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ADD vs ADHD Symptoms Differences, Diagnosis, Medications & Treatment

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The biggest difference between ADD and ADHD is that ADD is obsolete terminology that is no longer used as a formal diagnosis. Continue to read to learn more about the connection between adult ADD vs ADHD symptoms.

By We Level Up FL Treatment Center | Editor Yamilla Francese | Clinically Reviewed By Lauren Barry, LMFT, MCAP, QS, Director of Quality Assurance | Editorial Policy | Research Policy | Last Updated: January 27, 2023

ADD vs ADHD Differences

ADD and ADHD are both neurological disorders that present similar symptoms but have a few differences. ADHD is characterized by difficulty with concentration, impulsivity, and hyperactivity, while ADD is characterized by difficulty with concentration but does not include hyperactivity or impulsivity.

ADD is often thought of as more of an “inattentive” disorder, as someone with ADD may be able to concentrate on tasks they are interested in, while someone with ADHD may be unable to focus regardless of the task’s level of interest. Additionally, people with ADD are usually calmer and may have difficulty finishing tasks or being organized. People with ADHD may be prone to outbursts and risky behavior.

ADD vs ADHD Adults Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of ADHD and ADD in adults can be similar, but there are some key differences. People with ADHD tend to be more prone to impulsive behavior, procrastination, and risk-taking than those with ADD, who are more likely to be inattentive and “space out” or become easily distracted. People with ADD often have difficulty focusing on tasks that require sustained attention, while ADHD adults may have difficulty transitioning from one task to another.

Adults with ADHD also may feel restless and have difficulty staying still, while those with ADD may move slowly and have difficulty getting started on tasks. ADHD adults can have a hard time listening to others or following through on instructions, while those with ADD may have difficulty organizing, remembering details, and managing their time. Both can lead to disorganization, which can make it hard to keep up with work, school, relationships, and home responsibilities.

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 disorders, anxiety disorders, personality disorders, and dissociative disorders can all show similar symptoms to ADD or ADHD.

What is the Meaning of ADD vs. ADHD?

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are both conditions that can cause difficulty with attention, concentration, and impulsivity. However, there are some key differences between the two conditions.

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.

Adult ADD vs ADHD 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, (ADD vs ADHD meaning), 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 vs ADHD Adults Treatment

When treating adults with ADD or ADHD, it is important to consider the individual’s unique needs and circumstances. Adults with ADD or ADHD may need specialized care tailored specifically for them that goes beyond traditional treatment programs for addiction. It is important for the facility to understand how symptoms can affect an adult’s ability to cope with withdrawal, cravings, and other aspects of recovery. Therapies offered at a rehab center should focus on helping adults manage their symptoms while also addressing any underlying issues such as depression or anxiety. The program should also identify strategies that will help individuals learn how to effectively manage their attention deficits and stay sober in the long term.

Both ADHD and ADD are conditions that affect concentration and impulsivity. They can affect school performance, interfere with social interactions, and disrupt family life and relationships. While there is no cure for either disorder, they can be treated with medication and behavioral therapies to reduce symptoms and improve functioning. Additionally, cognitive behavioral therapy and lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity and improving sleep habits can help to manage symptoms.

ADD vs ADHD in Female Adults

ADHD in adult women is often underdiagnosed, as there are some differences in how female adults present with symptoms of the disorder. Women with ADHD may experience more distraction than men, and the intrusive thinking associated with their ADHD may manifest more as rumination rather than impulsivity. Women may also report more difficulties with task-oriented activities such as organization, initiating tasks, and managing projects, in addition to hyperactivity.

ADHD vs ADD Symptoms

ADD is a type of ADHD that is characterized by difficulty paying attention and controlling impulses, but without the hyperactivity that is typically seen in ADHD. People with ADD may have difficulty paying attention to details, following instructions, and staying organized, but they are generally not excessively active or impulsive.

ADHD, on the other hand, is characterized by a combination of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. People with ADHD may have difficulty paying attention, following instructions, and staying organized, and they may also be excessively active and impulsive.

Both ADD and ADHD are believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors, and they can affect people of any age. Both conditions can be treated with a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

ADHD vs ADD Differences

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by difficulty with concentration, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is also characterized by difficulty with concentration, but it does not include hyperactivity or impulsivity.

What is ADD vs ADHD in female adults? Though males are more commonly diagnosed with ADHD vs ADD than females, it’s becoming clearer that ADHD does not affect one gender more than the other.
What is ADD vs ADHD in female adults? Though males are more commonly diagnosed with ADHD vs ADD than females, it’s becoming clearer that ADHD does not affect one gender more than the other.

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Adult ADHD vs ADD

ADHD and ADD are two different types of attention deficit disorders, but they have a lot of common symptoms and characteristics. ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is characterized by difficulty staying focused and difficulty controlling impulsive behaviors. ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder is characterized by difficulty staying focused and controlling impulses, but without the hyperactivity or restlessness associated with ADHD.

