ADHD vs. ADD: What’s the Difference? (2023)

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is an outdated term for what experts now call attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The term ADD first appeared in the third edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-3),” a reference manual that helps mental health professionals diagnose mental health conditions.

Experts separated the condition into two subtypes:

  • ADD with hyperactivity
  • ADD without hyperactivity

When the American Psychiatric Association released a revised edition in 1987, they combined these two subtypes into one condition: ADHD.

Today, ADHD is one of the more common childhood mental health conditions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that about 9.4 percent of children and adolescents (just over 6 million) in the United States have ADHD.

Adults can have ADHD, too. According to a 2021 review, nearly 2.6 percent of adults globally have persistent ADHD from childhood, while about 6.7 percent of adults have symptoms of adult ADHD.

Since these estimates come from reported symptoms and diagnoses, some believe the real prevalence of ADHD could be higher.

Types of ADHD

(Video) ADHD - What is it and what's the difference with ADD?

Experts have identified three types of ADHD, based on the main symptoms involved:

  • inattention
  • impulsivity and hyperactivity
  • a combination of inattention and hyperactivity

Inattentive type

Originally, ADD described the inattentive type of ADHD.

A doctor or mental health professional might have diagnosed ADD when someone had persistent symptoms of inattention and distractibility, but few signs of hyperactivity or impulsivity. Now, they’d most likely diagnose ADHD with a predominantly inattentive presentation.

Symptoms of the inattentive type include:

  • easy distractibility
  • frequent forgetfulness in daily life
  • trouble paying attention to details or listening when other people speak
  • difficulty concentrating on tasks or activities
  • trouble following instructions and completing tasks as directed
  • a tendency to lose focus or get sidetracked easily
  • difficulty staying organized or managing time
  • a tendency to put off or avoid tasks that require long periods of mental effort, such as homework or work projects
  • a habit of losing vital things needed for daily routines and activities

These signs might show up at school, work, home, or in personal relationships.

With this type of ADHD, you (or your child) might:

  • have trouble keeping track of special dates like birthdays and anniversaries along with due dates for work assignments and bill payments
  • find it difficult to complete tasks on time, and procrastinate on schoolwork, chores, or even projects you enjoy
  • have a hard time paying attention, even to things that interest you, like the latest book in a favorite series or a friend’s description of a recent trip
  • make frequent mistakes in your work

Hyperactive type

This type of ADHD, also called the hyperactive-impulsive type, involves symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.

Key symptoms include:

  • difficulty sitting quietly, remaining still, or staying in one place
  • excessive talking
  • difficulty waiting patiently or taking turns
  • frequent fidgeting, squirming, or tapping hands and feet
  • trouble staying seated in school, work, or other situations
  • persistent feelings of restlessness, which might show up as a tendency to run or climb in inappropriate situations
  • trouble playing quietly or participating in relaxing activities
  • a habit of finishing others’ sentences or giving an answer before someone finishes asking a question
  • a habit of interrupting others, intruding on conversations and activities, or using others’ belongings without permission

Again, these symptoms will show up in multiple areas of life. You might, for example:

  • need to pace the room or move around a lot, or feel as if you can’t stop moving
  • have trouble waiting in long lines, traffic, or for appointments
  • jump in with your own thoughts and ideas when others are talking
  • make decisions or shop impulsively
  • have emotional outbursts, or find it hard to manage extreme or intense emotions

Combined type

People with the combined type of ADHD have symptoms from both the inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive categories.

Children under the age of 17 need to have at least 6 symptoms from each category. Adults ages 17 and older need to have at least 5 symptoms.

Some experts suggest that the combined type of ADHD is more common than the other two types, especially in adults.

(Video) Difference Between ADHD and ADD

In an older study of 107 adults with ADHD:

  • 62 percent of adults with ADHD had the combined type
  • 31 percent had the predominantly inattentive type
  • 7 percent had the hyperactive-impulsive type

But a more recent review explored the prevalence of ADHD in children and adolescents in Africa. They found evidence to suggest combined ADHD was the least common type.

