Are ADD and ADHD the Same Condition?

How the Name and Diagnosis Have Changed Over the Years

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You may have heard the terms ADD and ADHD used interchangeably. Attention-deficit disorder (ADD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are indeed the same condition, it's just that ADHD has had several name changes in the last three decades. This is because as more research is carried out, understanding grows and the name has been changed to reflect that knowledge.

ADHD is now the official name. However, many still use the term ADD, the formal name from 1980 to 1987.

Some people feel frustrated when they hear that ADD and ADHD are the same. They feel that the "H," which stands for hyperactivity, doesn’t accurately describe them or their child. Understanding the evolution of the changes in the name can help.

A Brief Timeline of the Changing Name of ADHD

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is published by the American Psychiatric Association. It's the standard guideline that doctors, mental health professionals, and clinicians use when they're assessing and diagnosing ADHD and other mental health issues.

Each new update and revision of the DSM is eagerly anticipated, as it can mean a big or small change in what each condition is called, and in the criteria for diagnosing them, including ADHD. 


The third edition of the DSM (DSM-III) was released and the official name for the condition became attention-deficit disorder (ADD). At this time, hyperactivity was not considered to be a frequent symptom. Two subtypes of ADD were identified:

  • ADD with hyperactivity
  • ADD without hyperactivity


A revised version of the DSM-III was released. The official name became attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This meant that hyperactivity was considered to be an important feature of ADHD.


The DSM-IV was published, with a slight grammar change in the name. The official name was now attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The slash between attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder indicated something meaningful. You could have either or both subtypes. You didn’t need to be hyperactive to be diagnosed with ADHD. The three subtypes were called:

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, combined type 
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly inattentive type
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive type        


The fifth edition of the DSM was released (DSM-5). The three subtypes of ADHD remain the same, but now they're called presentations instead of subtypes. They include: 

  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, combined presentation 
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly inattentive presentation   
  • Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation.            

DSM-5 takes into account how characteristics present in both children and adults. This is good news, as it was felt that adult ADHD was being overlooked in the previous DSMs.

Using the Term ADD

You can still use the term ADD and people will almost certainly understand you. Many doctors, clinicians, and writers use ADD to mean inattentiveness and use ADHD to describe someone with hyperactivity. Some people use ADD and ADHD interchangeably.

However, if you can make the mental switch from ADD to ADHD, it will help avoid potential confusion and keep you up-to-date with the most current terms.

ADD vs. ADHD in Children

Many people with inattentive ADHD feel that using hyperactivity in the name of their condition misrepresents their struggles. However, recognizing the key differences in the three subtypes of ADHD can be helpful.

ADHD is most frequently diagnosed in childhood, but it is important to recognize that it can and often does persist into adulthood. The traits associated with the subtypes can present somewhat differently in children than adults.

Primarily Inattentive ADHD

This subtype involves inattentiveness, lack of focus, and disorganization. This pattern of characteristics is what people often mean when they use the term ADD.

Common traits that children with this form of ADHD exhibit include:

  • Having a short attention span
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Carelessness and losing things often
  • Struggling to stay organized
  • Problems following directions
  • Struggling to pay attention to details
  • Getting distracted easily

Primarily Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD

This subtype involves experiencing more hyperactivity and impulsivity. Characteristics of this subtype include:

  • Restlessness, fidgeting, and an inability to sit still
  • Talking excessively and trouble being quiet during activities
  • Problems focusing on tasks
  • Being impatient
  • Acting impulsively without thinking
  • Frequently interrupting other

Combined ADHD

Children with this type of ADHD exhibit characteristics of hyperactivity/impulsivity along with inattention. To be diagnosed with this subtype, children must experience six signs of hyperactivity/impulsivity and six sign of inattention.

ADD vs. ADHD in Adults

The characteristics of ADHD may change as people age. For example, people who were primarily hyperactive/impulsive during childhood may find that these traits become less prominent or present differently in adulthood.

For example, hyperactivity in a child often involves being very physically active and unable to sit still in class. As an adult, hyperactivity might show itself in less obvious ways. For example, you may have workaholic tendencies, talk a lot, fidget constantly, or drive very fast.

In other cases, adults may have the primarily inattention type ADHD, which is what people often mean when they use the term ADD. Adults may also be diagnosed with the combined type. In those over age 17, five signs of both hyperactivity and inattention must be present to receive a diagnosis.

It also might be that you are not as hyperactive as you once were. The fifth edition of the DSM recognizes that a person’s ADHD presentation may change during their lifetime.

ADHD Is a Form of Neurodivergence

In addition to the many name changes over the years, our understanding of what it means to have ADHD characteristics has also shifted as research has shed more light on different forms of neurodivergence.

ADHD is a disability, but this is primarily because society is neurotypically-centered. ADHD is not an "abnormality." Instead, it represents a form of neurodivergence, which means differences in how a person's brain functions. Neurodivergent people may behave, learn, and process information differently than what is regarded as "typical."

While it can be helpful to understand how ADHD characteristics can influence a person's ability to function in their environment, it is important to remember that it is a genetic neurotype and not a disorder that needs to be cured. Different approaches can help a person manage their ADHD traits, but each person is unique, and there is no single strategy that works for everyone. 

If you or your child has ADHD, understanding traits and recognizing strengths can be helpful. It can also be beneficial to explore lifestyle adjustments and coping strategies that work best for you.

5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Epstein JN, Loren RE. Changes in the Definition of ADHD in DSM-5: Subtle but Important. Neuropsychiatry (London). 2013;3(5):455-458. doi:10.2217/npy.13.59

  2. de la Peña IC, Pan MC, Thai CG, Alisso T. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder predominantly inattentive subtype/presentation: research progress and translational studiesBrain Sci. 2020;10(5). doi:10.3390/brainsci10050292

  3. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

  4. American Psychiatric Association (APA). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. 5th ed, text revision. Washington, D.C.; 2022.

  5. Stenning A, Bertilsdotter-Rosqvist H. Neurodiversity studies: mapping out possibilities of a new critical paradigm. Disabil Soc. 2021;36(9):1532-1537. doi:10.1080/09687599.2021.1919503

Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC; 2013.

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.