ADD vs ADHD in Female Adults

ADHD in adult women is often underdiagnosed, as there are some differences in how female adults present with symptoms of the disorder. Women with ADHD may experience more distraction than men, and the intrusive thinking associated with their ADHD may manifest more as rumination rather than impulsivity. Women may also report more difficulties with task-oriented activities such as organization, initiating tasks, and managing projects, in addition to hyperactivity.

Mental illnesses, such as adult ADHD and depression, are common in the United States. Nearly 52.9 million U.S. adults have a mental illness in 2020. Mental illnesses include many different conditions that vary in severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe.

ADD vs ADHD Disorders Statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 5.2 million children between the ages of 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADHD in the United States. Approximately 1 in 20 (or 5%) of children are affected by ADHD. In comparison, the CDC estimates that 4.4% of U.S. children between 4 and 17 have been diagnosed with ADD.


1 in 5

In 2020, Nearly one in five U.S. adults lived with a mental illness. The most common mental disorders in the US are anxiety disorders, major depression, and bipolar disorder. 

Source: NIMH

8.7 Million

In 2019, the number of visits to physician offices with attention deficit disorder as the primary diagnosis was 8.7 million.

Source: NIMH

9.5%

Approximately 9.5% of American adults, ages 18 and over, will suffer from a depressive illness (major depression, bipolar disorder, or dysthymia) each year.

Source: NIMH


ADD vs ADHD Facts

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is an outdated term for what experts now call attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). 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. Adults can have ADHD too. Nearly 2.6 percent of adults globally have persistent ADHD from childhood, while about 6.7 percent of adults have symptoms of adult ADHD.


Etiologic Theories

Neurobiological factors appear to play a role in the onset of ADD. Studies of twins and adoptions offer strong evidence of a genetic link, and 20% of parents of children with ADD have the problem themselves.

People with ADD might have problems in the prefrontal cortex that would affect dopamine and noradrenaline levels and structural changes in the striatum and the cortex.

Diagnosis

ADHD is a disorder that is diagnosed clinically and does not have any specific laboratory or radiologic tests. The neuropsychological tests are not as sensitive for diagnosing the disorder, and hence the disorder should be diagnosed based on the history of the patient.

The evaluation of the patient with ADHD is usually done with different rating scales and multiple informants who may include the teachers and parents. It is necessary for a clinician to look for other disorders as they may be a cause for the symptoms that a child is exhibiting. It should not be diagnosed in the context of symptoms from another disorder, for example, a psychotic episode or manic episode.

Comorbidity

Half of those with ADD have comorbid psychiatric disorders: 19% to 37% have mood disorders (depression, bipolar affective disorders, and dysthymia), 25% to 50% have anxiety disorders, 32% to 53% have addiction problems, and 10% to 28% have personality disorders. This comorbidity is why the diagnosis is often missed, even though the comorbid problems are

Pathophysiology

ADHD is associated with cognitive and functional deficits that relate to diffuse abnormalities in the brain. The anterior cingulate gyrus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLFPC) are found to be small in individuals who are suffering from ADHD.

It is thought that these changes account for the deficits in goal-directed behavior. Moreover, activity in the frontostriatal region is also reduced in these individuals as measured by fMRI. It is important to understand these pathophysiological mechanisms so that pharmacotherapy is directed toward them.

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 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]

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ADHD vs ADD symptoms. The main difference (ADDvs ADHD difference) between the two is that ADHD is a more severe form of the disorder.  With the right support and treatment, individuals can develop the skills they need to manage their symptoms and stay sober for life.  If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and ADHD vs ADD, contact a rehab center today for more information about how to get on the road to recovery.
ADHD vs ADD symptoms. The main difference (ADDvs ADHD difference) between the two is that ADHD is a more severe form of the disorder.  With the right support and treatment, individuals can develop the skills they need to manage their symptoms and stay sober for life. If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction and ADHD vs ADD, contact a rehab center today for more information about how to get on the road to recovery.

How ADHD is Diagnosed

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.

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ADD vs ADHD Symptoms

When it comes to ADD vs ADHD symptoms; ADD is more of a problem with attention regulation, as opposed to difficulty controlling impulses or hyperactivity. Some of the common symptoms of ADD/ADHD include difficulty focusing, difficulty organizing tasks, forgetfulness, impulsive behavior, restlessness, and being easily distracted.

The signs of ADD vs ADHD symptoms vary depending on the type of disorder. ADD/ADHD can also present itself in different ways for different people – for example, some may be easily distracted by external activities and others may drift off in their own thoughts. Other physical signs of ADD vs ADHD symptoms may include protesting when being asked to do something, an inability to follow through on instructions, difficulty retaining information, difficulty paying attention in class, disorganization, and difficulty staying focused on tasks.

ADD vs ADHD Test

The best way to diagnose ADHD and ADD is to speak to a doctor or mental health professional. A professional can assess your symptoms and behavior, and provide a diagnosis and treatment plan. Additionally, there are specific medical tests, such as a neuropsychological assessment or neurodevelopmental disorder screening test, that can help in diagnosing and treating ADD and ADHD.

