ADD Vs. ADHD | What's The Difference?

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia, LCSW
Updated April 14, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Over 360 million adults worldwide were noted as having a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in 2020. Although initially studied mostly in children, ADHD can impact teens and adults, whether it starts in childhood or is noticed later in life, according to the American Psychiatric Association

When researching ADHD, you may see the acronym "ADD" pop up. You may have heard someone using it to describe themselves in the past or seen it mentioned in the media, which may portray ADD and ADHD interchangeably. You may wonder if ADHD and ADD are similar, the same, or completely different psychiatric conditions.

Learn More About The Symptoms Of ADHD With A Professional


Criteria for ADHD have changed over time, and as psychologists learn more about the condition, the noted symptoms of ADHD continue to adapt. In the past, ADD stood for "attention deficit disorder," whereas ADHD stood for and continues to stand for "attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder."

Before the release of the fourth edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (the DSM-4), ADD was often described as ADHD without symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity.

Medical professionals now consider the term ADD to be outdated, with the term ADHD now used to describe both conditions. The DSM now specifies different presentations of ADHD in the criteria for the condition.

Types Of ADHD

While ADD is no longer used as a diagnosis, presentations of ADHD that are not dominated by symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity still exist.

There are three main "types" of ADHD, describing how the condition may present. They include the following.

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation (ADHD-PI)

If enough symptoms of inattentiveness or difficulty sustaining attention are present in someone who meets the criteria for ADHD, but they do not demonstrate symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity, this condition is referred to as the predominantly inattentive type of ADHD, inattentive type ADHD, or simply inattentive ADHD.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation (ADHD-HI)

The ADHD-HI presentation is mostly an impulsive presentation, though it can also have a hyperactivity component. If enough symptoms of hyperactivity or impulsivity, but not inattentiveness, are present in someone who meets the criteria for ADHD, they may receive a diagnosis of hyperactive-impulsive ADHD or be medically referred to as a “hyperactive-impulsive type.”

Combined Type Presentation (Combined ADHD)

If enough symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattentiveness are present in a person who meets the criteria for ADHD, they may receive a combined presentation diagnosis.

Diagnosing ADHD

All the above presentations fall under the diagnosis of ADHD, and no one presentation is more authentic or severe than another. Although symptoms vary and present differently from person to person, they can all potentially impact a person's life.

Inattentive Symptoms

People with inattentive ADHD tend to exhibit some of the below behaviors:

  • Trouble paying attention to detail (for example, difficulty following instructions at work or school)
  • Difficulty organizing tasks, such as chores or activities at work or school
  • Frequently misplacing or losing objects
  • Difficulty with time management
  • Becoming easily distracted
  • Avoidance of tasks or difficulty with tasks that require sustained mental effort
  • The tendency to lose focus on what someone is saying during a conversation, or feel that one is "spacing out"

Hyperactivity/Impulsivity Symptoms

Hyperactivity/impulsivity symptoms may include:

  • Fidgeting (shaking one's leg, squirming in a seat, noticeably moving hands and feet, not being able to sit for long periods)
  • Feeling restless or experiencing bursts of energy/hyperactivity
  • Feeling as though one is "on the go" or "driven by a motor"
  • Interrupting others 
  • Having trouble waiting for one's turn
  • Difficulty engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Talking often or in a rushed manner

Combined type ADHD may simultaneously include symptoms from the hyperactive/impulsive list and inattentive list.

Diagnosing ADHD

For an attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder diagnosis to occur, a practitioner may first test to see if symptoms are attributed to another condition. 

ADHD can be diagnosed in any person of any gender, age, or life experience. ADHD can interfere with work, interpersonal relationships, daily self-care activities, attending appointments and meetings on time, or household chores. 

ADHD is a psychiatric condition that can significantly impact a person’s life. It goes beyond the experiences of a person who sometimes struggles to pay attention or makes careless mistakes. Behaviors such as these should not be referred to as “so ADHD” or through other language that may trivialize the condition.

If you believe you may have symptoms of ADHD, consider reaching out to a primary care practitioner for a referral for psychiatric testing. 

Facts And Statistics About ADHD

Here are some facts and statistics about ADHD:

  1. Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder can impact people of all ages, genders, and backgrounds.
  2. Those with a parent or sibling with ADHD are statistically more likely to live with ADHD. Studies show a 74% hereditary rate for the condition.
  3. Per research by the National Resource Center on ADHD, 4% of children in the United States are said to receive a diagnosis of ADHD at some point, whereas 8.4% have a current diagnosis. A child’s symptoms of ADHD may overlap with adult symptoms, but they may also demonstrate additional symptoms, such as behavior problems.
  4. About 4.4% of adults in the United States live with ADHD, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
  5. Research demonstrates that people with ADHD struggle with sleep disturbances more often than the rest of the general population. This disturbance may include trouble falling asleep or difficulty staying asleep.
  6. Several comorbidities or co-occurring conditions may be more likely to present in those with ADHD than in the general population. These conditions include but are not limited to mood disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and substance use conditions*.

*Substance use conditions may feel isolating. If you or someone you know struggles with substance use or a substance use disorder, contact the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 or visit the SAMHSA website.

Receiving An ADHD Diagnosis

If you or someone in your care may have ADHD, you might wonder how to start the diagnostic process. Often, the diagnostic process for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder may involve mental health professionals who specialize in ADHD.

To find someone qualified to provide an ADHD diagnosis, you can:

  • Search the web for centers or providers in your area
  • Ask your general doctor, psychiatrist, or therapist to refer you to someone who can provide an ADHD evaluation

During your evaluation appointment, a provider may analyze your symptoms and history, which may be a lengthy process. However, a diagnosis can be valuable and potentially life-changing for someone previously living with undiagnosed ADHD.

A diagnosis may provide relief because it can give you a starting point to address your symptoms. With a diagnosis, you may be able to manage ADHD through treatment, a personal understanding of your symptoms and how they affect you, and potential accommodations at work or school.

Learn More About The Symptoms Of ADHD With A Professional

Treatment For ADHD

ADHD is often treated using medication or a combination of medication and therapy for children and adults. There are stimulant and non-stimulant options for medication used to treat ADHD. Consult your prescribing doctor or primary care physician when considering medication, primarily if you already take other medicines.

ADHD symptoms may impact all areas of your life, and therapy may be an effective treatment option. ADHD might affect work and school experiences, daily tasks, interpersonal relationships, stress levels, and a person's emotions. For example, many people with ADHD face increased rejection sensitivity. A counselor may help you learn to deal with these symptoms on an emotional level, as well as treat other conditions that may co-occur alongside ADHD, such as a mood disorder.

Studies show that online counseling is as effective as traditional counseling for those with ADHD. Online counseling could be a valuable alternative for someone who struggles to remember appointments or find the motivation to leave home. 

Meeting with a counselor may benefit you if you struggle with ADHD symptoms, interpersonal relationships, life stress, or other mental health concerns. To find a therapist, you can ask your primary care physician for a referral, contact your insurance company to see who they cover, search the web, or sign up for a reputable online therapy platform such as BetterHelp.

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Although ADD is no longer a clinical term, there are several defined types of ADHD, and the inattentive type may exhibit symptoms similar to those initially outlined under ADD. If you're interested in learning more about this topic as it applies to your own potential diagnosis, consider reaching out to a counselor and taking the first step towards a better self-understanding.

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