ADD or ADHD – What’s the Difference?

Many people wonder about the difference between ADHD, which is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, and ADD. which is Attention Deficit Disorder. The answer is that they are variations of the same condition. And it’s not necessarily an all-or-none situation; people with Attention Deficit are either relatively more or less hyperactive.

At its root, Attention Deficit Disorder, with or without Hyperactivity, is a disturbance in the control of mental focus and attention. In some ways, the term Attention Deficit Disorder is somewhat of a misnomer because sometimes people will hyperfocus and shut everything else out — think of a teenager over-focused on a video game. So, the condition should probably be referred to as Attention Modulation Disorder (but it isn’t!).

It is typical for adults to have the more inattentive and less hyperactive type, which accounts for it going unrecognized into adulthood. Those with a lot of hyperactivity tend to be identified in childhood because it is so easily noticed. When prominent hyperactivity exists, associated behavior problems may even result in severe consequences (fighting, suspension from school). In addition, by adulthood, many with ADD have learned to mask or compensate for their struggles, although that increasingly becomes a challenge. Adults with ADD may have quietly been underachievers. They may have taken jobs where ADD is less of an obstacle. Sometimes it is only when their children are diagnosed that adults recognize they have ADD too.

There are other types of symptoms associated with ADD besides problems with focus, organization, and planning and finishing tasks. For example, Mood symptoms are increasingly recognized as an important component of ADD. ADD might result in depression because of discouragement, low self-esteem, or just because routine things are so effortful. Irritability is also a symptom of ADD, and may stem from the frustration associated with the condition. People with ADD can be impatient, which can also lead to irritability and anger.

Because ADD and ADHD are variations on the same theme, the treatment is essentially the same for both, and might consist of stimulant medication, non-stimulant medication, and/or behavior therapy. The only difference is that a group of medications called the alpha-blockers seem to be helpful more for hyperactivity and irritability rather than attention and focus.