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ADD vs. ADHD: Are They One in the Same? 

differences between ADD and ADHD

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is among the most common mental health conditions diagnosed in youth. According to the Centers for Disease Control, ADHD affects about 10 percent of children between the ages of three and 17 years old. However, it is not often that we hear about “ADD,” or attention-deficit disorder, anymore. While this used to be a prominent phrase just decades ago, it has since dwindled or disappeared. This begs the question: Is ADD and ADHD the same thing, now? 

The simple answer would be yes—these disorders are now categorized under the same umbrella. However, the longer answer to this question would be, “not quite,” and let us explain why. 

The History of ADD vs. ADHD 

Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) is an outdated term that first appeared in the DSM-3, or Diagnostic and Statistic Manual of Mental Disorders. Experts used this manual to diagnose ADD, which typically manifested as a difficulty paying attention and staying on task. During this time, experts separated ADD into two types: ADD with hyperactivity, and ADD without hyperactivity.  

However, they soon realized that this was not enough to understanding the condition. Many patients also struggled with impulsivity, a symptom that the manual did not yet cover. It was in 1987 when the DSM was updated, and the American Psychiatric Association grouped all symptoms – inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity – into one diagnosis: ADHD. 

To this day, all forms of ADD are classified as “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder” (ADHD). Even if a person is not hyperactive, they still use this as the formal diagnosis. In this sense, ADD and ADHD are the same, now using the same diagnostic criteria. However, there are distinctions to be aware of. While ADD is an inaccurate and outdated term, some still use it to describe what is now a specific type of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: inattentive ADHD

Nowadays, there are three types of ADHD for which a person may be diagnosed. These are based on the symptoms they are exhibiting: 

  • Inattention type (formerly known as ADD) 
  • Impulsivity and hyperactivity type 
  • Combined type (a combination of all three symptoms) 

What is Inattentive ADHD? 

Inattentive ADHD is the correct way to refer to, what used to be, ADD. Another way to describe this diagnosis is ADHD with inattentive presentation. This essentially means that individuals have trouble paying attention, but do not display signs of hyperactivity. 

Young people with inattentive ADHD typically exhibit the following symptoms: 

  • Have trouble paying attention to details 
  • Have difficulty staying on task 
  • Do not always listen when spoken to 
  • Struggle with organizing tasks and activities 
  • Have a tendency to leave projects incomplete 
  • Are easily distracted  
  • Are forgetful in daily activities, and make careless mistakes 
  • Have trouble following instructions 
  • Dislike activities that require a long attention-span, such as reading 

In children, it is easy to dismiss spacey, forgetful, and lackadaisical behavior. However, it is important that parents are aware that these behaviors could also signal inattentive ADHD (formerly known as ADD). Talking to a clinician about these symptoms early can help put your child on a pathway towards success, without going undiagnosed and feeling self-conscious about their unique, daily challenges. 

What is Hyperactive ADHD? 

Hyperactive ADHD, also referred to as the hyperactive-impulsive type, is typically diagnosed in children who have trouble sitting still, relaxing, and waiting patiently.  

Young people with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD typically exhibit: 

  • Difficulty staying in one place, or sitting quietly 
  • Excessive talking, sometimes with a habit of interrupting others or finishing sentences 
  • Frequent fidgeting, squirming, or tapping hands/feet 
  • Persistent feelings of restlessness 
  • Urges to run, climb, pace, or let energy out in inappropriate situations 
  • Trouble participating in relaxing or quiet activities 

Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD can often go undiagnosed in children who are brushes off as overly excited and energetic. However, the symptoms of this type of ADHD can disrupt one’s ability to live a productive, satisfying life. With that in mind, parents should be aware of the above symptoms, which can surface even in childhood. 

What is Combined ADHD? 

Combined type ADHD, as you might have guessed, is a combination of both the above symptoms. Individuals in this category struggle with paying attention as well as sitting still. Experts suggest that combined ADHD is more common than the other two types, according to Healthline

To have combined ADHD, children and adults must present at least six symptoms of inattention and six or more symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity. According to ADDitude Magazine, “Men and boys more commonly have hyperactive symptoms, while women and girls more commonly have inattentive. Because of this, men are more commonly diagnosed than women, as their symptoms are more easily recognizable as ADHD.” 

ADD vs. ADHD: Different Symptoms, Same Disorder 

At the end of the day, the way to think about ADD and ADHD is this: ADHD is the official diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and may include symptoms that were previously classified as ADD. Today, ADD is not used and only causes confusion among individuals and the medical community. The new way to refer to ADD is inattentive ADHD, which manifests as a difficulty paying attention and focusing, especially in youth. 

The different types of ADHD might require different approaches to treatment, and treatment will also depend on each individual’s unique needs and circumstances. Treatment for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can involve medication, therapy, or a combination approach.  

If you suspect you or your child has ADHD, it is important to connect with a clinician and to discuss your specific symptoms. Getting the correct diagnosis, and understanding the type of ADHD your child has, can make all the difference in managing these symptoms effectively. Getting treatment now can also prevent larger mental health and substance use issues in the future. 

You may always call your family doctor or primary care clinician for advice, or reach out to a mental health specialist. Turnbridge is a leading mental health treatment provider, specializing in adolescent and young adult demographics. If your child is in need of help, and you need consulting on next steps, you can always reach out to us at 877-581-1793. You may also explore our programs online here.