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Content reviewed and updated: 8/31/21

What’s the Difference Between ADD vs ADHD?

You may hear the terms ADD (attention deficit disorder) and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) being used interchangeably. But what’s the difference between ADD and ADHD? Are ADD and ADHD the same? Are they two different mental health conditions? How do you know if you have ADD or ADHD?

ADD vs ADHD used to be two separate diagnoses. ADD was defined by an inability to pay attention or manage time effectively, and ADHD was defined by hyperactivity and impulsivity. But now, ADD is an outdated term. According to the go-to handbook used to diagnose mental health conditions, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), ADHD is the overarching medical term for symptoms of inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Inattentive symptoms previously known as ADD are now considered a specific presentation, or subtype, of ADHD.

Continue reading to learn more about how the definitions of ADD vs ADHD have evolved, what exactly ADHD is, and the different subtypes of ADHD. 


Did you know that the term ADD was introduced in 1980? Over time, ADHD became the general term for this disorder. ADD became known as one of the different subtypes of ADHD. Here’s how the terms ADD vs ADHD have evolved over time:

  • In 1968, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) introduced the diagnosis of “hyperkinetic reaction of childhood” in the DSM-2.
  • In 1980, the name of the diagnosis was updated to “attention deficit disorder (ADD) with or without hyperactivity” in the DSM-3.
  • In 1987, in an updated version of the DSM-3, the standard name of this disorder changed from ADD to ADHD.
  • In 1994, three subtypes of ADHD were introduced in the DSM-4.
  • In 2013, the current version of the DSM-5 describes these different subtypes as presentations of symptoms. Symptoms can develop and change throughout a person’s lifetime. By today’s standards, what was once diagnosed as ADD would be diagnosed as the inattentive presentation of ADHD.

It may be confusing as to why the name of ADHD has changed so often throughout the years. But understanding the evolution of the name can help you understand the different nuances and subtypes of ADHD. As research on ADHD continues, mental health professionals learn more about the condition. The name has changed to reflect new knowledge.

The Difference between ADD and ADHD in adults

Despite being separate diagnoses in the past, the difference between ADD versus ADHD in the modern definition lies in the way we use each term: ADHD is the general umbrella term for the condition, and ADD symptoms are now known as a specific type of ADHD. When deciding to use attention deficit disorder vs ADHD, a good rule of thumb is to use the word ADHD instead of ADD.

As we explore the topic of ADD vs ADHD, adults with the condition might also consider the different variations of ADHD that exist. Understanding each ADHD subset is key to getting properly diagnosed and starting treatment that works for your unique needs. ADHD is a mental health condition that can affect anyone, but there are certain ADHD subsets or symptoms that may present more frequently in some populations than in others. A prime example is how ADHD can present differently in women than it does in men.

Now that we have a better understanding of the ADD and ADHD differences, we can dive into the current definition of ADHD and the differences between the three types of ADHD.

What is ADHD?

ADHD is a chronic mental and behavioral condition. For instance, an adult with ADHD might struggle to focus on tasks or stay organized at work. ADHD may also affect someone’s relationships and social skills.

There are three presentations of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined type.

Inattentive ADHD

The symptoms that previously defined ADD are now known as “inattentive ADHD”. Inattentive ADHD is commonly overlooked, undiagnosed, or even misdiagnosed as another mental health condition, such as anxiety or depression. This occurs often in females with ADHD.

According to the DSM-5, you can be diagnosed with inattentive ADHD as an adults (over 17 years old) if you experience five or more of the following symptoms for at least six months:

  • Lack attention to detail or make careless mistakes
  • Have trouble sustaining attention in daily activities
  • Fail to listen when spoken to directly
  • Unable to follow instructions or complete tasks
  • Struggle to stay organized
  • Dislike or avoid tasks that require sustained attention and focus
  • Tend to lose things that are necessary for activities and tasks
  • Easily distracted by external stimuli or unrelated thoughts
  • Often forgetful in daily activities

Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD

When you think of ADHD, you might imagine someone with hyperactive and impulsive behavior. Hyperactive-impulsive ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in children (particularly in young boys).

According to the DSM-5, you can be diagnosed with hyperactive-impulsive ADHD as an adult (over 17 years old) if you have experienced 5 or more of the following symptoms for at least 6 months:

  • Fidget with or tap your hands or feet, or tend to squirm in your seat
  • Leave your seat at times when remaining seated is expected
  • Experience feelings of restlessness
  • Have trouble engaging in leisure activities quietly
  • Always “on the go” or act as if “driven by a motor”
  • Talk excessively
  • Blurt out answers before a question is completed
  • Struggle waiting your turn
  • Interrupt or intrude on others

Combined type ADHD

You could also be diagnosed with combined type ADHD if you experience a mixture of symptoms of both inattentive ADHD and hyperactive-impulsive ADHD (six or more symptoms of each). Combined type ADHD is the most common type of ADHD.

ADHD treatment

Whether you have inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, or combined type ADHD, there are different treatments available to help with your symptoms. Some treatment options include medicine. Others include talk therapy and behavioral changes.

The most common medications for treating all subtypes of ADHD are stimulants. Adderall (dextroamphetamine-amphetamine) is a commonly prescribed ADHD medicine for both children and adults. Like other ADHD medicines, Adderall is available in immediate- and extended-release forms. Its effects can last for varying amounts of time, depending on the person.

Talk therapy and lifestyle changes are also great treatment options for all ADHD subtypes. A mental health provider can help identify the most appropriate therapeutic approach for each person. For instance, a provider may help someone with inattentive ADHD learn organizational skills to help improve their focus and attention.

Too often, ADHD goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed, especially in adults. Inattentive ADHD is often overlooked in both children and adults. It helps to be aware of the various ADHD subtypes, especially since the symptoms of each subtype can overlap. Certified mental health providers understand these nuances, so they can help people get the best treatment possible.


ADHD manifests differently in everyone, so it’s important to see a certified professional who can help diagnose and identify appropriate treatment. They can also rule out other mental health conditions and/or diagnose ones that often occur along with ADHD, such as anxiety and depression.

If you think you have ADHD, reach out to a professional who can provide an accurate diagnosis and treatment. By working with a well-trained provider, you can get one step closer to where you want to be.

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