The difference between ADD and ADHD

If you hear people say ADD instead of ADHD, you may wonder what they mean or what the difference between ADD and ADHD is. Even though lots of people still use the term ADD, it’s actually an old term. For many years, ADD was used to describe a type of ADHD. But ADD hasn’t been an official diagnosis for decades.

Learn more about the difference between the terms ADD and ADHD.

What ADD really refers to

The difference between the terms ADD and ADHD has to do with symptoms. ADHD (attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) has three main symptoms: inattention (trouble with focus), hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

Most people with ADHD struggle in all three areas. But some mainly have trouble with attention, or focus. Before 1994, they would have been diagnosed with ADD (attention-deficit disorder). Today, the formal diagnosis is “ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type.”

There are other terms people use to refer to this type of ADHD. You might hear:

  • ADHD without hyperactivity
  • ADHD, Inattentive Type
  • Inattentive ADHD

All of these terms mean the same thing: ADHD when the main symptom is inattention.

When people with ADHD mostly struggle with attention, their challenges aren’t always recognized. They may just come across as shy, “daydreamy,” or off in their own world. But trouble with focus impacts kids and adults in lots of ways. This can look like:

  • Not following through on projects
  • Having trouble following directions
  • Struggling to sift through information and know what’s important and what isn’t
  • Being easily distracted and seeming forgetful or careless

How people misuse the term ADD

Many of us have heard people say something like “You’re so ADD,” “I’m so ADD,” or “I’m having an ADD moment.” Someone may say this as shorthand for behavior typical of ADHD, like forgetfulness. But phrases like these can downplay the challenges that people with ADHD face every day. They also frame having ADHD as a negative thing.

For people with diagnosed ADHD, hearing phrases like these thrown around can be painful. Phrases like “You’re so ADD” also spread stigma around ADHD.


Hear real stories from people with ADHD on the ADHD Aha! podcast.

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