According to data from 12 studies:

  • 2.95 percent of children and adolescents with ADHD had the predominantly inattentive type
  • 2.77 percent had the hyperactive-impulsive type
  • 2.44 percent had the combined type

It’s possible that parents and teachers may simply find signs of combined ADHD easier to recognize. As a result, people with the combined type could have a better chance of getting the right diagnosis, since their symptoms align with behaviors most people associate with ADHD. This could give the perception that combined ADHD is more common than other types of ADHD.

A diagnosis of ADHD requires more than the key symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsivity.

Not only do children need to have 6 or more symptoms (5 or more for adults) for at least 6 months, they also need to:

  • have some symptoms before the age of 12
  • show symptoms in at least two different settings, including at school, home, work, with friends, or during other activities
  • have symptoms severe enough to interfere with function at school, work, or in social situations and affect quality of life

Before making a diagnosis of ADHD, a mental health professional will also rule out other mental health conditions, including:

  • mood or anxiety disorders
  • substance use disorders
  • personality disorders
  • dissociative disorders

Does ADHD show up differently for adults?

(Video) What's the difference between ADD and ADHD?

Parents and teachers may not always notice symptoms of ADHD in children, especially when those symptoms are less easy to observe and don’t disturb others.

Research from 2020 notes, for example, that inattentive symptoms often go unrecognized, especially in girls, since these symptoms generally don’t disrupt others. A child with inattentive ADHD might seem dreamy or distant. They might also seem intently focused on what looks like class notes when they’re actually doodling or zoning out.

If you don’t get a diagnosis in childhood, you might not seek support unless you begin to have problems at work or school, or in your relationships with friends and romantic partners.

Many people with ADHD find their symptoms improve with age. That said, if you never get the right diagnosis or treatment, you might continue to find those symptoms difficult to cope with. As a result, you might feel as if they’re getting worse over time.

Other mental health symptoms, like anxiety and depression, not to mention the everyday stressors that come with being an adult, can also affect your symptoms. These factors could lead to changes in the symptoms you experience.

Generally speaking, the symptoms of ADHD remain much the same for children and adults. But if you have more responsibilities as an adult, your symptoms could have more of an impact on your life.

  • In childhood, it might matter less if you frequently forget dates or lose your keys, if you have parents and siblings to help you out.
  • As an adult, forgetting to pay your rent, losing your wallet, or frequently showing up late for work could have more serious consequences.

Learn more about key signs of ADHD in adults.

You might have heard ADD (the inattentive type of ADHD, that is) described as a “less severe” form of ADHD, or something along those lines.

(Video) What’s the difference between ADD and ADHD?

In reality, though, none of the three ADHD types are necessarily any more or less severe than the others.

Still, symptom severity absolutely can differ from person to person, even in the same family. You and a sibling could both have the combined type of ADHD, for example, but one of you may have milder symptoms.

The so-called “milder” inattention symptoms can still have a big impact. These symptoms may not affect your conduct or behavior at school or work in any obvious way. But you might still face plenty of difficulties focusing, staying organized, or completing tasks correctly and on time.

These symptoms might not improve if they go undiagnosed and untreated, so they can last into adulthood and continue to create challenges in your life.

Getting the correct diagnosis and finding the best treatment for you can go a long way toward helping you manage these symptoms effectively.

Learn more about treatment options for ADHD.

Mental health professionals no longer diagnose ADD. Instead, they’ll diagnose one of three types of ADHD — inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, or combined — based on your (or your child’s) symptoms.

Sharing all of the symptoms you notice with your therapist or doctor can help them to arrive at the correct diagnosis.

At the end of the day, what matters most is finding a treatment that works for you, whether that involves therapy, medication, or both. Determining the type of ADHD you have can put you one step closer to finding an effective treatment.

(Video) What Is The Difference Between ADD And ADHD? (Dr Richard Abbey)


What are the main differences between ADHD and ADD? ›

There is no difference between ADD and ADHD. ADD (attention-deficit disorder) is an outdated term for what is now called ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder). Some kids with ADHD have hyperactive behaviors and some don't, but the diagnosis is ADHD either way.

Why is ADD no longer a diagnosis? ›

However, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) only recognizes only ADHD. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) does not provide criteria for ADD. Doctors now consider ADD an outdated term.

