What is the difference between add and adhd?

HotbotBy HotBotUpdated: July 9, 2024

Introduction to ADD and ADHD

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are terms often used interchangeably. However, these conditions, while related, have distinct characteristics that differentiate them. Understanding these differences is crucial for accurate diagnosis, management, and treatment.

Historical Context

The term ADD was introduced in the 1980s to describe individuals who had difficulty maintaining attention without the hyperactivity component. In 1987, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) revised the terminology to ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-III-R), encompassing a broader spectrum of symptoms. Today, ADHD is the preferred term, with ADD considered an outdated term for a specific subtype of ADHD.

Core Symptoms

ADD Symptoms

ADD is characterized primarily by inattentiveness. Individuals with ADD may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  • Frequent careless mistakes in schoolwork or other activities
  • Seeming not to listen when spoken to directly
  • Failure to follow through on instructions and complete tasks
  • Difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  • Avoidance or dislike of tasks requiring sustained mental effort
  • Often losing items necessary for tasks and activities
  • Easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  • Forgetfulness in daily activities

ADHD Symptoms

ADHD includes the inattentive symptoms of ADD but also incorporates hyperactivity and impulsivity. Symptoms of ADHD may include:

  • Fidgeting with hands or feet or squirming in seat
  • Leaving seat in situations where remaining seated is expected
  • Running or climbing in inappropriate situations
  • Inability to play or engage in activities quietly
  • Being "on the go" or acting as if "driven by a motor"
  • Talking excessively
  • Blurting out answers before questions have been completed
  • Difficulty waiting for their turn
  • Interrupting or intruding on others' conversations or games

Subtypes of ADHD

ADHD is categorized into three subtypes based on the predominant symptoms:

ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Presentation

This subtype aligns closely with what was traditionally known as ADD. Individuals exhibit significant inattention without the hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.

ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation

Individuals with this subtype show prominent hyperactive and impulsive behaviors without significant inattention.

ADHD, Combined Presentation

This is the most common subtype, where individuals display both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive symptoms.


Diagnosing ADD or ADHD involves comprehensive evaluation by a healthcare professional, typically a psychiatrist, psychologist, or pediatrician. The evaluation includes:

  • Clinical interviews with the individual and their family
  • Behavioral questionnaires and rating scales
  • Review of academic and medical history
  • Observation of behavior in different settings

The criteria for diagnosis are outlined in the DSM-5, which requires symptoms to be present for at least six months, be inappropriate for the developmental level of the individual, and cause significant impairment in social, academic, or occupational functioning.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of ADD and ADHD is not known, but several factors contribute to the likelihood of developing these conditions:

Genetic Factors

ADHD tends to run in families, suggesting a hereditary component. Studies have identified several genes that may be involved in the regulation of neurotransmitters such as dopamine.

Environmental Factors

Prenatal exposure to tobacco, alcohol, or drugs, as well as premature birth and low birth weight, have been associated with a higher risk of ADHD. Lead exposure and traumatic brain injury are also potential risk factors.

Neurological Factors

Brain imaging studies have shown structural and functional differences in the brains of individuals with ADHD, particularly in regions involved in attention, impulse control, and executive function.

Treatment and Management

Both ADD and ADHD are managed through a combination of behavioral strategies, educational interventions, and medication.

Behavioral Strategies

Behavioral therapy focuses on teaching individuals skills to manage their symptoms, such as organizational techniques, time management, and coping strategies for impulse control. Parent training and classroom management strategies are also effective.

Educational Interventions

Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) and 504 plans can provide accommodations and modifications in the school setting to support academic success.


Stimulant medications, such as methylphenidate and amphetamines, are commonly prescribed and have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms of ADHD. Non-stimulant medications, such as atomoxetine and guanfacine, are alternatives for individuals who do not respond well to stimulants.

Living with ADD and ADHD

Living with ADD or ADHD can present challenges, but with proper support and intervention, individuals can lead successful and fulfilling lives. Building a supportive network of family, friends, educators, and healthcare professionals is crucial.

Unique Considerations in Adults

While ADHD is often diagnosed in childhood, many individuals continue to experience symptoms into adulthood. Adult ADHD can impact work performance, relationships, and overall quality of life. Treatment for adults may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and coaching to develop skills for managing daily responsibilities.

The distinction between ADD and ADHD lies primarily in the presence of hyperactivity and impulsivity. While the terminology has evolved, understanding the unique symptoms and appropriate interventions for each presentation is essential for effective management. As we continue to learn more about these conditions, the hope remains that individuals with ADD and ADHD will find tailored support to thrive in all aspects of life.