What is the Difference Between ADD and ADHD?

learn the difference between add vs. adhd with Dr. John G Kuna & Associates, a mental health service provider located in Berwick, PA.

Navigating the differences between Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can be confusing. While they may seem similar, understanding their unique characteristics is key to proper diagnosis and treatment. In this blog, we will explore what sets ADD and ADHD apart by breaking down the evolution of these terms, their symptoms, and how they affect individuals differently.

*Disclaimer: This blog is for informational purposes only and is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical conditions. If you believe you may be struggling with mental health or are seeking a diagnosis, please reach out to your nearest mental health provider.*

What is ADD?

ADD, also known as Attention Deficit Disorder, is an outdated term that was once used to describe a condition involving difficulties with concentration, attention, and focus. ADD was previously differentiated from ADHD because of the absence of hyperactivity. However, this distinction is no longer widely used in the medical community. ADHD is now understood to encompass a spectrum of symptoms, including those previously attributed to ADD.

DSM-V Definition & Diagnostic Criteria for ADD:

In 1980, after releasing the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the American Psychological Association recognized Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), with or without hyperactivity. However, it was quickly refined, and in 1987, ADD was changed to ADHD to more accurately encompass the range of symptoms associated with the disorder, which included hyperactivity.

The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the most recent guide, mainly discusses ADHD but also looks back at the history of ADD. It shows how our understanding of the disorder, including its symptoms and effects, has improved over time. This shift demonstrates the American Psychological Association’s dedication to updating mental health diagnoses based on the latest science and clinical findings.

What is ADHD?

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by a range of behaviors, including difficulty in maintaining attention, hyperactivity, and impulsive actions. According to the American Psychological Association, “People with ADHD typically have trouble getting organized, staying focused, making realistic plans, and thinking before acting. They may be fidgety, noisy, and unable to adapt to changing situations.”

DSM-V Definition & Diagnostic Criteria for ADHD:

Per the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, ADHD is defined as “a neurodevelopmental disorder defined by impairing levels of inattention, disorganization, and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity.” It states that people with ADHD often struggle to focus on tasks, appear not to listen, and frequently lose items needed for activities, more than is typical for their age or developmental stage. They may also show behaviors like being overly active, fidgeting, difficulty remaining seated, interrupting others, and struggling to wait their turn, which is more intense than expected for their age group.

The DSM-V lists seven criteria for ADHD to provide a thorough and precise diagnosis. This criteria covers various symptoms, when they start, how long they last, where they occur, and how much they impact daily life. This detailed method helps doctors accurately identify ADHD and distinguish it from other similar conditions. The diagnostic criteria for ADHD are as follows:

ADHD Diagnostic Criteria

  1. Age of Onset: Symptoms must be present before age 12.
  2. Duration: Symptoms must have been present for at least 6 months.
  3. Inattention: Six or more symptoms (five for individuals 17 years and older) of inattention for children up to age 16 or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults. Symptoms of inattention may include:
    • Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, at work, or during other activities.
    • Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities.
    • Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly.
    • Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace.
    • Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities.
    • Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort.
    • Often loses things necessary for tasks and activities.
    • Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli.
    • Is often forgetful in daily activities.
  4. Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Six or more symptoms (five for individuals 17 years and older) of hyperactivity-impulsivity for children up to age 16, or five or more for adolescents 17 and older and adults. Symptoms of hyperactivity-impulsivity may include:
    • Often fidgets with or taps hands or feet or squirms in seat.
    • Often leaves seat in situations when remaining seated is expected.
    • Often runs about or climbs in situations where it is inappropriate.
    • Often unable to play or engage in leisure activities quietly.
    • Is often “on the go,” acting as if “driven by a motor.”
    • Often talks excessively.
    • Often blurts out an answer before a question has been completed.
    • Often has difficulty waiting their turn.
    • Often interrupts or intrudes on others.
  5. Impairment: Several inattentive or hyperactive-impulsive symptoms must be present in two or more settings (e.g., at home, school, or work; with friends or relatives; in other activities).
  6. Exclusion of Other Disorders: The symptoms are not better explained by another mental disorder (e.g., Mood Disorder, Anxiety Disorder, Dissociative Disorder, Personality Disorder, Substance Intoxication or Withdrawal).
  7. Severity: The DSM-5 also specifies how to determine the severity of ADHD (mild, moderate, or severe) based on the number of symptoms and the degree of impairment.

differences between add and adhd

What are the similarities in ADD & ADHD?

While Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) are often distinguished by their individual characteristics, they share several core similarities that are important to understand.

  • Neurodevelopmental Disorders: Both ADD and ADHD are classified as neurodevelopmental disorders affecting attention regulation and impulse control.
  • Focus and Organization Challenges: Individuals with either condition often struggle with maintaining focus, organizing tasks, and following through on commitments.
  • Early Onset: Typically, both ADD and ADHD become apparent in childhood, though they can persist into adulthood.
  • Impact on Daily Life: These disorders can significantly affect various aspects of daily life, including academic performance, social interactions, and personal relationships.
  • Coexisting Conditions: ADD and ADHD frequently coexist with other learning disabilities or mood disorders, necessitating a multifaceted approach to treatment and support.

What are the differences in ADD & ADHD?

Despite their similarities, ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder) and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are distinct in several key aspects, primarily in the presence of hyperactivity.

  • Hyperactivity: The most notable difference between the two lies in hyperactivity; ADHD includes a hyperactivity component, while ADD does not.
  • Inattention Manifestation: While both disorders involve inattention, they manifest differently. ADD is characterized by a more internalized inattentiveness, whereas ADHD includes externalized hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.
  • Diagnostic Criteria: The diagnostic criteria for ADHD are more comprehensive, encompassing three subtypes (inattentive, hyperactive/impulsive, and combined), while ADD is generally considered an outdated term for the inattentive type of ADHD.
  • Perception and Response: The external symptoms of hyperactivity in ADHD often make it more noticeable and potentially disruptive than ADD, affecting how individuals are perceived and supported.
  • Treatment Approaches: While there is considerable overlap in treatment strategies, the presence of hyperactivity in ADHD can necessitate additional interventions focusing on managing hyperactive and impulsive behaviors.

Online Therapy for ADD & ADHD in Pennsylvania

For individuals dealing with ADD or ADHD, finding the right support is crucial. Online therapy offers a convenient and effective solution. Here at Dr. John G. Kuna and Associates, we provide online therapy in Pennsylvania tailored for ADD and ADHD patients. Our approach is compassionate and understanding, making it easier for you to access the help you need from the comfort of your home. Contact us today to start the journey of managing your symptoms of ADD and ADHD.


While ADD and ADHD share a common foundation in affecting attention and focus, their differences lie in the presence and intensity of hyperactivity and impulsivity. As our understanding of neurodevelopmental disorders continues to evolve, so does our approach to diagnosis, treatment, and support. Whether dealing with ADD or ADHD, the emphasis should always be on providing tailored care and understanding, ensuring that each individual receives the support they need to thrive in their daily lives.