ADD vs. ADHD: What Are the Differences?

Understanding the Types and Signs in Kids and Adults

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Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a behavioral condition that includes challenges relating to overactivity and difficulty paying attention to the point that it interferes with everyday life. "Attention deficit disorder (ADD)" is an outdated term that is no longer officially used. However, there is a lot of confusion between these terms. Some people use the terms "ADD" and "ADHD" interchangeably, and others consider ADD a subtype of ADHD, though the subtypes are no longer used.

Learn about ADHD, the former subtypes of ADHD and why they are no longer officially used, how the term "ADD" is unofficially used, and more.

Inattentive ADHD vs. Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD - Illustration by Laura Porter

Verywell / Laura Porter

Differences Between ADD and ADHD

"ADHD" is the abbreviation for "attention deficit hyperactivity disorder"—the current, official term used to describe the behavioral condition of overactivity and difficulty paying attention. The name has changed multiple times; "attention deficit disorder," or "ADD," is one of the previous names that is still used unofficially. The use of multiple terms—even though ADD had been officially replaced by ADHD—creates a lot of confusion.

History of ADD and ADHD

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines mental health conditions to help standardize terms and criteria used for diagnosis. In 1980, ADD replaced a previous behavioral disorder called hyperkinetic reaction of childhood when the classification was redefined, and then in 1987 ADHD replaced ADD. However, this change was controversial.

Here is a brief timeline of the changes in the behavioral disorder now known as ADHD:

  • 1968: The behavioral disorder called "hyperkinetic reaction of childhood" was introduced.
  • 1980: "ADD" replaced "hyperkinetic reaction of childhood," with changes to the classification.
  • 1987: "ADD without hyperactivity" was removed and replaced with "ADHD."
  • 1994: Three subtypes were added to the classification of ADHD.
  • 2013: "Subtypes" of ADHD were changed to "presentations" of ADHD.

Due to the controversies and changes over the years, there is a lot of confusion about the terms "ADD" and "ADHD." "ADD" is not officially used anymore, but many people still use it anyway. Some people use the terms "ADD" and "ADHD" interchangeably. Other people use the term "ADD" to describe a presentation of ADHD called inattentive ADHD, or inattentive and distractible ADHD.

ADD and ADHD Subtypes and Presentations

The subtypes of ADHD introduced in 1994 were:

  • Impulsive and hyperactive ADHD: May include difficulty with organization, paying attention, or listening
  • Inattentive and distractible ADHD (sometimes unofficially called ADD): May include difficulty being still, waiting, or remaining quiet
  • Combined ADHD: Includes both impulsive and hyperactive ADHD and inattentive and distractible ADHD, and is the most common type of ADHD.

In 2013, the ADHD "subtypes" were changed to "presentations." This means that instead of being diagnosed with a specific type of ADHD, people are diagnosed with ADHD and the way in which they have ADHD.

ADHD Subtype vs. Presentation

  • Subtype: Symptoms are organized into categories and people diagnosed with a subtype do not move to different subtypes.
  • Presentation: People are diagnosed with the condition but it may show up in different ways, with different symptoms over the years.

The change from subtypes to presentations was made because people can experience different sets of symptoms as they develop, which fits more with a presentation than a subtype. For example, a child may experience symptoms of overactivity and difficulty paying attention during childhood, and then no longer experience overactivity as a teen or adult.

The APA classifies the symptoms of ADHD and organizes them based on the presentations of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It is possible to experience symptoms of multiple presentation categories. Some people refer to the inattentive presentation as ADD.

APA Classification of Symptoms

Inattentive/Distractible ADHD (ADD)
  • Difficulty with paying attention to detail

  • Difficulty maintaining attention

  • Difficulty listening

  • Challenges with finishing tasks

  • Organization and time management difficulties

  • Avoiding tasks involving attention

  • Frequently misplacing or losing objects

  • Distraction challenges

  • Forgetfulness

Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD
  • Fidgeting or squirming

  • Difficulty remaining seated

  • Restlessness, running, or climbing when inappropriate

  • Difficulty remaining quiet

  • Being overly active or difficulty remaining still

  • Excessive talking

  • Speaking before listening

  • Having challenges with waiting

  • Frequently interrupting or intruding

Causes of ADHD

It is not entirely understood what causes ADHD. However, it may be partially genetic. There are theories being researched, including possible causes such as toxin exposure during pregnancy or as a young child, but there is not enough evidence yet to call these potential risk factors causes.

