ADD vs ADHD: Are They The Same?


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 The most significant difference between ADD vs ADHD is the fact that ADD is now outdated terminology.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 ADHD:

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.

Are ADD and ADHD the Same?

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the subtypes of ADD, and one of the mental disorders that most frequently affects children. An estimated 8.4% of children have ADHD and 2.5% of adults. 

ADHD symptoms are identical to a person with ADD, but they will also experience an added level of energy and hyperactivity. 

In school-aged children, after an ADHD test by a mental health professional, parents and guardians are the only ones who can decide whether their child will receive treatment or medication for an ADHD diagnosis. Many children with ADHD do well even without medicine if they have specialized instruction and learn study skills.

Symptoms of ADHD

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

If you or someone of older age who you know is suffering from any of these most common adult ADHD symptoms, it is time to seek help. A therapist can help talk you through any issues you might be having with your mental health. They can even help you make a plan to get organized, stay on topic, and get work done if that is something you’re struggling with a lot. 

Unable to Focus

One of the most common symptoms of adult attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is that you will find yourself unable to focus. Having a lack is of focus for people with ADHD is much more extreme than finding it hard to pay attention to the task at hand.

Instead, you might find yourself easily distracted by other tasks, things on your mind, or anything besides what you need to focus on at the time. 

You could also have difficulties talking with a person and listening to them. A conversation is a two-way street where you need to listen and respond. Yet, if you find yourself unable to listen to the person you’re speaking to, it will get very hard to communicate with the people in your life. 

Becoming distracted from completing tasks means that you might not even finish them at all. Adults with ADHD find it difficult to complete tasks on time. 


While you find yourself unable to focus most of the time, Adult ADHD can also lead to hyperfocus, which is the complete opposite. 

Hyperfocus is when you become so obsessed with completing something that it is all you can think about. Therefore you can get it done usually in a quick amount of time. 

You might think that hyperfocus can help adults with ADHD excel, yet it is another way to hurt their mental health. Sometimes they can get so engrossed with something that they lose track of time. Many times this has led to misunderstandings in relationships, which can cause even more trouble. 

Acting Impulsively

Impulsivity is another one of the major signs of ADHD from children to adults. Although it shows itself a bit different in adults than it does in children. For example:

  • Interrupting a conversation
  • Partaking in risky or self-destructive behavior
  • Being socially inappropriate
  • Rush to complete your tasks

One of the best ways to define the impulsivity of someone is by looking at their shopping habits. Many times impulse buying items that a person cannot afford is a symptom of adult ADHD. 

If you have a hard time deciding between what you want in the store versus what you need and typically end up buying it anyway, this could be a sign of ADHD. 

Negative Self-Image

Many adults with ADHD deal with low self-esteem, and that’s because this mental illness gives them a negative self-image. A person with ADHD might find themselves becoming extra judgy about things that they do and how they act. 


We all forget things once in a while, yet in someone with adult ADHD, it will occur much more often. There are tons of common things that ADHD symptoms can make a person forget. For example:

  • Where they put a certain item
  • Important dates
  • Tasks that need to be completed

Forgetfulness can be hard to deal with, but it isn’t always something that can cause a significant impact on your life even if you suffer from ADHD. 

Yet, for some people, forgetfulness can be serious. Especially when it starts to affect your job or relationships. People might start to think that you’re unreadable because you can’t remember to show up on time or a specific day. 

Some people can even consider people who forget a lot to be unintelligent, which isn’t true. Forgetfulness can be a serious symptom and one worth reaching out to if it is negatively impacting your life. 


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. 

Why ADHD is Not a Learning Disability

Those with ADHD can still learn how to read, write, do mathematics, discover scientific concepts, engage in a new hobby, and more.

The only issue is that focus is hindered for someone with ADHD. The lack of focus does not interfere with an ADHD individual’s ability to learn. This problem just creates challenges in the learning process, but the person can learn new things in their life when the issue is properly addressed.

For example, a child with ADHD in fourth-grade class can be a whiz kid regarding their timetables. Still, they just may need a different technique to remain focused (such as fidget poppers or another physical mechanic) when completing a timed test.

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) 258-9883.

Recent Posts

Help Is Here

Don’t wait for tomorrow to start the journey of recovery. Make that call today and take back control of your life!

Discover Your Path to Healing

Unlock the door to brighter days with San Diego Mental Health Center’s programs designed to help you thrive.

+1 (858) 258-9883

All calls are 100% free and confidential

Mental Health Center of San Diego Header Logo