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Understanding the Difference Between ADD and ADHD

In years past, professionals used to refer to ADD and ADHD as different disorders, despite their similarities. However, the mental health professional community now agrees that what was formerly called ADD is actually a type of ADHD.

The three types of ADHD are now:

  • Primarily Inattentive (formerly ADD)

  • Primarily Hyperactive-Impulsive (formerly the only kind of ADHD)

  • Combination

With the new diagnostic standards, ADD is no longer considered a disorder. People who would have previously been diagnosed with ADD now fall under the Primary Inattentive type of ADHD. Although many people associate ADD with hyperactivity, these patients do no show hyperactivity as a symptom. 

People who would have been previously diagnosed with ADHD broadly now have the diagnosis of Primarily Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD. People who have symptoms of both of those types of ADHD have combination ADHD.


What is ADHD?

ADHD is a type of mental health disorder that impacts a person’s cognitive abilities. For example, it can change a patient’s ability to remember things or concentrate on tasks. This relatively common disorder affect about 11 percent of school-aged children in the United States. Although it is commonly thought of as a childhood illness, about 4.4 percent of adults in the United States live with the disorder as well.

ADHD can develop at any point in life, though it is often diagnosed in childhood. Some children with ADHD outgrow their symptoms by the time they become adults. Others live with symptoms of ADHD throughout their lives. Some adults never had symptoms as children but develop ADHD later in life.

Understandably, many parents worry that ADHD is over-diagnosed because the rate of diagnosis has risen substantially in recent years. It’s possible that environmental factors may be to blame; the research is still out on this. However, it’s equally possible that increased awareness about the disorder has caused the sudden spike in diagnosis.

Parents also worry about the potential stigma of having a child with ADHD. It’s vital to keep in mind that the child will have the symptoms and the disorder whether they get an official diagnosis or not. The difference is that a diagnosis allows families to access tools to help make life easier.


Symptoms of Adult ADHD

Signs of Inattentive ADHD (Formerly Known as ADD)

  • “Zoning out” often

  • Difficulty paying attention to detail at work or school

  • Being easily distracted, especially during dull tasks

  • Having a shorter attention span than peers, even when doing activities they like

  • Difficulty following instructions at work or school

  • Trouble listening for long stretches of time

  • Actively avoiding anything that requires much concentration

  • Difficulty organizing thoughts or routines

  • Often forgetting to complete basic tasks, even those that occur daily

Symptoms of Hyperactivity-Impulsivity ADHD

  • Trouble dealing with delayed gratification

  • Fidgeting during work or school

  • Making decisions quickly and without much thought

  • Feeling restless

  • Talking more than more people, sometimes faster than most people

  • Trouble relaxing the body and mind

When people have combination ADHD, they have at least a few symptoms from each of these lists. However, someone can have many signs from one list and only a few from the other.

As is the case with all mental health diagnoses, the signs of ADHD must be frequent and severe enough to impact a person’s ability to live a healthy life. Furthermore, adults must have symptoms for at least six months to qualify for a diagnosis. For example, occasionally feeling jittery does not mean someone has ADHD.


Testing for ADHD

Online tests, blogs, and patients with ADHD can only tell someone whether they may need evaluation for ADHD. However, only a qualified mental health professional who attends to a particular patient can determine whether that person has ADHD. 

When professionals try to make this determination, they run a series of assessments to understand the patient’s symptoms. While adults respond to these questions by themselves, parents may help their children describe their symptoms. 

The assessments are the first part of the diagnostic process. Professionals may also wish to talk to parents separately or ask particular follow-up questions. With this information, they can make accurate diagnoses.


Treatment Options for ADHD

ADHD is a chronic condition, which means there is no known cure. However, several treatments can help patients and their families manage symptoms. Medications, therapy, lifestyle changes, or combinations of these treatments can help.


Although it may seem odd at first, a class of medications called “stimulants” can help people with ADHD focus and be calm. Although these substances would make anyone else feel hyperactive, they do the opposite for people with ADHD. These medications are so effective that they work for up to 80 percent of children with ADHD. 

Some other types of medications can help people with ADHD, and they have been on the market since 2003. These pills do not take effect as quickly as stimulants. However, they can be great options for patients who do not react well to stimulants. 

Understandably, some people feel nervous about putting themselves or their children on medication for ADHD. We respect that decision. Anyone who feels this way can try therapy and lifestyle changes.

Behavioral Therapy

As is the case with many behavioral disorders, counseling can help people with ADHD. In these forms of therapy, counselors teach patients to reinforce positive behaviors and turn negative behaviors around. Therapists also help patients find what triggers them and discover other, healthier coping mechanisms. 

When children have ADHD, counselors work closely with the parents. The parents learn how to reinforce what the children learned in therapy. This consistency helps with recovery.

Lifestyle Changes

A few lifestyle changes can also help patients with ADHD, including:

  • Creating daily routines and habits

  • Getting plenty of restful sleep

  • Decreasing distractions at work or school

  • Getting plenty of regular exercise

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet

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