ADD vs ADHD: Are They The Same?

Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW

Published 01/07/2021

Are ADD and ADHD the same? Not quite. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and attention deficit disorder (ADD) are commonly confused and associated with one another. Both terms are commonly used to refer to the same issue when there are different symptoms and subtypes of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

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In the past, symptoms and behaviors such as poor time management or trouble listening were attributed to ADD, whereas hyperactivity and impulsivity were associated with ADHD.

Attention/deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is now the preferred medical term that should be used when referring to the neurological condition and disorder that affects an individual’s functioning and development, rather than the term ADD, as recorded in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

This name change reflects and gives equal weight to inattention and other characteristics such as hyperactivity exhibited with the disorder. Due to increased studies and findings, ADHD is broken into three subtypes, with ADD being an outdated term referring to one of the current subtypes.

The DSM-5 lists three subtypes or presentations of ADHD: predominantly inattentive ADHD, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD, and combined ADHD. What was called ADD is now known as inattentive-type ADHD.

What Exactly Is ADHD?

Everyone has experienced having difficulty paying attention or controlling impulsive behavior at one time or another. For some people, the struggle to focus may be so severe or pervasive that it begins to interfere heavily with everyday tasks and detracts from their ability to perform academically, socially, and/or professionally. Those who fit into the latter description often suffer from the disorder known as ADHD.

ADHD is a common neurodevelopmental disorder that develops among children and affects their ability to learn. It can be distinguished by recognizable patterns of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity, which are defined below:

  • Inattention refers to an inability to stay on-task, difficulty sustaining focus, and disorganization. These problems are not tied to the desire to rebel or defy authority or because there is a lack of comprehension. It rather happens as a symptom of ADHD.
  • Hyperactivity refers to the inability to stay still or to stop fidgeting, especially when doing so is inappropriate. A hyperactive child may fidget with their surroundings or hands, tap on surfaces, bob their legs, and be prone to talk out of turn. Hyperactive adults may be extremely restless and may exhibit high-energy, to the point of exhausting others.
  • Impulsivity refers to the inability to make responsible or thought-out decisions. Often an impulsive person may be at high risk for harm. This person may feel the need for immediate gratification, to the point that he could become reckless. Due to a lack of inhibition, they may interrupt others in social interactions or be intrusive in asking too much. This, in addition to making reckless decisions, can impact relationships and impart long-term consequences in their personal lives.

SYMPTOMS OF ADHD

Individuals often display signs of ADHD early in their childhood. The DSM-5 requires that several symptoms be present or exhibited before the age of 12 for a diagnosis as ADHD symptoms can be hard to distinguish from typical behavior present in children. The number of symptoms required to be present diminishes as individuals get older, going from six or more symptoms present in children to at least five symptoms present in anyone above seventeen.

Symptoms of ADHD can begin presenting as early in childhood between the ages of 3 and 6 and can contribute to serious behavioral problems and poor performance if left undiagnosed or addressed.

Those who may show signs of ADHD might exhibit:

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  • difficulty paying attention
  • inability to sit or stay still, fidgeting or squirming
  • forgetfulness and trouble keeping track of physical objects
  • carelessness or lack of attention to details
  • impulsivity or unnecessary risk-taking
  • difficulty getting along or socializing with others
  • reluctance to complete or engage in tasks that require sustained effort or focus (i.e., schoolwork, reports, reading, etc.)

Although these are just a few of the most common symptoms, certain symptoms and combinations point to different ADHD types.

Types Of ADHD

ADHD has three subsets that are determined and diagnosed based on which symptoms are strongest in an individual.

  • Predominantly Inattentive Presentation ADHD (ADD)

Inattentive ADHD has a tendency to be dismissed as apathetic or lazy behavior in children and is often misdiagnosed as anxiety or a mood disorder in adolescents and adults. A predominantly inattentive presenting ADHD can be easily distracted or forget simple things in their daily routines. They may appear to not be listening to someone in conversation or trouble following directions. They may also express frustration when completing a task that requires sustained mental energy and will avoid responsibilities or assignments that may take a long time to complete.

  • Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation ADHD

An individual with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive ADHD presentation will typically display signs of hyperactivity, such as fidgeting or talking a lot. It may be hard to sit still or remain in one place for too long, making it difficult for someone to complete a task such as finishing their meal or completing an academic assignment. Hyperactive children might run, jump, or climb things excessively, leading to injuries. Adults may show restlessness and feel the need to always be moving. Someone who struggles with hyperactivity and impulsiveness may also struggle socially, as they might talk excessively or interrupt to speak out of turn due to difficulty waiting.

  • Combined presentation ADHD

Someone diagnosed with combined presenting ADHD will exhibit symptoms of inattention and hyperactive-impulsiveness.

Because symptoms can change over time, an individual’s type of ADHD can also change based on its presentation and its symptoms. Based on how affected someone is by their symptoms, healthcare professionals can also diagnose the disorder’s severity. Again, this can change over time, ranging anywhere from mild to moderate to severe.

Treatment Of ADHD

ADHD is typically treated with a combination of behavioral therapy and medication administered by healthcare professionals and requires the efforts of parents as well as counselors and educators. However, remember that for all guidance regarding treatment, please consult a licensed medical professional.

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Treatment is typically tailored to the severity of symptoms and an individual’s unique needs and the resources available to them in terms of family members and educators. Overall, the goal of treatment is to improve their overall psychological well-being and their ability to navigate social relationships and their symptoms.

Because medication can have extreme side effects and long-term effects on younger children, behavioral therapy is prioritized to encourage and strengthen positive decision-making while eliminating unwanted or problematic behaviors.

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends that parents participate in behavior management training to learn how to intervene and support children struggling with inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Schools and educators should also be informed when a child is diagnosed with ADHD so they can be able to provide the support needed for a child to succeed academically.

Effective treatment will typically include close monitoring of the child’s progress in terms of their behavior and academic performance, with changes being made as needed.

In older children and adults, medication can help manage ADHD symptoms that interfere with their everyday life and help them control behaviors that are disrupting their relationships. It is still strongly recommended that behavioral therapy and positive decision-making strategies are learned and exercised and take medication as it may take time to find the correct dosage or prescription that works for each individual. Again, for all guidance regarding treatment, please consult a licensed medical professional.

WHY IT’S IMPORTANT TO TREAT ADHD

An inability to dedicate attention to tasks means that ADHD can severely inhibit mental, emotional, and social development. In very young children, this can lead to learning delays in language, motor skills, and social skills, which can then adversely affect their lives and relationships as they reach adolescence and adulthood. Due to subsisting behavioral problems and difficulty controlling emotions or impulsivity, this could put individuals at risk for academic performance and laborious or potentially dangerous tasks (driving or cooking, for example).

The earlier ADHD is diagnosed and treated, the less likely ADHD will have a negative impact on one’s life in adulthood. It’s been reported that more than seventy-five percent of children with ADHD have experienced continued symptoms as they approach adulthood. While doing things like managing a healthy lifestyle or following routines can help keep ADHD symptoms at bay, sometimes it’s simply overwhelming to try to handle ADHD by yourself.

How To Get A Diagnosis For ADHD

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Determining whether someone has ADHD is a process that may include multiple steps. While there is no single test to diagnose ADHD, it often begins with answering questions to weigh the likelihood that the disorder is present. Suppose you believe you may be exhibiting symptoms of ADHD or struggling from an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. In that case, you can try taking a diagnostic test such as the one provided by Mind Diagnostics:

https://www.mind-diagnostics.org/adhd-test

Acknowledging that you want help is the first step towards positive change. It is also recommended to speak to licensed professionals who can discuss your history and issues to develop an accurate diagnosis and treatment plan. No matter the case, you’re not alone, and there are many resources available for you to start managing your symptoms should you find that you have ADHD so that you can live a happy and healthy life.