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What is the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

Image of child thinking for our FAQ on ADD and ADHD

Someone who has trouble focusing or who is capable of being inactive for only brief periods of time is often identified as having ADHD or ADD. The problem with this designation is that both of these conditions are psychological conditions that require diagnosis and some intervention. Additionally, many people use the terms interchangeably without discrimination. So, what is the difference between ADD and ADHD?

What the Terms Mean

ADD is an acronym for Attention Deficit Disorder. ADHD means Attention Deficit with Hyperactivity Disorder. Both disorders are seen in adults as well as children, though children often “outgrow” the symptoms.


Although these conditions are often mentioned in schools and other environments today, they have been recognized for more than 200 years, according to an article in Psychology Today Magazine. Originally, poor focus and hyperactivity in children were looked upon as moral failures and lack of character. Eventually, though, doctors developed a model of the condition that led to diagnosis and treatment. Names for the diagnosis were Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood and Minimal Brain Dysfunction, among others. It is only in the past decade or two that scientists have realized that ADD and ADHD can go on into adulthood.

At one time, the greatest impact of the disorder was thought to be inattentiveness. Then the focus changed to the hyperactivity. Finally, both components were recognized as major symptoms. The term ADD originated in 1980 and in 1987 was replaced by ADHD as the major disorder. Add has since been identified as a type of ADHD.

How Diagnosed

Diagnosis has been a major problem in recognizing the condition. In adults and children old enough to communicate, some diagnosis depends upon self-reported symptoms. Those, however, can be highly subjective and depend upon how self-aware the patient may be. There are three types of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive/ impulsive and combined.

Some of the symptoms doctors look for in diagnosing the inattentive type are distractibility; forgetfulness; inability to focus on details; inability to finish a project and trouble with organization among others.

Symptoms of the hyperactive/impulsive type include excessive talking; inability to remain inactive; blurting out answers and frequent interrupting.

Other things generally looked for in diagnosis are the manifestation of symptoms before the age of 12, symptoms present in a variety of environmental situations and symptoms so severe that they impair functioning. Often, ADHD appears with pother conditions such as depression or learning disorders, and that can impact the severity of the symptoms.


For young children with the disorder, treatment may involve training their parents in methods of intervention. Older children may benefit from behavioral therapy that teaches them to manage their symptoms. Psychotherapy, both individual and family may be utilized. Adults benefit from behavior modification and adaptive skills training as well as from medication.

There is a trend toward holistic treatments as well as pharmaceutical intervention. Medications that may be used to treat ADHD include stimulants (which work for 70-to-80 percent of patients), non-stimulants and antidepressants. All of these methods involve side-effects, so careful monitoring by a medical professional is warranted.

The take-away from this information is that the disorder nomenclature has changed over the years and that the condition may impact children or adults enough to justify intervention. In short, current discussions of the disorder treat ADD as a type of the major diagnosis of ADHD.

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