Conditions

Understanding ADHD vs. ADD: What’s the Difference?

ADHD and ADD present profound hurdles for millions worldwide. Treatment avenues encompass medication, therapy, and lifestyle adaptations. Seeking guidance from professionals with Grow Therapy and bolstering support networks can markedly enhance daily functioning and holistic well-being.

therapist william snyder By William Snyder, LPC

Updated on May 01, 2024

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Do you struggle to stay focused, pay attention, and manage your impulses? If so, you may have heard of ADHD or ADD, which affect millions of people worldwide.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed, frustrated, or misunderstood by your symptoms, you’re not alone. ADHD and ADD can be incredibly challenging to live with, affecting your work, relationships, and overall quality of life.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at ADHD and ADD. We’ll break down the symptoms, causes, and risk factors, and provide you with tips on how to manage them effectively. We’ll also explore treatment options, including medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes. Whether you’re looking for advice on organization, mindfulness, or exercise, we’ve got you covered. 

What’s the Difference Between ADHD and ADD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are neurodevelopmental disorders that are commonly diagnosed in children, but can also affect adults. While many go undiagnosed, it’s estimated that over 6 million children and 8 million adults struggle with ADHD in the U.S. alone.

A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with daily functioning and development characterize both ADHD and ADD.

Inattention refers to difficulty focusing on tasks, distractibility, and forgetfulness. Hyperactivity-impulsivity refers to fidgeting, restlessness, interrupting others, and difficulty waiting for one’s turn. While ADHD and ADD share similar symptoms, the primary difference between the two is that ADHD includes hyperactivity-impulsivity, while ADD doesn’t.

Both ADHD and ADD can have a significant impact on academic, social, and occupational functioning. Individuals with these conditions may struggle with completing tasks, following instructions, and maintaining personal relationships.

Meaning

The terms ADHD and ADD are often used interchangeably, but they refer to slightly different conditions. ADHD is the term used by the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to describe a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

ADD, on the other hand, is an outdated term that was used in earlier versions of the DSM to describe a condition that primarily involved inattention, without the hyperactivity and impulsivity seen in ADHD. 

However, the most recent edition of the DSM no longer uses the term ADD, and instead, individuals who meet the diagnostic criteria for ADHD are classified as having one of three types: predominantly inattentive type, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, or combined type.

It’s important to note that the symptoms of ADHD and ADD can manifest differently in different individuals, and not everyone with ADHD will experience hyperactivity-impulsivity. This is why the DSM includes the subtypes of ADHD, to better capture the range of symptoms and presentations.

Causes

The exact cause of ADHD and ADD isn’t fully understood. However, researchers believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and neurological factors may contribute to the development of these conditions. Studies have shown that ADHD and ADD tend to run in families, suggesting a genetic component.

Environmental factors, such as exposure to toxins or prenatal alcohol and tobacco use, have also been linked to an increased risk of ADHD and ADD. Additionally, researchers have found that structural and functional differences in certain regions of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia, may contribute to the symptoms of ADHD and ADD.

Symptoms

When it comes to the symptoms of ADHD vs. ADD, Dr. Christy Barongan, a Grow Therapy provider and licensed clinical psychologist, states “the difference between the two is that H refers to hyperactivity, which is usually a symptom more often with boys than girls. As people with ADHD get older, the hyperactivity usually subsides, which is why people use the term ADD instead.”

Dr. Barongan goes on to say, “As adults, people with ADHD may still be hyperactive in terms of shopping, impulsivity, or reckless driving and inattentive in terms of losing track of time, often running late or forgetting things like where they put their keys.”

The symptoms of ADHD can be classified into two categories:

A symptom of both ADHD and ADD is poor executive functioning, meaning they have trouble with organization, lack of structure, and planning. In addition to these core symptoms, ADHD can also manifest in other ways, such as difficulties with emotional regulation (similarly to mood disorders), time management, and social skills. 

These symptoms can lead to academic, occupational, and social difficulties and can impact a person’s overall quality of life.

It’s important to note that everyone experiences some degree of inattention or hyperactivity-impulsivity from time to time, and a diagnosis of ADHD requires a persistent pattern of these symptoms that significantly impairs functioning.

The Three Types of ADHD

The DSM-5 recognizes three types of ADHD: predominantly inattentive type, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type, and combined type.

Symptoms of inattention, such as difficulty paying attention to details, forgetfulness, and disorganization characterize the predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD. People with this type of ADHD may appear sluggish or daydreamy and may struggle with completing tasks or following through on instructions.

Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, such as fidgeting, restlessness, and interrupting others predominantly characterize hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD. People with this type of ADHD may appear overly talkative, always “on the go,” and may have difficulty sitting still for extended periods.

Combined type ADHD is the most common subtype and is characterized by a combination of symptoms, from both inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity categories.

The three types of ADHD aren’t mutually exclusive, and symptoms may change over time. For example, children or adolescents who were diagnosed with predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD may later develop symptoms of inattention as an adult.

How is ADHD Diagnosed?

The diagnostic process may include interviews with the individual being evaluated, as well as family members or other caregivers. Standardized rating scales and questionnaires may also be used to gather information about symptoms and daily functioning. This allows your mental health professional to get a comprehensive view of you, your life, and your symptoms.

Once completed, mental health professionals can determine if you have ADHD and if so, what form of ADHD you have. From there, you and your provider can begin to hammer out a solid treatment plan.

