What is the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

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  • Written By: B. Miller
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2019
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ADD and ADHD are similar disorders for which both of the terms are often used. ADD stands for Attention Deficit Disorder, and ADHD stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; these variations in phrasing help to make the difference between the conditions clear. The primary difference between ADD and ADHD is that individuals with ADD are characterized only by inattention and have trouble concentrating. They often may seem forgetful, or to be thinking slowly or off in a daydream. Individuals with ADHD tend to display more hyperactive or impulsive behavior, such as the inability to sit still or frequently interrupting or blurting out answers to questions.

Psychiatrists further classify these disorders based on type. Rarely is a diagnosis of simple ADD given; instead, ADD and ADHD are combined, and diagnoses change based on different types of ADHD. For instance, where a person might previously have been diagnosed with ADD, he or she might instead be diagnosed with ADHD-predominantly inattentive type. Those with hyperactive symptoms might receive a diagnosis of ADHD-predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type. A combined diagnosis exists as well for those who are both inattentive and hyperactive. These highly specific diagnoses make it easier for psychiatrists to treat ADD and ADHD based on the needs of the individual patient.


Individuals may experience ADD and ADHD at any point in life, though it is most commonly diagnosed in childhood, when children have difficulty paying attention in school. Children who are predominantly inattentive may have difficulty remaining focused on a task, may seem to be daydreaming constantly, or may have trouble doing tasks where it is necessary to identify important information and discard unimportant information. A psychiatrist will be able to perform more specific tests to determine if the child's difficulties in school are related to an attention deficit disorder or other type of learning disability.

ADHD with hyperactivity and impulsive behavior may present differently. Though children may have similar difficulties concentrating on tasks, this will usually be because they can't sit still and are thinking too quickly, rather than just doing so absentmindedly. Some kids will not be able to sit quietly, for example, and may get up and walk around the room all the time. They may constantly yell out answers or interrupt other people when they are speaking, often without thinking first about what they want to say. Both ADD and ADHD can cause great difficulties for children and make it much more challenging to succeed in school, so it is important to identify these conditions as soon as possible.



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