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ADD vs ADHD Explained, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Medications & Treatment Options

What is ADHD?

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. People with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active. Learn the symptoms of ADHD and how to get help with ADHD treatment.

Mood disordersanxiety disorderspersonality disorders, and dissociative disorders can all show similar symptoms to ADD or ADHD.

What is the Meaning of ADD vs. ADHD?

ADHD is the official, medical term for the condition — regardless of whether a patient demonstrates symptoms of hyperactivity. ADD is a now-outdated term that is typically used to describe inattentive-type ADHD, which has symptoms including disorganization, lack of focus, and forgetfulness.

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. [1]

ADD and ADHD are distinct conditions, though they share many of the same symptoms.

Types of ADHD

There are three different types of ADHD, depending on which types of symptoms are strongest in the individual:

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.
  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.
  • Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

Because symptoms can change over time, the presentation may change over time as well. [2]

How ADHD is Diagnosed

By getting treatment, you can help your loved ones develop new skills and ways of coping with their symptoms.

Scientists are studying cause(s) and ADHD risk factors in an effort to find better ways to manage and reduce the chances of a person having ADHD. 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
  • Exposure to environmental risks (e.g., lead) during pregnancy or at a young age
  • Alcohol and tobacco use during pregnancy
  • Premature delivery
  • Low birth weight

Research does not support the popularly held views that ADHD is caused by eating too much sugar, watching too much television, parenting, or social and environmental factors such as poverty or family chaos. Of course, many things, including these, might make symptoms worse, especially in certain people. But the evidence is not strong enough to conclude that they are the main causes of ADHD.

Deciding if a child has ADHD is a process with several steps. There is no single test to diagnose ADHD, and many other problems, like anxiety, depression, sleep problems, and certain types of learning disabilities, can have similar symptoms. One step of the process involves having a medical exam, including hearing and vision tests, to rule out other problems with symptoms like ADHD. Diagnosing ADHD usually includes a checklist for rating ADHD symptoms and taking a history of the child from parents, teachers, and sometimes, the child.

ADD vs ADHD Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of ADHD vary depending on the type of disorder.

The DSM-5 lists the diagnostic criteria for a range of mental conditions, including ADHD.

1. Inattentive ADHD (previously ADD)

People with this form of ADHD, (previously ADD) will not have signs of hyperactivity, but, they may have the following symptoms:

  • Difficulty organizing tasks or activities
  • Being easily distracted from the task at hand
  • Regularly forgetting daily activities
  • Regularly losing things that they need to complete tasks
  • Avoiding, disliking, or postponing tasks that are not interesting
  • Regularly losing focus on schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace
  • Not following clear directions
  • Seeming not to listen when being spoken to
  • Regularly making careless mistakes
  • Trouble holding attention on tasks or social activities

2. Hyperactive-Impulsive ADHD

People with hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD will have the following symptoms:

They will show signs of:

  • Being always being “on the go”
  • Squirming in their seat, fidgeting with objects on their desk, or tapping their hands or feet
  • Regularly leaving their seat at inappropriate times, such as during work meetings, classes, or presentations
  • Talking excessively
  • Having trouble waiting their turn
  • Interrupting others in conversation or intruding on activities
  • Blurting out answers before a question is finished

3. ADHD, combined type

This, the most common type of ADHD, is characterized by impulsive and hyperactive behaviors as well as inattention and distractibility.

Good focus on some tasks

People with ADHD will often have problems with disorganization and forgetfulness on a regular basis. They may also struggle to focus on things that are unimportant to them.

However, if a topic interests them, they may focus on it completely, shutting out everything else.

It will be most difficult to focus when undertaking regular, less interesting tasks, such as the laundry, doing homework, or reading office memos. [3]

Other conditions with similar symptoms

The behaviors must also not be due to another disorder.

Children with ADHD have a higher risk of other disorders. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that about two-thirds of all children with ADHD have other disorders as well.

A child with ADHD may have behavioral problems, too, including:

  • Oppositional defiant disorder
  • Conduct disorder
  • Other learning disorders
  • Anxiety and depression

These other disorders may make it difficult to diagnose or treat ADHD. They can also make it harder for the child to function and fit in, and they can add pressure on the parents and teachers.

