What is the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

If you’ve ever been in a conversation about attention deficit disorders, you’ve likely heard people refer to ADD and ADHD. They may use the acronyms interchangeably as if there is a difference. The truth is, they are the same.

In this article, we’re exploring one of the most common questions we hear from people – what is the difference between ADD and ADHD?

What’s the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

ADD is considered an outdated term today, and it is recommended we use ADHD when discussing attention deficits.

Because there hasn’t been a big push to clarify the name changes, it’s easy to think they are different disorders. People may also think ADHD occurs only in children, but many Americans have onset ADHD in adulthood.

Research shows every age group is affected by ADHD. For example, 388,000 children aged two to five and 2.4 million children aged six to eleven have an ADHD diagnosis. Also, between 8% and 9% of all kids from twelve to eighteen, between 24% and 45% of adults have ADHD.

It’s essential to understand how the name has evolved since it affects so many Americans. So, what is the difference between ADD and ADHD?

Hyperkinetic Impulse Disorder

While attention deficits were noted as early as 1902, it wasn’t until 1968 until it was given a name. The American Psychiatric Association named the condition hyperkinetic impulse disorder in their second publishing of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM).

The DSM is a resource for medical and mental health professionals that provides definitions of psychiatric disorders, including causes, risk factors, and treatments.

Attention Deficit Disorder

In 1980, a third edition of the DSM was published, and experts updated information on pre-existing disorders and added newly discovered disorders. In this edition, hyperkinetic impulse disorder was now called attention deficit disorder or ADD, for short.

Hyperactivity was not as prevalent at the time, but because it was still a symptom, experts provided two sub-categories of ADD. One was called ADD with hyperactivity, and the other was ADD without hyperactivity.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Seven years after the third edition of the DSM was published, a revised version was created. In the DSM 3 revised, experts decided sub-categories were no longer needed. Hyperactivity was being diagnosed more often, so they decided to make it one disorder of combined symptoms.

The symptoms were inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. It didn’t take long for another adaptation.

Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder

In 1994 the fourth edition of the DSM was published, and in 2000, a revised version of the fourth edition was published. In the new versions, three sub-types of ADHD reappeared. The experts determined a person could have one or all the sub-types, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, combined type; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; predominantly inattentive type; and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type.

Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

In 2013, the fifth edition of the DSM was published. It is the one we still use today. There were only language changes to ADHD in this version. For example, sub-types are now called presentations. A sixth edition is likely in the works. Until it arrives, psychiatrists will use specific criteria to diagnose children and adults with ADHD.

Depending on individual symptoms, a person can have one of the following:

  • Combined Presentation: if enough symptoms of both criteria inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity were present for the past six months
  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: if enough symptoms of inattention, but not hyperactivity-impulsivity, were present for the past six months
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: if enough symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity, but not inattention, were present for the past six months.

At least six symptoms must be present for someone under the age of 16, and five symptoms for those 17 and older. So, what are the symptoms used to distinguish between the three presentations? Let’s take a closer look.

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation

Someone who is predominantly inattentive will make careless mistakes. For example, a student may know how to complete a math problem but, due to attention issues, completes it the wrong way. Other symptoms include struggling to stay attentive in activities. You may feel like they are not listening to you even though they are looking at you while you speak.

Also, they find it hard to follow through with instructions, complete tasks, organize tasks, and avoid work requiring a lot of concentration. They are easily distracted and forgetful.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation

Hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms appear very differently than inattention. A person with ADHD in this category shows signs of fidgeting, talking too much, and being unable to stay seated. They may tap their hands and feet or constantly move some part of the body without realizing they are doing so. It’s like they are always moving in some way. They seem impatient, but their impulsivity causes them to interrupt conversations, blurts out answers, jumps in line, or takes over the tasks of others.

You may look at these symptoms and, at times, notice them in yourself. That doesn’t mean you have ADHD, however.

Diagnosis and Treatment of ADHD

To meet the criteria for a diagnosis, your symptoms must appear regularly in the last six months. Because ADHD is a neurodevelopmental brain disorder, seeking an evaluation from a psychiatrist is recommended.

To aid your psychiatrist in making a correct diagnosis, try to document examples of your behaviors that reflect ADHD. Although it may be difficult to always stay on track, the more documentation you can provide, the better overall picture your doctor will have of your symptoms.

If diagnosed, your psychiatrist will work with you and a mental health therapist to create a treatment plan that may include medication and behavioral therapies. Psychiatrists have extensive training in medicines for psychiatric disorders like ADHD. They consider many personal factors to determine which stimulant or non-stimulant variety will work best for you and your lifestyle.

Behavioral therapists often use cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to learn how to manage ADHD symptoms. Examples include behavior modification programs, goal setting, incentives, rewards, developing routines, and improving organizational skills.

Having ADHD does not have to hold you back. It is a very treatable disorder, and with help, you can learn to manage your symptoms so you can be successful at home, school, and work.