What are the 6 symptoms of ADD? ›

Symptoms in adults
  • carelessness and lack of attention to detail.
  • continually starting new tasks before finishing old ones.
  • poor organisational skills.
  • inability to focus or prioritise.
  • continually losing or misplacing things.
  • forgetfulness.
  • restlessness and edginess.
  • difficulty keeping quiet, and speaking out of turn.

What are the 3 main symptoms of ADD? ›

ADHD, also called attention-deficit disorder, is a behavior disorder, usually first diagnosed in childhood, that is characterized by inattention, impulsivity, and, in some cases, hyperactivity. These symptoms usually occur together; however, one may occur without the other(s).

What is ADD behavior? ›

Overview. Adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a mental health disorder that includes a combination of persistent problems, such as difficulty paying attention, hyperactivity and impulsive behavior.

What are the four types of ADD? ›

Amen, the seven types of ADD/ADHD are as follows:
  • Classic ADD.
  • Inattentive ADD.
  • Over-focused ADD.
  • Temporal Lobe ADD.
  • Limbic ADD.
  • Ring of Fire ADD (ADD Plus)
  • Anxious ADD.
Jan 25, 2019

Does ADD go away with age? ›

“Children diagnosed with ADHD are not likely to grow out of it. And while some children may recover fully from their disorder by age 21 or 27, the full disorder or at least significant symptoms and impairment persist in 50-86 percent of cases diagnosed in childhood.

Can your ADD go away? ›

Many children (perhaps as many as half) will outgrow their symptoms but others do not, so ADHD can affect a person into adulthood. 2.

Is ADD considered a mental illness? ›

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common mental disorders affecting children. Symptoms of ADHD include inattention (not being able to keep focus), hyperactivity (excess movement that is not fitting to the setting) and impulsivity (hasty acts that occur in the moment without thought).

What is the main cause of ADD? ›

The cause(s) and risk factors for ADHD are unknown, but current research shows that genetics plays an important role. Recent studies link genetic factors with ADHD. In addition to genetics, scientists are studying other possible causes and risk factors including: Brain injury.

What ADD feels like? ›

People with ADHD will have at least two or three of the following challenges: difficulty staying on task, paying attention, daydreaming or tuning out, organizational issues, and hyper-focus, which causes us to lose track of time. ADHD-ers are often highly sensitive and empathic.

What triggers my ADD? ›

Common ADHD triggers include: stress. poor sleep. certain foods and additives.

What is a person with ADD like? ›

People who say they have ADD most likely have symptoms of inattentive type ADHD like forgetfulness and poor focus, organization, and listening skills. Inattentive ADHD often resembles a mood disorder in adults, while it's seen as spacey, apathetic behavior in children, particularly girls.

How do you test someone for ADD? ›

There is no single medical, physical, or other test for diagnosing ADHD, previously known as ADD. To determine if you or your child has ADHD, a doctor or other health professional will need to be involved.

How do you test if someone has ADD? ›

There is no single test used to diagnose ADHD. Experts diagnose ADHD when symptoms impact a person's ability to function and they've shown some or all of the symptoms on a regular basis for more than 6 months and in more than one setting.

Does ADD make you moody? ›

People with ADHD also tend to feel heightened emotions like anger, frustration, or disappointment. Although moodiness isn't unique to ADHD, poor self-control and impulsivity can cause mood swings, which are common symptoms of ADHD.

Does ADD cause anger? ›

Anger is not on the official list of ADHD symptoms . However, many adults with ADHD struggle with anger, especially impulsive, angry outbursts . Triggers can include frustration, impatience, and even low self-esteem. A number of prevention tips may help adults with ADHD manage anger as a symptom.

Is ADD anxiety? ›

Anxious ADD is one of the theorized “7 types of ADD” (Classic ADD, Ring of Fire ADD, Temporal Lobe ADD, Limbic ADD, Inattentive ADD, Overfocused ADD) and is characterized by a severe feeling of anxiousness and nervousness as well as inattention.. These symptoms are caused by a dysregulated brain.

Is ADD a form of depression? ›

ADHD and depression are separate disorders but tend to have much overlap. If you've been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and depression, you might wonder what this means for you in terms of prognosis, treatment, and lifestyle changes you can make to improve your situation.

