What is the Difference Between ADD and ADHD

MS Broudy Ph.D
December 23, 2019

The title of this article might be puzzling to some. You might be wondering, isn’t ADHD and ADD the same thing? Well, yes and no. The answer is complicated. Let’s look at what the two acronyms mean, the criteria for diagnosis and why there is so much confusion.

adhd add


ADHD stands for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. This is the current official name for the diagnosis. It is a neurological condition marked by difficulty with attention and hyperactive/impulsive behavior that disrupts daily functioning. There are three designations of ADHD: ADHD inattentive type, ADHD hyperactive-impulsive type, and ADHD combined type.

ADHD inattentive type is characterized by the following:

  • Difficulty following through on tasks
  • Being easily distracted
  • Makes careless mistakes
  • Difficulty sustaining attention
  • Forgetfulness
  • Organizational difficulties
  • Loses items needed to complete tasks
  • Does not appear to listen when spoken to directly
  • Dislikes and avoids tasks which require sustained mental effort

ADHD hyperactive/impulsive type is characterized by the following:

Hyperactive Symptoms

  • Fidgeting
  • Can’t sit still
  • Talks excessively
  • Always moving
  • Has difficulty playing quietly
  • Feels restless

Impulsive Symptoms

  • Difficulty waiting their turn
  • Calling out answers
  • Interrupts or intrudes on others activities

You need to have at least six symptoms from either category to obtain a diagnosis of ADHD hyperactive/impulsive type. At least some of these hyperactive/impulsive behaviors must have been present before age seven and impairment must be present in more than one environment. For example, if problems occur only at school it cannot be diagnosed as ADHD.

Finally, there is ADHD combined type.

As you might have guessed, this diagnosis indicates the presence of both ADHD inattentive type and ADHD hyperactive/impulsive type. Unfortunately, people with combined type experience the best (or worst) of both worlds.

The Problem With ADD

Okay, this is where it gets confusing. ADD stands for attention deficit disorder. Technically, this term is now incorrect. There is currently no such diagnosis as ADD. It is outdated. Before 1987, what we now know as ADHD was called ADD. Then they added the hyperactivity part to the name to term it ADHD. The problem is that people still use ADD to describe ADHD in general and don’t realize there are different designations.

So, Can We Still Use ADD?

If ADD does have a current proper usage it is for ADHD inattentive type (this makes sense because ADD is missing hyperactivity in its name). If we are being sticklers, however, no one should be using ADD because it is technically incorrect. What’s more, it is confusing. For many people, ADHD is only associated with hyperactive behavior. For example, a kid bouncing off the walls is usually the poster child for ADHD. When non-hyperactive kids get diagnosed with ADHD parents are often baffled because they do not have a proper understanding of the disorder. The improper use of the label ADD just contributes more to the bewilderment.

Would it be easier if we could just get rid of the term ADD? Probably. Regrettably, the use of ADD is still so popular that you can’t simply ignore it. Instead, it is important to clarify what a person means when they say it. Educating the public on the different designations of ADHD is an important undertaking. Especially since people with ADHD inattentive type are more likely to go unnoticed and slip through the cracks.

To summarize: ADD technically does not exist but people usually use it to describe all designations of ADHD even though it more closely indicates ADHD inattentive type. Whether or not you say ADD or ADHD, it is most essential to understand its symptoms and the differing designations.

MS Broudy Ph.D

MS Broudy is a psychologist, writer, and consultant. He has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a master’s degree in Social Psychology. He has spent over 20 years providing therapy and assessment services for a diverse set of clients. MS specializes in writing about mental health, parenting, and wellness. He has his own blog, mentalspokes.com, where he writes about psychological issues.