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What's the Difference Between Adult ADD and ADHD?

written by: jamesj • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 12/24/2010

The terms ADD and ADHD are frequently used interchangeably, but there are some differences between the two. ADD tends to be used for adults who have ADHD, which can cause some confusion.

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    What's the difference between adult ADD and ADHD?

    The most basic difference between the two concerns hyperactivity. ADD generally refers to an attention deficit without hyperactivity, while ADHD describes a person who has hyperactivity and impulsivity along with their attention deficit disorder. Confusingly, the terms ADD and ADHD are used to describe attention deficit people who do and do not possess hyperactive and impulsive symptoms.

    The key to the question, "what's the difference between adult ADD and ADHD" also lies in understanding the different ways attention deficit shows up in different people. For example, hyperactivity is more noticeable in children with ADHD. Adults are usually able to control their activities better, so it is not as obvious with them - they don't jump up and down or run around a classroom. Adults tend to have a type of ADHD known as inattentive. To understand more about the differences between ADD and ADHD we need to look at hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity.
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    Hyperactivity

    An adult with ADHD may feel restless or be constantly worrying or thinking about various issues. They have trouble relaxing and tend to have racing thoughts, take risks and get bored easily. They may not have to be running around all the time, but they have trouble sitting still and are constantly fidgeting. The differences between this and ADD are less pronounced and the hyperactivity may be more internal than visible.

    The person with ADHD tends to crave excitement, which can lead to taking dangerous chances and the need for instant gratification which can lead to substance abuse.

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    Inattentive

    ADD is also known as the ADHD inattentive type and it is marked by symptoms related to depression such as trouble staying focused or difficulty concentrating. A person with this condition may appear to zone out in the middle of a conversation without realizing it, or they may appear to not be listening. They have problems paying attention for long periods of time, and often have trouble reading if the material is not interesting to them.

    Inattentive types also have a tendency to overlook details, or forget appointments, or make what might appear to be silly errors of omission.

    A person with inattentive ADD may also have poor organization skills, a tendency to procrastinate, and difficulty starting or finishing a project.

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    Impulsive

    Being impulsive is common to both ADD and ADHD, but it usually manifests itself in different ways. The ADHD person might act recklessly or spontaneously without thinking about possible consequences. They might have a tendency to behave badly in social settings that require a person to be still for long periods of time.

    The ADD person also tends to be impulsive, but his or her actions are more subtle; they won't stand up and rudely interrupt people in social settings.

    The ADD person can also have addictive tendencies and may act recklessly in ways that are not as obvious, such as abusing substances (similar to hyperactive symptom).

    Finally, it is worth pointing out that the American Psychiatric Association uses the umbrella term ADHD to include hyperactive, inattentive and impulsive behaviors. It recognizes three types of ADHD: 1) ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type 2) ADHD, Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Type 3) ADHD, Combined Type.

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    Resources

    ADD Help Guide: Adult Symptoms

    Adult ADHD: Symptoms

    CDC: ADHD Statistics

    Web MD: Causes of ADHD