How Long Does It Take for Lithium to Work?

Lithium is a medication used for managing bipolar disorder symptoms and symptoms of other conditions. It helps balance mood swings and avert manic episode phases. In multiple studies, it’s been shown to reduce suicide attempts drastically. If you’ve recently started — or are considering starting — Lithium therapy, you might be wondering how long does it take for Lithium to work? 

First, it’s essential to know that it can take some time to experience the full effects of Lithium medication. Most people find that Lithium starts to work within a couple of weeks, but the results are different for everyone. 

Continue reading as we explore how long Lithium takes to work, how you’ll know when it’s doing its job, and what you should do if you’re not getting the results you’re hoping for.

Timeline to Work

The timeline for Lithium medication to start working will vary from person to person. Some people begin noticing the medicine working within 2 weeks, but it can take up to several months for some people before optimal results are felt. Research shows it can take roughly 1 – 3 weeks on average for Lithium to fully work to the point that there’s a significant remission of symptoms.

How long does it take for Lithium to work for depression? 

First, note that Lithium therapy is only approved for treating bipolar depression. That said, for some people, it can begin to relieve symptoms of depression within 1 to 3 weeks.

How long does it take for Lithium to work for bipolar disorder?

For most people, Lithium will start working to reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder within several weeks. Again, it’s important to remember that results can vary, and Lithium treatment will not work the same way for everyone.

How Do You Know If Lithium Is Working?

We don’t fully know how or why Lithium is a mood stabilizer, but we understand it works by acting on the central nervous system. Lithium can help stabilize emotions and mood swings, making it easier to cope with symptoms of bipolar disorder and depression

Especially in the beginning, your doctor will likely closely monitor how Lithium affects you through regular checkups and blood work.

What are the immediate effects of Lithium?

It’s possible to have mild Lithium side effects when first taking this drug. For example, many people experience increased thirst, mild hand tremors, and nausea. These side effects can be uncomfortable, but they indicate that the psychiatric medication is having some effect. 

If symptoms and side effects increase or worsen to the point that you are uncomfortable or unable to continue taking the medication, reach out to your doctor as soon as possible. Your dosage may need to be adjusted, or you might need a new medication altogether.

“It will reduce the symptoms of depression or mania. This will lead to the mood feeling more stable. Please discuss any concerns with your doctor.”

– Talkspace psychiatrist Dr. Dion Metzger

Factors that Affect the Onset of Action for Lithium

Several factors can affect the onset of Lithium. Whether you’re just starting to take this psychiatric medication, you’re considering beginning it for treatment, or you’ve been on Lithium for quite some time, it’s important to understand the different factors that might affect how Lithium works.

Dosage: Your dosage can always be a factor in how well or how quickly a drug works. So, if you don’t feel your Lithium dose is working quite the way it should be, ask your doctor whether your dosage is correct.

Sodium: Sodium can have a significant impact on how Lithium works in the body. Talk to your healthcare provider about your diet, and don’t change your sodium intake suddenly while you’re on Lithium. 

Caffeine: Caffeine is another drug that has the potential to impact how well Lithium works. Be mindful of your caffeine intake. Talk to your healthcare provider if you’re worried it’s affecting how well Lithium treatment is working.

Alcohol: Like many medications, alcohol can have an impact on the efficacy of a Lithium dose. Avoid or limit your alcohol intake if you’re on Lithium for bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions. 

“Ibuprofen and diuretics can increase Lithium levels in patients so it’s advised to discuss with your doctor if you’re taking any of these medications.”

– Talkspace therapist Dr. Dion Metzger

What to Do When Lithium is Not Working

If you think this drug isn’t working how you expect it to, talk to your doctor. They might want to adjust your dosage or look into alternative treatment plans.

Get Personalized Mental Health Treatment with Talkspace

Talkspace is an online therapy and psychiatry platform that can help you effectively manage symptoms of bipolar disorder or other mental health conditions you’re living with. Our experienced mental health experts are here to help you gain control through personalized treatment plans designed for your exact needs. Whether that includes a prescription for Lithium online or not, an online psychiatrist is here to help you find the right treatment.

Get in touch with Talkspace today to learn more about how we’re changing the face of mental healthcare through convenient, affordable therapy access available to you anytime. Whether you’re wondering how long for Lithium to work or you have any other questions about mental health medications, Talkspace is here to help.  


Lewitzka U, Severus E, Bauer R, Ritter P, Müller-Oerlinghausen B, Bauer M. The suicide prevention effect of lithium: More than 20 years of evidence—A narrative review. International Journal of Bipolar Disorders. 2015;3(1). doi:10.1186/s40345-015-0032-2. Accessed March 20, 2023.

Chokhawala K, Lee S, Saadabadi A. Lithium. National Library of Medicine.  Published February 26, 2023. Accessed March 20, 2023.

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