How Long Does Medication Take to Work?
You’ve completed your first psychiatric assessment with your mental health purse practitioner. Now what? Do you pick up your prescription at the pharmacy and take your first dose the same day? Not quite. There’s more to consider about starting a new mental health medication than just taking it, like how long it takes to work. Let’s go through some of the different types of mental health medications and their timelines for reducing your symptoms.
Categories of Mental Health Medications
Antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilizers, stimulants, and anti-anxiety medications each have unique timelines for when you’ll see some symptom relief. For example, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) may start “working” within 1-4 weeks, while selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) take, on average, six weeks. However, the categories of mental health medications are broken down even further when you consider how often you need to take them. Here are the two options most prescribers use when figuring out dosage and routine.
- As Needed: Some medications like Xanax or Ambien are used to help alleviate symptoms that may not happen every day. If you have panic attacks, but only every so often, you might be prescribed a benzodiazepine medication PRN – this means as needed. Since they only work for a short time, they’re only taken as needed. There are different doses for different symptoms, so be sure to talk with your Balance provider to determine the appropriate one for you.
- Daily: Most people take mental health medication daily rather than PRN. These medications are designed to address long-term conditions with daily symptoms that need to be maintained. Depression, ADHD, or anxiety are all diagnoses that have daily med options like Zoloft or Seroquel. It’s usually recommended to figure out a routine for taking your medication to increase compliance and decrease the likelihood of experiencing any aggravating side effects.
Immediate Release vs. Extended Release
Whether a medication is an immediate or extended release also determines how long it takes to work. Naturally, immediate release works faster because it dissolves quickly in your stomach. However, this may lead to more noticeable side effects and a shorter course of action – how long the medication will last.
Extended release formulas are slowly dissolving, meaning they take longer to be metabolized by your body and, therefore, longer to work. With these medications, you’ll get a more even amount of the drug throughout the day, but it may take longer to feel the effects. For example, Adderall XR is meant to last for several hours compared to “regular” Adderall, which has to be taken multiple times a day due to a short half-life.
The Individualized Impact of Medication
Medications, especially antidepressants, work differently for each person. While some people may see benefits faster, others may take longer. Side effects like nausea, dry mouth, fatigue, or weight gain/loss are common signs that the medication affects your body. Plus, not all options are available for everyone. Allergies, body composition, lifestyle, or even other medications you take can limit your options. That’s why working with a prescriber with a holistic approach to mental health medication is so beneficial.
You can find providers who take this approach at Balance Psychiatric Services. In addition to our virtual psychiatric medication management services, we offer GeneSight testing to help eliminate some of the trial-and-error processes that come with finding the right psychiatric medication for your symptoms. Visit our website here to contact us about scheduling an appointment.