Is ADD form of autism? ›

In short, the answer is “no”. While autism and ADHD are both neurological conditions, they're not the same thing. There are, however, many overlapping symptoms between ADHD and autism and it's not uncommon for people to have a dual diagnosis.

Can ADD be seen on a brain scan? ›

Though brain scans cannot yet reliably diagnose ADHD, some scientists are using them to identify environmental and prenatal factors that affect symptoms, and to better understand how stimulant medications trigger symptom control vs. side effects.

Why is ADD now called ADHD? ›

In 1994, doctors decided all forms of attention-deficit disorder would be called "attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder," or ADHD, even if the person wasn't hyperactive. Now it's called , inattentive type, or ADHD, hyperactive/impulsive type, or ADHD, combined type.

Can you be both ADD and ADHD? ›

Yes, It Is Possible to Have Both ADD and ADHD.

If we go by the premise above that ADD refers to inattention and ADHD refers to hyperactivity, then it is possible to have both.

What are the three types of ADHD different? ›

The three types of ADHD are primarily hyperactive and impulsive, primarily inattentive, and combined. Each presentation is distinguished by a set of behavioral symptoms outlined in the DSM-5 that physicians use to diagnose the condition.

Is ADD Neurodivergent? ›

ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, and Dyslexia all fall within the spectrum of “Neurodiversity” and are all neurodiverse conditions. Neuro-differences are recognised and appreciated as a social category similar to differences in ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or ability.

Is ADD still a mental illness? ›

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common mental health condition. While people may use different terms for ADHD, technically it does fall into the broad category of “mental illness.”

How do they test for ADD? ›

There is no single test used to diagnose ADHD. Experts diagnose ADHD when symptoms impact a person's ability to function and they've shown some or all of the symptoms on a regular basis for more than 6 months and in more than one setting.

Is ADD considered a disability? ›

Yes. Whether you view attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as neurological — affecting how the brain concentrates or thinks — or consider ADHD as a disability that impacts working, there is no question that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers individuals with ADHD.

Is ADD a learning disability? ›

Although ADHD is not considered a learning disability, research indicates that from 30-50 percent of children with ADHD also have a specific learning disability, and that the two conditions can interact to make learning extremely challenging.

Is ADD inherited? ›

Genetics. ADHD tends to run in families and, in most cases, it's thought the genes you inherit from your parents are a significant factor in developing the condition. Research shows that parents and siblings of someone with ADHD are more likely to have ADHD themselves.

Is anxiety part of ADD? ›

Anxious ADD is one of the theorized “7 types of ADD” (Classic ADD, Ring of Fire ADD, Temporal Lobe ADD, Limbic ADD, Inattentive ADD, Overfocused ADD) and is characterized by a severe feeling of anxiousness and nervousness as well as inattention.. These symptoms are caused by a dysregulated brain.

What mental illness is the opposite of ADHD? ›

In many ways, those who have an SCT profile have the opposite symptoms of those with classic ADHD: Instead of being hyperactive, extroverted, obtrusive, and risk takers, those with SCT are passive, daydreamy, shy, and "HYPO"-active in both a mental and physical way.

What does ADHD look like in adults? ›

Many adults with ADHD have trouble performing at work and difficulty with day-to-day responsibilities (e.g., completing household chores, paying bills, organizing things). To others, they may come across as insensitive, uncaring or irresponsible, which can damage their relationships.

Is ADD a trait of autism? ›

More than half of children on the autism spectrum have symptoms of ADD, according to CHADD — difficulty settling down, social awkwardness, the ability to focus only on things that interest them, and impulsivity. ADHD itself, however, is not part of the autism spectrum.

Is ADD under the autism spectrum? ›

ADHD is not on the autism spectrum, but they have some of the same symptoms. And having one of these conditions increases the chances of having the other. Experts have changed the way they think about how autism and ADHD are related.

Is ADD an intellectual disability? ›

The answer is no, but it can seem like it, since ADHD affects a child's ability to pay attention, focus on tasks, and remember things. To repeat, there is no such thing as an ADHD learning disability.


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