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

1. Inattentive ADHD (previously ADD)

People with this form of ADHD, (previously ADD / ADDvs ADHD DSM 5) 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 “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.

In addition, the following conditions must be met:
  • Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms were present.
  • Several symptoms are present in two or more settings, (such as at home, school or work; with friends or relatives; or in other activities).
  • There is clear evidence that the symptoms interfere with, or reduce the quality of, social, school, or work functioning.
  • The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (such as a mood disorder, anxiety disorder, dissociative disorder, or personality disorder). The symptoms do not happen only during the course of schizophrenia or another psychotic disorder.

5 Signs of ADHD in Adults

 ADHD in adults can be more subtle and misinterpreted as another mental health condition, complicating its diagnosis. Recognizing signs of ADHD vs ADD is the first step toward real change. Knowing the facts empowers you to seek the professional help you may need to overcome challenges and thrive.

1. Difficulty Focusing

Adults with ADHD may lack control over what they focus on and have difficulty concentrating.

You may notice the following: 

  • Easily distracted
  • Daydreaming
  • Zoning out during conversations
  • Overlooking instructions and details
  • Unable to finish projects or tasks on time

Another symptom of ADHD in adults is the tendency to hyperfocus on projects you find exciting and interesting. In this state, you may be unable to turn your attention toward other important tasks or people in your life.

2. Misplacing Items

Storing, organizing, or keeping track of belongings can be troublesome for those with ADHD.

This can involve:

  • Misplacing everyday items (i.e., car keys or wallet) while the brain is on autopilot
  • Losing track of where an item is placed after a moment of inattention
  • Constantly retracing steps to find lost items
  • Storing things in the wrong places (i.e., work papers in your car, dirty dishes in the bedroom).

ADD vs ADHD Facilities

It is important for ADD vs ADHD treatment facilities to provide support for the family of those with ADD or ADHD disorders. Family-oriented therapies, such as couples therapy and family counseling, can help individuals and their loved ones develop healthy communication strategies that will lead to long-term recovery success. It is also important for an ADD vs ADHD rehab center to provide education about addiction and its effects on both the individual and their family members. With this information, families can better understand what the individual is going through and how they can best support them during treatment and afterward.

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

By offering comprehensive care tailored specifically for adults with ADD vs ADHD, alcohol rehab centers can give individuals the best chance at achieving sobriety. The facility should have experienced staff who are knowledgeable about addiction treatment and mental illness so they can adequately address

3. Always Running Late

Due to poor time management, adults with ADHD often run late for meetings, appointments, or social plans.

Reasons include:

  • Unable to find required items (car keys, wallet, meeting notes, etc.)
  • Forgetting dates and times
  • Underestimating time needed to complete tasks
  • Getting distracted while preparing for an appointment or event

4. Risky Behaviors

Research shows that adults with ADHD are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior (RTB). These behaviors may involve the following:

  • Starting arguments or fights
  • Overspending
  • Reckless driving
  • Substance use (alcohol or drugs)
  • Risky sex-related decisions (i.e., unprotected sex)
  • Gambling
  • Impulsive eating

By seeking help and support, you can proactively reduce your chances of involvement in these activities.

5. Lack of Listening Skills

Social interactions may feel like a challenge if you have ADHD. You may struggle with: 

  • Waiting for your turn to speak
  • Staying on topic
  • Keeping track of the conversation
  • Using non-verbal cues to show active listening
  • Talking too fast
  • Speaking too much
  • Blurting out words that make others uncomfortable
  • Unable to read other people’s body language

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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 (Adderall for ADD vs ADHD) 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]

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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.

Treatment for adult ADHD and ADD conditions usually involves a combination of medication and meetings with a therapist. How you start may depend on what condition is causing you more trouble. For example, if ADHD is causing stress, treating that first may make take away one of the causes of a co-occurring mental health condition, such as depression.

ADD vs ADHD Test. The biggest difference between ADD and ADHD is that ADD is obsolete terminology that is no longer used as a formal diagnosis.
ADD vs ADHD Test. The biggest difference between ADD and ADHD is that ADD is obsolete terminology that is no longer used as a formal diagnosis.
  • ADHD is often treated with stimulants that boost brain chemicals linked to focus and thinking. They can help with symptoms while you’re at school or work, but they can also make you less hungry or cause headaches or sleep problems.
  • Some ADHD drugs don’t involve stimulants and don’t have the same side effects. But they may not work as quickly. Your doctor might give you a combination of stimulants and non-stimulant drugs.

Living with the symptoms of ADD vs ADHD in adults can be challenging, but you can take steps to manage both conditions. A mental health professional may prescribe stimulant and antidepressant medications. They may also recommend counseling or other therapies.

We Level Up FL offers an ADHD treatment program at our mental health treatment center in Florida. Here, clients participate in clinical and experiential therapies as part of our comprehensive curriculum. If your loved one is struggling with their depression diagnosis, we can help them understand their disorder and teach them the skills they need to reach their full potential. 

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