People with ADHD have above-typical levels of hyperactive and impulsive behaviors, and teens and adults with ADHD often turn to substances.

Getting a thorough diagnosis increases the chances of starting appropriate treatment in the early stages. Appropriate treatment can make it easier to manage ADHD and its effects.

ADD vs ADHD Medication

ADHD is often treated with one of three types of medication: psychostimulants, antidepressants, or non-stimulant drugs. These medications can help children with inattentive type ADHD (ADD) stay on task and focused.

  • Psychostimulants: Psychostimulants affect neurotransmitters in the brain, and may help to boost energy and increase alertness. The extended-release form is often recommended (instead of the immediate-release form). Psychostimulants include amphetamines such as Adderall and methylphenidates such as Ritalin and Concerta.
  • Antidepressants: Antidepressants also affect neurotransmitters in the brain, and may help to improve mood and attention. Common antidepressants prescribed for the inattentive presentation of ADHD include Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Effexor (venlafaxine).
  • Non-stimulant drugs: Non-stimulant medications can be helpful for those who experience unwanted side effects from stimulants and include Strattera (atomoxetine) and Intuniv (guanfacine). Non-stimulants affect a specific neurotransmitter, norepinephrine, and may help to regulate emotions and improve focus on specific tasks.

As with any medication, there are common side effects. Psychostimulants, antidepressants, and non-stimulants can cause dizziness, loss of appetite, upset stomach, and more. Be sure to talk to your doctor if you notice that your child is experiencing any unusual symptoms.

Behavior Management

Whether or not parents choose medication as a treatment option, most physicians and psychologists suggest that a behavior intervention plan should be developed to help teach loved ones adaptive behavior skills and reduce off-task and inattentive behaviors.

Often, a combination of various methods is used, including:

  • Behavior therapy: A therapist will usually meet with you and your loved one with ADHD. A session often includes the therapist facilitating a conversation with your loved one or even providing them with an activity to help them express their feelings. Your doctor or therapist might recommend family therapy so that all members of the family can learn healthy ways of managing your loved one’s condition.
  • Parent training in behavior management: You will learn strategies such as talk therapy to allow your loved one to freely express their feelings and help them adopt healthy coping mechanisms to deal with tough emotions.
  • Behavioral interventions at school: Your loved one may meet the criteria for extra assistance under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Accommodations may include extra time on tests, additional break time, changes to their environment, positive reinforcement, and assignments made specifically for your loved one.
  • Behavioral peer interventions: With this approach, a therapist or trained professional will lead a group of children in activities that teach them how to interact constructively with their peers. Skills are taught such as having conversations, coping with teasing, and making friends. Parents and teachers may be trained to reinforce the lessons at home and at school. [4]

ADD vs ADHD Treatment

The symptoms of ADHD and ADD overlap, but they are different conditions. A person with ADD does not have a problem with hyperactivity, only with paying attention.

Current diagnostic criteria do not list ADD as a separate condition, but group the symptoms under the name inattentive ADHD.

People with ADHD and ADD can face difficulties in their daily life, both in childhood and as adults.

It can take some time to get a correct diagnosis, but once this is done, a doctor can help the person through lifestyle changes and possibly medication.

If a person shows any of the above symptoms, and these symptoms appear to be holding back their progress at school or at work or disrupting relationships, it may be a good idea to seek medical help.

A qualified healthcare professional must carry out any diagnosis of ADD or ADHD. They will decide if the individual meets the required criteria. [5]

When you feel ready or just want someone to speak to about therapy alternatives for ADD vs ADHD to change your life call us. Even if we cannot assist you, we will lead you to wherever you can get support. There is no obligation. Simply call our help hotline today here at We Level Up FL.


[1] ADHD vs. ADD: What You Need to Know –
[2] What is ADHD? – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
[3] What is the difference between ADD and ADHD? –
[4] ADD and ADHD: Differences, Diagnosis, & Treatments –
[5] We Level Up – Treatment » Mental Health Program