Is there a difference between ADD and ADHD

This weekend I got asked a question that is very important and that is probably one of the cornerstones of this blog but it was a question that I had not addressed in any organized fashion in any of my posts. My inattentive mind begs your forgiveness and I am going to answer this question, as clearly as I can, right now.

Is there a difference between ADD and ADHD??? 

The answer to this question is a bit more complicated than it appears at first glance. The reason for this is twofold. ADD or Attention Deficit Disorder is, in the scientific community, the old medical term for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. ADD is also, however, the term used by some lay people to describe individuals with ADHD who are not hyperactive. In the scientific community, the terms are interchangeable. In the lay community, the terms may describe two very different problems.

ADD is the older scientific term, used by physicians and researchers for the condition that is today referred to as ADHD. Physicians and researchers no longer use the term ADD at all. In the 80s the manual of psychiatric diagnosis, the DSM was updated. The new DSM IV labeled the disorder that had been previously called ADD, ADHD to reflect the fact that most people with ADHD are hyperactive. The DSM IV described three subtypes of ADHD. The hyperactive/impulsive subtype was labeled ADHD-HI, the Predominantly Inattentive subtype was labeled ADHD-PI, and the combined type was referred to as ADHD-C.

Lay people, as might be expected, failed to read the DSM IV. They sometimes use the term ADD to refer to anyone with ADHD and they also sometimes use the term ADD to refer to people who are inattentive but who are not hyperactive or impulsive.

Despite the fact that these two terms are used interchangeably by certain people, there is a big difference between Hyperactive/Impulsive ADHD (ADHD-HI) or Combined type ADHD (ADHD-C) and ADHD-PI. Some psychiatrist believe that ADHD-PI is so different from the other subtypes of ADHD that the American Psychiatric Association is considering removing the Predominantly Inattentive subtype from the DSM category shared by the other ADHD sub-types and assigning it a new category when it publishes the new DSM V in 2013.

Russell Barkley, PhD, an ADHD expert, has said that Predominantly Inattentive ADHD is the 'true' ADD. He has studied the inattentive subtype and has found that their main symptom is a deficit in attention. They tend to not be hyperactive or impulsive and they respond to treatment differently. They also have different comorbidities and different long term problems.

ADD is the old medical term for ADHD; it is also the term that many people use to refer to what doctors now call Predominantly Inattentive ADHD. When the scientific and Medical community changed the terminology from ADD to ADHD they meant for these terms to be used interchangeably. Some of the lay community, however, has adopted the ADD term to describe patients with inattentiveness without hyperactivity.

There is a difference between what Russell Barkley's called 'true' ADD and ADHD. When people use the term ADD to describe individuals with ADHD, they should be asked if what they mean is that the person has the most common types of ADHD, or if what they really mean is that the person has Predominantly Inattentive ADHD. ADHD-PI is quite different from the other subtypes of ADHD and understanding the intended meaning of these two terms is important.


  1. Thank you for another great post!

    The more I learn about the ADHD-PI the more I think it's different from the PH. I think it's essential to give the PI a different term, otherwise people will continue mixing the two up.

  2. We have just been told my 8 year old son has ADD PI, I have become so confused with it all!! His teachers are quite negative....he is a good student in school and just throws so many tantrums at home....or whenever he likes, but never in school!! All they seem to see is the boy that tries really hard, but never really gets anywhere with his school work. Just so unsure what to do next!


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