Difference Between ADD and ADHD

Edited by Diffzy | Updated on: October 11, 2023


Difference Between ADD and ADHD

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For far too long, mental health has not been given its due. It has largely been in the dark; there has been a constant lack of research and work in this field. If one tries to point the finger at what could have been the exact cause(s) of such a trend in the field of mental health, one would be pointing at several potential factors, but one factor that is prominent and persistent is the general attitude of the masses towards the science of the mind. The study of disciplines like psychology, psychiatry, neuropsychiatry, cognitive sciences, and associated disciplines that study the human mind has not been viewed, or rather received, by the common people with due seriousness for the longest time. Talking about mental health has been considered taboo by a vast section of the common population, specifically in the South-East Asian context. It was only natural for one such environment to sabotage the growth of this discipline. However, it is a relief that the scenario is changing. Mental health is coming into people’s purview, and the focus on this field of work is expanding. Although this shift is gradual, it is a welcome change and has the potential to snowball into a larger awareness and positivity towards mental and psychological health.

An uprising trend in consciousness and awareness has substantially thrown light on psychological disorders and mental health crises and has initiated similar conversations far and wide. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders; also known as the DSM; is a taxonomic and diagnostic tool published by the American Psychiatric Association that is widely referred to by clinicians and psychiatrists to diagnose psychological disorders. It states the descriptions, symptoms, and all that is necessary to diagnose a psychological disorder, statistics, such as what part of the demographic is the most susceptible to which disorder, age of onset, treatment approaches, and also effects of treatment. Apart from being a practical guide, psychiatrists and psychologists refer to the DSM to get a proper diagnosis which further decides the billing process. The fifth edition of the DSM, known as the DSM-5 was published in 2013, and below is the tabular definition of psychological disorders, proposed by the DSM-5 and thereby quoted:

Amongst the disorders mentioned and discussed in the DSM-5, ADD and ADHD will be our prime focus in this article.


ADD is an acronym that stands for Attention Deficit Disorder. ADHD is an acronym that stands for Attention Disorder Hyperactivity Disorder. Though they might sound phonetically very close, and their respective symptoms also fall under the same umbrella, there is a subtle distinction between these two neuro-psychological disorders that has to be understood.

Many are of the opinion that there does not exist any specific distinction between ADD and ADHD, since ‘ADD’ is an outdated medical term, ‘ADHD’ is the umbrella term that is used to classify both the disorders in question. However, it is worth noting that ADD refers to a certain subset of symptoms that fall under the umbrella of ADHD. ADD does not stand for everything that ADHD might manifest into. Similarly, ‘ADHD’ as a term doesn’t summarize ADD.

Difference Between ADD and ADHD in Tabular Form

Parameters of comparisonADDADHD
DefinitionAttention Deficit Disorder. Commonly leads to inattention, poor memory, and high distractibility.Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Commonly entails difficulty in paying attention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity.
Difference in diagnosesADD has become an obsolete term. Instead, symptoms of ADD are grouped under ‘ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Presentation’.ADHD is more of an umbrella term. It has three subtypes. ADD represents only one aspect of ADHD.
SymptomsMost evident symptoms include: avoiding tasks that need prolonged mental labour, difficulty in keeping track of things hence losing things often, among others.Most prominent symptoms include: not being able to focus, difficulty in staying seated in any situation, difficulty in following instructions, among others.
SynonymityADD and ADHD are often used interchangeably, though ADD does not represent all symptoms of ADHD. It just stands for one aspect of it.ADHD is an umbrella term that has myriad manifestations, but ‘ADHD’ as a term does not summarise the symptoms of ADD.

One concept that needs to be clearly presented right at the beginning is that ADD is one aspect, or rather a subtype, of ADHD. It is important to understand what Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder is before we move on to its specific subtypes.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neuropsychological condition characterised by ongoing patterns of inattention, sometimes coupled with impulsiveness and hyperactivity, which interferes with daily life and growth and development. People with ADHD show symptoms that can be broadly classified into the following compartments:


Inattention that stems from ADHD does not necessarily come from a place of defiance or disobedience or lack of understanding. It can also be an involuntary occurrence that gets in the way. Struggling to stay updated when it comes to tasks, problems in focusing, staying organised becoming a chore, and difficulties in comprehension might be clear signals that someone might need help with an attention disorder, namely, ADHD.


Hyperactivity is when an individual finds it difficult to maintain a stable posture over a period of time. In young children, hyperactivity might manifest as fidgeting constantly, constantly talking or tapping, even when one such behaviour is not appropriate. In adults, hyperactivity might look like restlessness and being unnecessarily talkative.


Quite like its meaning in the dictionary, impulsivity, when seen through the lens of medical diagnosis, impulsivity causes a person to chronically take rash decisions, to be impatient, to not be able to wait for the right moment or opportunity for gratification of needs. Difficulty with self-control and frequently interrupting others might also be clear signs of impulsivity that comes with a neurological condition like ADHD.

