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What is the Difference Between Adult ADD and ADHD?

written by: Lynn-nore Chittom • edited by: Paul Arnold • updated: 7/26/2011

This article helps answer the common question - "what is the difference between adult ADD and ADHD?" Symptoms are discussed for each type of attention deficit disorder.

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    ADD and ADHD

    Historically, the distinction between ADD and ADHD has hinged on the presence or absence of symptoms related to hyperactivity. In recent years, these terms have been adjusted slightly in the hopes of making the differences between various forms of attention deficit disorders clearer.

    In 1994, the term ADD was formerly dropped from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders - Fourth Edition (DSM-IV). In its place three forms of ADHD are included with separate symptom subsets described. The three types given are ADHD Primarily Inattentive Type, ADHD Primarily Hyperactive Type, and ADHD Combined Type.

    According to the most up-to-date terminology, the differences between adult ADD and ADHD should be discussed as the differences between common symptoms in adults with ADHD Primarily Inattentive Type and ADHD Primarily Hyperactive Type.

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    ADD - or ADHD Primarily Inattentive Type

    Adults who do not exhibit symptoms of hyperactivity, but struggle with consistent employment, boredom in the workplace and in relationships, and who frequently forget things or lose objects may be suffering from ADHD Primarily Inattentive Type.

    Here is a list of symptoms common among adults with ADHD Primarily Inattentive Type:

    • Difficulty listening for sustained periods of time - such as in meetings or important discussions
    • Tendency to daydream or "zone out" while attempting to listen
    • Easily distracted when trying to concentrate
    • Frequently overlooking details and therefore causing simple errors in work or projects
    • Poor organizational skills - at home, at the office, in the car
    • Frequently losing things - keys, papers, wallet, phone...
    • Frequently procrastinating on projects
    • Often forgetting meetings, appointments, and deadlines
    • Chronic lateness

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    ADHD Primarily Hyperactive Type

    The principle difference between ADHD Primarily Inattentive Type and ADHD Primarily Hyperactive Type is the constant need to move amongst those with the hyperactive diagnosis.

    In addition adults with ADHD Primarily Hyperactive Type typically do not exhibit as many symptoms related to disorganization and forgetfulness; instead the majority of their symptoms stem from a lack of physical control.

    Here is a list of symptoms common among adults with ADHD Primarily Hyperactive Type:

    • Constant fidgeting -- particularly leg or finger tapping
    • Blurting out answers and ideas
    • Frequently interrupting others
    • Tendencies toward addiction
    • Impulse control problems - talking out of turn, spontaneous physical activity
    • Trouble sitting still
    • Multi-tasking to an extreme

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    ADHD Combined Type

    Some individuals need not ask the "what is the difference between adult ADD and ADHD?" as they present with symptoms of both hyperactive and inattentive ADHD types.

    These individuals may not exhibit the full spectrum of symptoms on both lists, but generally have a collection of at least six symptoms present on the two lists combined. They may be prone to fidgeting, have impulse control problems, be chronically late all the time, have a tendency to forget things, have poor organizational skills and frequently procrastinate on projects of significance.