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ADD vs ADHD: Are They The Same?


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Is there a difference between ADD and ADHD? The question is common about these mental disorders. The most significant difference between ADD vs ADHD is the fact that ADD is now outdated terminology. Below, we look at what these conditions are, how we treat them, and how they compare to one another.

What is ADD?

Attention-deficit disorder or ADD was once the term used to refer to what’s now called ADHD or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. The diagnostic name was ADD until 1987. At that point, hyperactivity became included in the title.

Before that time, if a child received a diagnosis of the behavioral condition, it was simply called ADD, regardless of whether or not hyperactivity was a symptom. By the early 1990s, a diagnosis was ADHD.

We sometimes still hear the condition called ADD, perhaps because people may be more familiar with the term or out of habit. The terms can be interchangeable, but the American Psychiatric Association hasn’t used the term ADD since 1987.

What is Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is one of the most common disorders we see in childhood. The broad term and the symptoms vary significantly from person to person. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 6.4 million children have an ADHD diagnosis in the United States.

There are three types of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

Inattentive Type

With the inattentive presentation of ADHD, a person should have six of the nine key symptoms that must be present for a diagnosis; including:

  • Lack of attention to detail
  • Careless mistakes
  • Problems staying on task and paying attention
  • Not listening
  • Unable to follow instructions or understand them
  • Avoiding tasks requiring effort
  • Easily distracted
  • Forgetfulness
  • Losing items needed to complete work or tasks

Hyperactive-Impulsive Type

To diagnose the hyperactive-impulsive type of ADHD, a person would need at least six of the following nine symptoms but few of the inattentive type of the disorder. Combined ADHD symptoms of inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive include:

  • Squirming
  • Constant fidgeting
  • Leaves seat at inappropriate times 
  • Climbing or running inappropriately
  • Trouble playing quietly
  • Excessive talking 
  • Blurting out
  • Interrupting
  • Always on the go or high activity levels 

Combined Type

The most common ADHD diagnosis is the combined presentation. When someone has the combined type, they’ll show inattentive symptoms and symptoms of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD.

Girls are more likely to have inattentive ADHD, while boys are more likely to have hyperactive-impulsive or combined types.

Other Symptoms

The key symptoms for a diagnosis of ADHD are inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. There are other criteria used diagnostically as well. These include:

  • Showing signs before age 12
  • Symptoms in more than one setting, for example, at both school and home
  • Evidence the symptoms are interfering with daily activities and functionality at home, school, or in social settings
  • No other explanation for symptoms—for example, another condition like an anxiety disorder or mood disorder doesn’t account for the symptoms

Symptoms in Adults

ADHD is considered a neurodevelopmental disorder. Researchers and mental health professionals don’t think it can appear in adults without showing up in childhood initially. Even so, the symptoms of ADHD in adults are different from what we frequently see as far as symptoms in children. 

Adult ADHD symptoms can include:

  • Problems with organization
  • Inability to prioritize or focus attention
  • Being edgy or restless
  • Mood swings or a quick temper
  • Difficulty or inability to handle stress
  • Impatience

While researchers don’t believe ADHD first develops in adults, you can have it and not receive a diagnosis until later in your life. Often, when people are adults, they’ll receive prompting from coworkers, friends, or family to consider that they could show the disorder’s symptoms.

In other situations, the symptoms may disappear as someone gets older.


The primary symptoms a child or adult experiences with ADHD can vary quite a bit in their degree of severity. Some people may just have mild symptoms of inattentiveness when doing something they don’t enjoy, for example. Then, with mild symptoms, that person may focus on things they like or on a leisure activity. 

For other people, there’s a pretty severe interference between the symptoms and functionality in daily life.

If there’s a co-occurring disorder like anxiety, depression, or a learning disorder, it can make attention-deficit hyperactivity symptoms worse.

What Causes ADHD?

We don’t yet know the specific causes of ADHD. Some evidence suggests genetics play a role. Three out of four children with ADHD have a relative that also has the disorder. Environmental risk factors may also play a role, such as extreme stress during pregnancy or premature birth. 

Effective Treatments for ADHD 

To properly treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a diagnosis is needed. Diagnosing the condition can be challenging because there’s not one single test to rely on. Instead, a health care provider or counselor may first work to rule out any other conditions causing the symptoms. They’ll then gather information and use psychological tests or ADHD rating scales to diagnose the mental health condition. 

Criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual are essential in making a diagnosis. 

  • Other psychiatric disorders resemble ADHD. 
  • For example, many other mental health disorders can have similar symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, bipolar disorder, learning disability and language disorders, defiant disorder, or conduct disorder. 
  • A medical condition can affect behavior and thinking, like thyroid problems, low blood sugar, or a neurological condition like brain injuries. 
  • Certain drugs and medications can also cause similar symptoms.

Once there’s an elimination of other potential issues, a treatment plan can begin.


One of the first-line treatments for any form of ADHD in children and adults is medication. Medications can include:

  • Stimulants: These medicines will often include amphetamine or methylphenidate. They help balance neurotransmitters, which are brain chemicals, to manage symptoms.
  • Atomoxetine is a non-stimulant medicine sometimes used.
  • Antidepressants like bupropion can also be a treatment option. They don’t work as quickly as stimulants, but some people can’t take stimulant medications.

Therapy and Counseling

Counseling for ADHD can be a great way to learn skills to manage behaviors and symptoms. Counseling is also a good way to learn about the condition. Psychotherapy can help if you have ADHD in a variety of ways.

  • Behavior therapy or psychotherapy can help manage organizational skills and time management as well as other behavior modifications. 
  • When you participate in therapy you can learn problem-solving skills and strategies to reduce impulsive behavior. 
  • Therapy is also a means to improve self-esteem and learn how to improve relationships and control your symptoms.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the more common types used for ADHD. You can learn how to challenge your negative thought patterns and, in turn, change your problematic behaviors.

You might also participate in family therapy or relationship counseling since living with someone with ADHD can be challenging for your loved ones.

Final Thoughts

To sum up, according to the statistical manual of mental disorders in comparing ADHD vs ADD, there is no difference. The only difference is that ADD is now considered an outdated term. ADD didn’t take into consideration the hyperactive symptoms of this condition, while ADHD does. If you were to receive a current diagnosis, it would be for an attention-deficit hyperactive disorder, which can then fall into a subcategory.

To learn more about ADHD diagnoses and treatment, please call The Mental Health Center of San Diego today by calling 858-465-7722.