ADHD has three main subtypes:

  1. Predominantly inattentive, where the prominent symptom is inattention.
  2. Predominantly hyperactive/impulsive, where the predominant symptoms are that of hyperactivity and impulsivity; and
  3. Combined, where both inattentive and hyperactive/impulsive traits are prominent.

Acting out of impulse, uncoordinated motor movements and not being attentive is a common experience for many people. But for people with ADHD, diagnosed or undiagnosed, these symptoms get more

  1. Severe,
  2. Frequent, and
  3. Chronic and affect one’s quality of life and functionality.

Signs and Symptoms of ADHD

Children diagnosed with ADHD may:

  • Daydream a lot.
  • Forget or lose things very frequently.
  • Fidget and find it difficult to stay seated.
  • Talk too much.
  • Struggles in following a queue.
  • Has a hard time controlling temptations.
  • Makes careless mistakes and acts on impulse.
  • Has trouble getting along with others.

It is important to note that these symptoms are behavioral patterns very common to children and young adults. Such patterns go away with time. However, children with a condition like ADHD do not grow out of this behavior and these get in the way of their daily life, school, and relationships with people.

In adults, ADHD has a slightly different manifestation. Adults with diagnosed (or undiagnosed) ADHD might show symptoms like:

  • Restlessness.
  • Anger issues.
  • Difficulties with work, family, friendships and other relationships.

Potential Causes and Risk Factors

The exact causes of ADHD are yet to be determined. However, scientists, scholars and medical practitioners have determined some possible risk factors that might cause ADHD. Some of them are:

  1. Genetics.
  2. Brain injury.
  3. Exposure to environmental threats.
  4. Premature delivery.
  5. Smoking or drinking or abusing on any substance during pregnancy.
  6. Other birth related complications.

Typical Behavior or ADHD?

Most children and young adults show symptoms of being impulsive, inattention, or not fitting in at some point. Most adults have been restless and have struggled with relationships or work at some point in their lives. It’s important to note the differences between typical behaviour and a neurological condition. To think of a neurological condition as a spasm of normal behaviour is ignorant and harmful. The converse also needs to be taken into consideration. It is no use to panic about a disorder that does not exist. Normal behavioural patterns, when chronic and inhibiting, can be thought of as a concern. Medical attention needs to be sought. But it only adds to the palpitation to worry about a very normal thing someone does being something more than that.

Possible Treatments

Some possible treatment plans that are often implemented to help in coping with ADHD:

  1. Medicines.
  2. Reviewed diet plan.
  3. Food supplements, like Omega-3.
  4. Psychotherapy.
  5. Behavioural therapy.
  6. Social skills training.

What is ADD?

ADD, or Attention Deficit Disorder, is a neurological disorder that manifests itself in the form of symptoms of inattention, poor memory, and easy distractibility. In adults, ADD looks somewhat like following through executive functions, forgetting appointments, and frequently losing track of time. Though the symptoms and the disorder continue to be fostered in people to this day, the term ‘ADD’ is no longer used to signify them. It has retired from public usage and in its place, medical diagnoses call this disorder Predominantly Inattentive Presentation Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

ADD might manifest differently in different persons, and there can also be a difference noted in the ADD symptoms that appear in children and those that appear in adults. Following are some obvious symptoms that might appear in individuals 16 years old or younger, and if they persist for six months or more, might be a direct giveaway for ADD:

  • Gets easily sidetracked
  • Avoids long and arduous mental tasks, like homework, reading for long hours, or painting.
  • Loses things frequently.
  • Has difficulties in keeping track of time.
  • Does not seem to follow or register when instructed.
  • Faces difficulties in staying seated in a place for some time, and the like.

Lack of awareness or general ignorance often leads to children showing these symptoms being chalked up to ‘daydreaming’ or ‘just fidgeting’.

Main Difference Between ADHD and ADD In Points

  • ADHD, as a term for medical diagnosis, is used a lot more widely than ADD.
  • ADD implies chronic inattention. It does not necessarily include hyperactivity, which is a necessary constituent of the symptoms of ADHD.
  • ADHD is a category of neuropsychological disorder, of which ADD can be thought of as one aspect or set of symptoms.
  • ADHD is an umbrella term, of which ADD is a part. ADD does not stand for everything ADHD implies.


The current focus on mental health is catapulting, and rightly so. The need of the hour is adequate education about mental health and destigmatizing discourses around the same. Stigma only adds to an increasing and encroaching ignorance. This leads to misinformed decisions and a perpetual lack of awareness. In trying to distinguish ADD from ADHD, we have also tried and discovered sufficient bits of both, and thus educated and sensitized ourselves. Such dialogues need to be ample and plenty to realize the aware, open-minded, and inclusive world that we have been collectively imagining through generations.


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"Difference Between ADD and ADHD." Diffzy.com, 2024. Fri. 19 Jul. 2024. <https://www.diffzy.com/article/difference-between-add-and-adhd-1150>.

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