Diagnosis of ADD (Inattentive ADHD) and ADHD

It is no longer possible to be diagnosed with "ADD" because the term has been replaced with ADHD. Some people may refer to the inattentive presentation of ADHD as ADD, but that is not an official term. ADHD cannot be diagnosed with medical testing. Instead, healthcare professionals such as pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists assess the symptoms to diagnose ADHD.

Depending on the nature of the symptoms, it may be determined that there is a presentation of:

  • Predominantly inattentive: To be diagnosed with ADHD with inattentive presentation, a person must show symptoms of difficulty focusing. Children must experience six of the inattentive symptoms listed in the table above during the previous six months. People 17 years of age or older must experience five of the symptoms.
  • Predominantly hyperactive-impulsive: A person must show symptoms of inappropriate overactivity or a frequent tendency to act without thinking. Children must experience six of these symptoms during the previous six months, and people 17 years of age or older must experience five of the symptoms.
  • Combined: A person must show symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity/impulsivity. Children must experience at least six inattentive and six hyperactive/impulsive symptoms during the previous six months and people 17 years of age or older must experience at least five inattentive and five hyperactive/impulsive symptoms.

When diagnosing ADHD, healthcare professionals may consider:

  • An assessment or evaluation
  • Conversations with the patient
  • Information from parents (if the person being evaluated is a minor)
  • Observations during appointments in an office setting
  • Notes or assessments from teachers or childcare providers, if relevant
  • Medical testing to rule out other possibilities
  • Information provided by other healthcare professionals, such as a primary care provider

Treatment

ADHD can be treated with:

  • Skills training for parents of children with ADHD
  • Psychotherapy (talk therapy) for children or adults with ADHD
  • Education services and accommodations at school
  • Medications, which are usually one of two broad categories—stimulants and non-stimulants
  • A combination of these treatments

Treatment options for ADHD partially depend on the age of the person with ADHD. For example, it is recommended that children under the age of 6 years old receive non-medication treatments only, while adults and children 6 years and older are recommended to be treated with medications along with other options.

Therapy

Therapy treatment options for ADHD may include training for parents of children with ADHD, training for adults and children with ADHD, and support at school.

Talk therapy is a conversation-based intervention that can help adults, children, and parents learn about factors that impact symptoms and outcomes of ADHD, including:

  • Environmental problems, such as aspects of home or school that are not supporting growth
  • Difficulty forming or nurturing friendships or relationships
  • Not feeling able to express thoughts or feelings
  • Co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Other needs related to health, such as sleeping well, eating a healthy diet, and exercising

The types of talk therapy that work well for children with ADHD are parent training and behavior management and child behavior therapy. Skills training and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help adults with ADHD.

Medication

Medications can be used to treat ADHD in people who are 6 years old or older. It is recommended that people be treated with non-medication options such as therapy at the same time. Medication options for ADHD include stimulants and non-stimulants.

Stimulants vs. Nonstimulants

  • Stimulants such as methylphenidate and amphetamines have been found more effective than non-stimulants and are the first recommended medicinal treatment for children and adults with ADHD.
  • Non-stimulants tend to be effective longer and may be more beneficial when treating ADHD along with other conditions that occur together, such as ADHD and tic disorders.

Summary

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, is a behavioral condition that may include difficulty paying attention, overactivity challenges, and issues with impulsiveness. "Attention deficit disorder" and "ADD" are outdated terms for the condition that was replaced by "ADHD" in 1987. However, the change was controversial and some people still use the term "ADD."

"ADD" is unofficially used to describe the presentation of predominantly inattentive ADHD. However, some use "ADD" and "ADHD" interchangeably, and there is confusion about how the terms are used.

A Word From Verywell

Suspecting, being diagnosed with, and living with ADHD can be challenging. If you or someone you know has or may have ADHD, help is available. Reach out to a healthcare professional, such as a primary care practitioner or mental health professional, for support. This condition is treatable. It is possible to be successful in school and work, and live a happy, fulfilled life with ADHD.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does ADD still exist?

    ADD does not officially still exist. Some people still refer to the inattentive ADHD presentation as ADD, though this is not accurate.

  • How do you tell the difference between ADD and ADHD?

    "ADD" is an outdated term. The current term is "ADHD." Some people still refer to the inattentive ADHD presentation as ADD. This presentation stresses difficulty paying attention rather than overactivity.

  • When do the symptoms of ADHD begin in adults?

    ADHD does not begin in adulthood, but it can be newly diagnosed in adults. To be diagnosed with ADHD, some of the symptoms must have been experienced before the person turned 12 years old. However, they may have gone unnoticed or undiagnosed until adulthood, so some people don't learn they have ADHD until they're adults.

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12 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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