What’s the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

ADD is an outdated term that was used to describe people with ADHD. However, some mental health professionals still use it. Here’s why.

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The difference between attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is simple enough. Those who experience attention deficit symptoms – such as difficulty listening or managing time – are diagnosed with ADD. Whereas those who experience these symptoms plus hyperactive and impulsive behaviors are diagnosed with ADHD.

Many may assume there’s ADD vs. ADHD – however, they’re both subtypes of the same condition. With that, it can be difficult for us to identify which subtype we struggle with and the best treatment plan for us. For this reason, it’s important to talk to a mental health professional about your symptoms. ¹

Most people with ADD or ADHD won’t reveal the stereotypical image we often associate with the condition. This may include an exuberant and direct individual who isn’t afraid to take risks. Rather, people with this condition are very likely to live quiet lives and handle their symptoms on their own.

Throughout this article, we going to dive deeper into the main differences between ADD and ADHD. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.

What is ADHD and ADD?

ADHD is the medical term used for an umbrella of psychiatric conditions that involve a person’s inability to pay attention. In fact, before the term ADHD appeared, the symptoms associated with this disorder were classified under ADD. This may be why there remains some confusion surrounding the two terms.

There are three types of ADHD that a medical professional may diagnose you with. These include: ²

  • Primarily inattentive
  • Primarily hyperactive-impulsive
  • Combination of the two

The subtype you fall under will ultimately determine whether you’re diagnosed with ADHD or ADD. While the term ADD is now-outdated, it’s often used to describe the primarily inattentive-type of ADHD.

However, it can sometimes be difficult even for professionals to tell which type you are. As with all mental illnesses, ADHD affects everyone differently. While some people may experience severe symptoms, others will find they have mild or moderate symptoms.

Inattentive ADHD

People who struggle with inattentive ADHD often have difficulty focusing, are very forgetful, and aren’t able to listen properly. In children, inattentive ADHD is sometimes observed as apathetic conduct and, in adults, it may be misdiagnosed for an anxiety disorder or mood disorder.

Common symptoms for those who struggle with inattentive ADHD include:

  • Appears not to listen when spoken to
  • Avoids, dislikes, and is apprehensive towards tasks that require enduring mental effort
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Difficulty with organization
  • Doesn’t follow instructions and is unable to finish projects
  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetful
  • Makes careless mistakes and is unable to pay close attention to details
  • Loses things that are required for tasks or activities

It’s important to note that in order to be diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, you must meet six of the above symptoms. Not to mention, these symptoms must have a significant impact on your day-to-day life.

Hyperactive Impulsive ADHD

People who struggle with the hyperactive impulsive type of ADHD are often viewed as individuals with an overabundance of energy. However, not everyone with this type of ADHD will present stereotypical characteristics.

The most common symptoms for hyperactive impulsive ADHD include:

  • Always seems to be ready, a very driven personality
  • Answers questions before the question has been completed
  • Difficulty awaiting turn
  • Difficulty playing or engaging quietly in activities
  • Excessive talking
  • Fidgety
  • In situations where remaining seated is expected (i.e. classroom), the individual will leave their seat
  • Interrupts others
  • Restlessness (i.e. running about and climbing things that are inappropriate)

As with inattentive ADHD, it’s required you meet six of the above symptoms in order to be diagnosed with the condition.

Combined ADHD

Combined ADHD is simply a combination of inattentive ADHD and hyperactive impulsive ADHD. In order to be diagnosed with this type, you must experience 6 symptoms of inattention along with 6 symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Some research has found that men and boys are more likely to experience hyperactive symptoms. Whereas women and girls are more likely to be inattentive. Due to this, men are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD as their symptoms are much more apparent. ³

ADHD and ADD in Adults

The symptoms for ADD and ADHD in adults are extremely similar to those present in children. However, adults may have less severe symptoms and, therefore, may not present such obvious signs of the condition.

Most adults who do struggle with ADHD have the inattentive type and will often experience the following: ⁴

  • Appear lazy, disinterested, and/or forgetful
  • Difficulty following verbal instructions
  • Losing interest in an activity quickly
  • Making careless mistakes

Most commonly, an adult with ADHD is someone who experienced symptoms throughout childhood, but was never properly treated. Very rarely does ADHD develop in adults after their teenage years.

Final Word

Since ADD is an outdated term, it shouldn’t be used in general among those trying to find help for their symptoms. However, it is sometimes used – even among mental health professionals – to identify the inattentive type of ADHD.

While the label may be helpful in this regard, it doesn’t necessarily determine the course of treatment you’ll take in order to recover.

Your Questions

Still have questions about the differences between ADD and ADHD?

We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge on the topic to offer – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.

Reference Sources

¹ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Learn About Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

² National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): The Basics

³ BMC Psychiatry: ADHD in girls and boys – gender differences in co-existing symptoms and executive function measures

⁴ Harvard Health Publishing (Harvard Medical School): Recognizing and managing ADHD in adults

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