as well as backlash, with some people mocking patients who have spoken up.

“The context was making fun of these people, like, ‘Why don’t people understand they’re taking drugs, they’re building a tolerance,’” she said. “It was so patronizing and condescending. You don’t know these people’s experiences.”

Stephanie Sarkis, Ph.D., a psychotherapist who specializes in ADHD, told Bustle that changes in stimulant efficacy can differ from person to person. Lack of sleep, a change in dosage or in other medications, increased stress, other medical conditions, or a change in the medication’s manufacturer can all impact how well the drug works.

“The medication and dosage that works for one person may not be a good fit for another person and vice versa,” she said. A drug’s effectiveness is highly dependent on who’s taking it, according to Sarkis, and in her case, she has not noticed any uptick in clients reporting their medications not working.

“I don’t have the motivation to find ways to cope. I just have not had the motivation to do literally anything.”

Some Adderall users are switching prescriptions altogether, but with mixed results. Netania Ogawa, who’s 23 and living in Salt Lake City, has taken prescription medication for her ADHD since 2017. When the shortage started last year, she switched from her usual Adderall prescription to Vyvanse, a long-acting alternative she’d taken for some time in high school. Vyvanse worked for her then, but it’s not clicking now.

“My life is going back to being messy, how it was when I was unmedicated,” said Ogawa, who’s preparing to go to school for nail technology. “I don’t feel it kick in. I have sporadic thoughts constantly that I’m still trying to fight.”

Ogawa says she’s relied even more on her phone during this time, making constant notes and reminders so she doesn’t miss plans or get behind on chores. She’s scoured TikTok for natural remedies, none of which have helped. But she also pointed out that her medication is critical to getting through the day. Without it, her ADHD symptoms are in overdrive, making it harder to find the energy to solve the problem.

“I don’t have the motivation to find ways to cope,” she said. “I just have not had the motivation to do literally anything.”

Ashley Hubbard, a 36-year-old freelance writer in Nashville, has taken Vyvanse exclusively since her ADHD diagnosis about three years ago. When her meds are working properly, they help her get into her daily groove and stay focused on a day’s worth of tasks. But over the past four months or so, she’s noticed a major drop in her focus and productivity.

“I looked up from sitting there for three hours and realized I literally got nothing done in those three hours,” she said.

Like Ogawa, Hubbard has come up with a Rolodex of coping mechanisms. She brings a list of questions to appointments so she doesn’t forget anything. She breaks up long stretches of work with more hands-on tasks, like taking her dog for a walk. She tackles her executive dysfunction by starting each day with the task she’s most excited about, which makes it easier to dive in.

And like Ogawa, she writes everything down — even if that means pausing a conversation to take out her phone.

“Typically that would be seen as rude, to pull out my phone when someone’s talking — it’s not a normal social behavior. But I’m going to do it anyway because that’s what I need to do to make my life work,” she said. “I wrote some notes down before you called. I knew I wouldn’t remember if I didn’t do that.”