Getting a diagnosis of ADHD and fully understanding the form you’re struggling with will make all the difference in how you function and manage life on a daily basis — don’t underestimate the power of a proper diagnosis!

Treatment Options

While there is no cure for ADHD, there are a variety of treatment options that can help manage symptoms and improve daily functioning. The most effective treatment plan will vary from person to person, and a comprehensive approach may include a combination of medication, therapy, and lifestyle changes.

Medication can be an effective tool in managing ADHD symptoms. Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin and Adderall, are commonly prescribed to help increase focus and reduce hyperactivity-impulsivity symptoms.

Non-stimulant medications, such as Strattera, may also be prescribed for people who can’t tolerate stimulants or who have co-occurring conditions such as anxiety or depression.

Depending on your preferences and symptoms, you may not need medication. In that case, the focus of your treatment would be therapy and lifestyle changes.

Therapy is an essential component of ADHD treatment. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help people learn coping strategies to manage symptoms, improve time-management and organizational skills, and address emotional regulation difficulties. Family therapy can also be helpful in addressing the impact of ADHD on family dynamics and relationships.

Lifestyle changes can also play a significant role in managing ADHD symptoms. Exercise and physical activity can help reduce hyperactivity and improve mood, while a healthy diet can improve overall brain function.

Strategies such as mindfulness, meditation, and yoga can also help improve attention and reduce stress. In short, taking care of your mental and physical health is key to rounding out a successful treatment plan.

Seek Professional Help

Once you receive a diagnosis, there are several treatment options available. Medication — such as stimulants or non-stimulants — can help improve focus, attention, and impulse control.

Therapy — including cognitive-behavioral therapy or coaching — can help individuals develop coping skills, improve time-management and build self-esteem. Additionally, lifestyle changes like exercise, diet, and stress management can also be beneficial.

It’s important to work with a qualified healthcare provider who has experience treating ADHD. A trained professional can provide personalized treatment recommendations and monitor progress over time. 

They can also offer support and guidance as individuals navigate the challenges of living with ADHD. With the right diagnosis and treatment, individuals with ADHD can learn to manage their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life.

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Get Support

Living with ADHD can be challenging, but there’s help available. Seeking support from loved ones, mental health professionals, and support groups can make a significant difference in managing symptoms and improving overall quality of life. 

People with ADHD may feel misunderstood or judged by others who don’t understand the challenges they face. By seeking out individuals and groups who are familiar with ADHD, individuals can find a sense of validation and understanding.

Family and friends can provide emotional support and practical assistance, such as helping with household tasks or providing reminders for appointments or deadlines. Having an accountability partner to remind or help you out can help reduce the stress and anxiety of trying to accomplish your given tasks.

Mental health professionals can offer individual therapy, group therapy, or medication management to help manage symptoms and improve daily functioning. Support groups can also be a valuable resource for people with ADHD to connect with others who understand their struggles and share coping strategies.

Adapting Based on Your Symptoms

While ADHD can be challenging, there are strategies individuals can use to adapt to their symptoms and improve their daily functioning. It’s essential to understand how ADHD affects you personally and identify strategies that work best for your unique needs.

For example, people with ADHD may struggle with time-management and organization. Developing a routine and using tools such as planners, calendars, or smartphone apps can help with planning and prioritizing tasks.

When you really need to focus, create a distraction-free environment using noise-canceling headphones, or break tasks into smaller, more manageable steps to help improve concentration. Take breaks regularly between tasks to give yourself a moment to tune into how you’re feeling and how well you’re staying on task. If needed, re-center your mind to ensure that you’re ready to take on the new task.

It’s also absolutely vital to prioritize self-care and manage stress levels. Regular exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep can improve overall brain function and reduce symptoms of ADHD.

Adapting to ADHD requires patience, persistence, and a willingness to try new strategies, but the persistence pays off in the long run! Don’t be afraid to experiment — try as many different strategies as you can, pay attention to what works, and fine-tune those strategies until you’ve found what truly helps you reach a productive flow.

Key Takeaways

ADHD and ADD are complex conditions that can be challenging to manage, but with the right tools and strategies, it’s possible to lead a fulfilling life. By understanding the differences between ADHD and ADD, you can work towards identifying your symptoms and finding the right treatment plan for you. 

Whether that includes medication, therapy, or lifestyle changes, the key is to be patient, persistent, and proactive. With the right support and resources, you can learn to manage your symptoms, improve your focus, and unlock your full potential. 

If you’re currently undiagnosed or need to find a treatment plan, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Grow Therapy to schedule an appointment with a therapist who is in-network with your insurance. Once you’re connected with a therapist, they’ll help you explore medication and treatment options.  

Remember, you aren’t alone, and there’s always hope. So take a deep breath, reach out for help when you need it, and keep moving forward.

Frequently Asked Questions

About the author
therapist william snyder William Snyder, LPC

William Snyder is a licensed professional counselor who works with adults experiencing symptoms such as anxiety, depressed mood, loss and grief, identity and self-concept difficulties, relationship problems, life-transition difficulties, and traumatic memories.

This article is not meant to be a replacement for medical advice. We recommend speaking with a therapist for personalized information about your mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who can offer support and address any questions or concerns. If you or your child is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should dial 9-1-1 and/or go to the nearest emergency room.

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