If you're wondering "what's the difference between ADD and ADHD?" you're not alone. Both ADD and ADHD are technically attention disorders that can cause difficulty with focus and concentration, but only one of them is actually the "correct" term.
Let's clear things up
First of all, ADD and ADHD actually refer to the same condition. “ADD” stands for “attention deficit disorder”, and was characterized by inattention and a lack of focus. However, ADD was officially changed to “ADHD” in the DSM in 1987.
That definition was further revised in the 1990's to include three subtypes of ADHD: predominantly inattentive (ADHD-PI), hyperactive-impulsive (ADHD-HI), and combined (ADHD-C).
As confusing as that sounds, it’s actually still an upgrade from what was used in 1968: “Hyperkinetic reaction of childhood”. (Yes - that was the actual name for ADHD back in the day.)
Nowadays, when people say “ADD”, they're usually referring to the inattentive type of ADHD.
However, clinical use of this term has been almost entirely phased out — it’s all ADHD these days.
So, how is "ADD" different from ADHD?
“ADD”, or predominantly inattentive ADHD, typically causes problems with organization and concentration. This type is not always as obvious as hyperactive ADHD, and symptoms usually appear in a person’s work or school life.
Inattentive ADHD symptoms
Someone with inattentive ADHD may have trouble keeping their focus on their work, becoming easily distracted and often making "careless mistakes".
Other symptoms include:
- Struggles with following instructions
- Difficulty completing tasks and meeting deadlines
- Seems like they’re not listening when spoken to
- Has trouble with organization
- Often avoids tasks that demand a great amount of mental effort
- Misplaces and loses things often
- Forgets things frequently
Hyperactive ADHD symptoms
On the other hand, the predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD is typically easier to spot. It is characterized by restlessness, high energy levels, and impulsivity.
A person with this type of ADHD may show some or all of the following symptoms:
- Frequent fidgeting or squirming, particularly when seated
- Can’t seem to sit still when required
- Frequent running or climbing at inappropriate times
- Unable to take part in solo activities quietly
- Is often “on the go”
- Excessive talking
- Blurts out answers to questions before the speaker is complete
- Frequently interrupts or intrudes on others
How is ADHD treated?
Treatment for ADHD (and ADD) can vary, but medication is often used to help manage symptoms. Speak to a healthcare professional if this is something you would like to explore.
In addition, therapy and counseling can be useful for treating ADHD. Behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing behavior through rewards and consequences has proven to be helpful for people with ADHD. Cognitive behavioral therapy, which focuses on changing negative thought patterns, is also widely used and effective.
Which terminology will you use?
Some people with ADHD find that their symptoms reflect a mix from both the inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive types — leading to a diagnosis of combined type ADHD. This is the most common presentation of ADHD.
While ADHD has three distinct subtypes or presentations, people with ADHD can show any number or combination of these symptoms throughout their lifetime. As for the terminology, "ADHD" is the official name - but depending on your diagnosis, maybe you feel “ADD” suits you better.