The Difference Between ADD & ADHD

When searching for information on mental health issues, you’ll find attention deficit disorder (ADD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) lumped together. In fact, you’ll often read ADD/ADHD. So it’s easy to see why people get confused.

Before we talk about the differences, let’s take a look at the history of ADHD.

1902: Sir George Frederic Still was a pediatrician in Britain that realized there were children having trouble controlling their behavior but were still intelligent otherwise. 1936: Benzedrine was approved by the FDA and there were some unexpected side effects where the patients performed better in school, specifically younger patients. It was likely introduced for another reason but was found to help children in school. 1952: The first DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders): First to focus on clinical criteria and based on beliefs of psychologists. Disorders were viewed to be caused by the environment. Although children were mentioned with a few diagnoses, there were no sections dedicated to children. ADD/ADHD was not included in the first DSM. 1968: The second DSM: Hyperkinetic Reaction of Childhood was added. This is now what we know as ADHD. At the time, it was described as being overactive, distracted, and having a short-attention span. The general nature of the description made it difficult for professionals to agree when these symptoms occurred, whether or not they should be given this label. 1980: A new publication of the psychiatric diagnostic reference, called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd Edition (DSM III), came out and ADHD and ADD were coined terms. Prior to that it was just “Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood”. 2000: The 4th edition of DSM-III established the three types of ADHD: Predominantly Inattentive Type, Hyperactive-Impulsive Type, or a Combination Type.

So What are the Real Differences Between ADHD and ADD?

The real difference between ADD and ADHD is who is diagnosing the person and which terminology (older or newer) they prefer to use. For example, the term “Attention Deficit Disorder” is shorter and easier to say and write. It is often used by people, as well as medical professionals, as a shorthand version of the full-blown Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. To be clear, and technically speaking, there is no longer an official “attention deficit disorder (ADD)” diagnosis — it is all known as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), with a specifier made for the actual type of ADHD: inattentive type, hyperactive-impulsive type, or a combination type. That being said, ADD is often used as a shorthand to describe the inattentive type of ADHD.


Treatments for ADD and the other types of ADHD (hyperactive-impulsive and combination) are similar and typically include some kind of therapy and/or medication as interventions.

Common Therapies

Behavioral Interventions: Often using reward systems, the goal of behavioral therapy is to change negative behaviors into positive ones. Negative reinforcement is removing something to yield better results. This therapy is often used in conjunction with medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This is a type of talk therapy that helps individuals with ADHD to think about their feelings and behavior. Mindfulness: Consciously being aware in the moment of what is occurring without feelings or judgment. Ex. Drinking coffee while noticing the type of mug or the scent of the coffee. Narrating activities:” I’m walking down the hall, I’m walking fast, I’m walking slow”. There is no bad versus good or polar opposites of judgment. When using mindfulness you can’t respond to emotions. If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD and is interested in exploring treatment options, please get in touch. I’d be happy to discuss how I may be able to help.