Inattention ADD: Problems and Solutions

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What is Inattention ADD?

Inattention ADD is one of three basic sub-types of attention deficit disorder, the other two being primarily hyperactive-impulsive type and combined type (both inattentive and hyperactive-impulsive). Inattention is often characterized by an impaired ability to focus and concentrate, particularly for a sustained period of time.

One of the main issues experienced by ADD patients who exhibit symptoms of inattention is with getting work done. This is true for children in educational environments as well as for adults in professional settings. For example, chronic inattentiveness can make it challenging for an individual to complete a reading assignment in a classroom or to write an analysis in an office.

Inattentive ADD and Social Impairment

Symptoms of inattention are generally not as disruptive in social settings as those that are commonly identified with hyperactive-impulsive behaviors (such difficulty sitting still). At the same time, individuals suffering from inattentive symptoms may experience trouble with paying attention to people that they are speaking with or remembering what topics have already been covered in longer conversations.

Also, the general forgetfulness which is typically found within inattentive ADD patients can sometimes be interpreted as personal disinterest by another individual who does not realize that the memory lapse was probably not a result of carelessness or negative feelings.

While not as socially disruptive as hyperactivity, these symptoms can be socially impairing in certain circumstances.

Diagnosing Inattention ADD

The DSM-IV-TR lists nine basic criteria which are used in diagnosing an individual with ADHD predominantly inattentive type:

  1. Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes in schoolwork, work, or other activities
  2. Often has difficulty sustaining attention in tasks or play activities
  3. Often does not seem to listen when spoken to directly
  4. Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish schoolwork, chores, or duties in the workplace (not due to oppositional behavior or failure to understand instructions)
  5. Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
  6. Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort (such as schoolwork or homework)
  7. Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities (e.g., toys, school assignments, pencils, books, or tools)
  8. Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
  9. Is often forgetful in daily activities

In order to be diagnosed with the condition, a patient must exhibit at least six of these nine criteria. Additional requirements stipulate that these conditions must have been present before the age of seven, they must be present in more than one environment, they must significantly impair the individual’s ability to function, and they must not be caused by some other mental health condition.

Treating Inattention ADD: Medication

One of the most common clinical treatments for inattention ADD is the prescription of stimulant medications. Some of the most popular medications for inattention ADD are Adderall, Ritalin and Concerta. These typically come in either instant-release or extended-release pills with varying levels of the active ingredients. The primary difference between the two is that instant-release medications dispense all of their active ingredients shortly following consumption, whereas extended-release medications have mechanisms which cause the active ingredients to be administered over a longer period of time while they are digested.

The medications for inattention ADD work by targeting the neurotransmitters which are generally associated with the condition, such as dopamine or norepinephrine. Medications used to treat inattention ADD have been found to be effective in alleviating symptoms between 80% - 90% of patients diagnosed with ADD.

It is extremely important to keep in mind that these stimulant medications do not cure symptoms of inattention ADD. They are meant to provide relief for these symptoms, allowing the individual to function at a higher capacity while the drug is active in the body. While they can help patients to sustain focus and remain engaged in required tasks, the benefits of the medication dissipate once the effects of the drug wear off.

Treating Inattention ADD: Psychotherapy

While there is some evidence that medicinal solutions for inattention ADD are more effective at relieving symptoms in some patients than other forms of treatment, psychotherapeutic techniques are also a common way to treat inattention ADD. These generally consist of regular meetings with a mental health professional to develop coping mechanisms that help the patient stay organized and remember important tasks.

There are several reasons why individuals pursue psychotherapy when attempting to manage their condition. Perhaps one of the most important ones is that combining counseling with medication is usually more effective than using either one in isolation.

Another main reason why patients pursue psychotherapy when managing inattention ADD is due to worries about the safety of the currently available medications. The general consensus within the clinical community is that most ADD medications are safe when used under proper medical supervision. Nevertheless there are some side effects (such as difficulty sleeping or loss of appetite) which are judged by the patient or parent to outweigh the benefits of the medications.


American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Revised 4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Brown, Thomas E. Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults. Yale University Press, 2005.

National Institute of Mental Health. “Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)”,