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ADHD vs ADD In Adults: How To Recognize The Symptoms

By Dr. Ori Shinar

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It is important to recognize the differences between ADHD vs ADD in adults, so that people experiencing these symptoms can receive the right diagnosis and treatment. 

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) are conditions that can affect adults just as they do children. 

After all, the last thing anybody in the healthcare profession wants is for someone to self-diagnose and cause themselves unnecessary pain by doing so.

This article seeks to explain the basic differences between ADHD vs ADD in adults and provide guidance on how individuals can identify the symptoms of each disorder.

However, this article is not a replacement for a consultation with a health professional.

So always remember that, when in doubt, don’t be afraid to ask your doctor.

Definition of ADHD vs ADD In Adults

ADHD and ADD are both common diagnoses in children and they can also be diagnosed in adults, but what exactly are they? 

Both conditions have similar symptoms, yet they have distinct differences that must be understood in order to receive proper treatment.

The most prominent symptom of ADHD vs ADD in adults is hyperactivity, which often manifests as restlessness or impulsivity (both of which often present through some kind of physical behavior). 

People with this condition may have difficulty controlling their behavior or sitting still for long periods of time. 

In contrast, people with ADD tend to display more subdued behavior and lack focus on tasks at hand; they generally lack the ability to regulate their attention span to complete a task successfully.

Both ADHD and ADD in adults can cause difficulty in relationships, work performance, and academic success without proper medical care.

adhd vs add in adults


Everybody’s thinking it, so we’ll just address this right from the jump.

Medication is not always required and, in fact, is usually not required for the effective treatment of either condition.

This is the case for both children and adults.

Both conditions, like other conditions, are often treated successfully through different forms of behavioral therapy.

Medication is tempting as a potential easy out, but our recommendation is not to default to it as a first option.

Only start taking medication after non-pharmaceutical treatments have been tried and failed. 

And, of course, do not self-medicate.

If you take any medication, only take that which has been prescribed to you by a licensed health professional and only take the amount prescribed.

Certain medications may have long-lasting side-effects when taken by those who don’t need them and/or when taken in excessive amounts.

Additionally, it is often the case that patients come in with issues they think are chemical problems that they were born with only to learn that what they really need is simply more quality sleep and less time with electronics.

As professionals, we care about the long-term health of our patients and so we default to non-pharmaceutical treatments whenever possible.

As a side note, if you are living and working in a way that is profoundly unnatural for a human being, it is to be expected that you will suffer some negative health consequences until your work and lifestyle begin to more closely resemble that which 99% of historical humans would have experienced.

When we suffer health problems, genetics are often to blame, but blame can just as often be attributed to the deeply unnatural way in which most of us currently live and provide for our basic needs.

In short, we evolved to be physically active, eat non=processed foods, and to wake up and go to sleep with the rising and setting sun.

We did not evolve to regularly pull all-nighters fuelled by artificial sugars and stimulants and then sit still in front of electronic screens for 8-14 hours the next day (during which we spend no time in person with friends or family) after getting only 4.5 hours of sleep that was twice interrupted by text or call notifications on the phones that we keep in our bedrooms.

Before asking your healthcare professional for medication, try delving into the particulars of your day-to-day life and habits (and diet) with them to see if the problem might actually lie there and not in the genetic wiring of your brain.

All of this is doubly true for children whose brains are not even fully developed yet.

There is a difference between having a genetic neuro-chemical disorder and simply being burnt out or unhappy as a result of living a completely unnatural lifestyle.

adhd vs add in adults

Impact of ADHD vs ADD In Adults

ADHD and ADD in adults are mental health conditions that can have a lasting impact on adults. 

While it’s most commonly diagnosed in children, ADHD affects an estimated 4% of adults as well

Unfortunately, the effects of ADHD don’t just go away when a person reaches adulthood – instead, they may be magnified by the challenges of adult life and responsibilities.

The core symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivity, impulsivity, and difficulty focusing. 

These can manifest differently in adults than in children and cause serious issues with day-to-day functioning. 

For example, adults may struggle to stay organized or prioritize tasks, leading to problems at work or school. 

They may also find it difficult to form meaningful relationships due to issues with communication and socialization skills.

adhd vs add in adults

Signs & Symptoms of ADHD vs ADD In Adults

When it comes to understanding the signs and symptoms of ADHD vs ADD in adults, it is important to understand the differences between them

For adults with either ADHD or ADD, common signs and symptoms may include: 

  • difficulty organizing tasks
  • struggling to stay focused on conversations or activities
  • restlessness or fidgeting when sitting still for long periods of time
  • difficulty following through on instructions or completing tasks in their entirety
  • frequent forgetfulness or misplacing items often.

However, most or all of these symptoms can also be associated with simply being tired, bored, distracted (such as by your phone), or physically inactive.

After all, what child can comfortably sit still in a chair for 7-8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 13 years while staring at a whiteboard and listening silently to some adult stranger drone on about something that is uninteresting to begin with and is probably also being presented in an uninteresting way?

If your child is able to do that without any issue, that itself might be more cause for concern than some vague and probably over exaggerated “inability to focus.” 

Likewise, what adult feels 100% in a life where they only work and sleep with no time to spend in-person with friends and while subsisting on a sub-optimal diet with very little actual nutrition.

Most everyone, children and adults, have no problem focusing for hours and hours every day on their devices, often without even blinking.

So the issue may not be that you or your child has a disorder; it might just be that school or work is very boring and your body and brain are fighting you back for spending nearly every hour of the last several years either sitting on your butt or lying down.

There is a possibility that a neurological disorder is to blame for certain problems, but taking medications without addressing underlying lifestyle and dietary factors can often be like slapping a band aid on a melanoma just so that you can try to ignore it while it gets worse.

Whether you or your child has a disorder or not, it is extremely rare for anyone to come in as a patient if their lifestyle, daily habits, social life, and diet are already optimal.

This is great news because it means that there is almost certainly a great deal that you can do to dramatically improve your situation before you ever even contemplate touching medication.

Whenever the causes of distress in life can be dramatically affected in a positive way by consciously making different choices, we should rejoice and feel empowered.

add in children

Confusion with Other Disorders

ADHD and ADD in adults often get confused with each other as well as with several other conditions

ADHD is a condition that causes a person to have difficulty focusing and can lead to impulsivity while ADD primarily involves difficulty focusing without the impulsivity symptoms.

It can be difficult for adults to understand which diagnosis they have since many of their symptoms overlap. 

Symptoms such as problems with concentration, restlessness, forgetfulness, disorganization and procrastination can all be signs of either ADHD and ADD in adults. 

To make an accurate diagnosis, it’s important for adults to work closely with their healthcare provider who will use physical exams and psychological tests to help determine what type of disorder they are dealing with.

Treating these conditions also requires patience and consistency from both the patient and physician.

add in children

Diagnostic Criteria

While many of the symptoms are similar, there are distinct criteria for diagnosing both conditions.

The primary difference between ADHD vs ADD in adults is that individuals with ADHD usually display more hyperactive behavior than those with ADD. 

In addition, those with ADD tend to be more quiet and less disruptive in their behavior than those with ADHD. 

There is more to it of course, but that is the basic difference.

This should go without saying, but we will say it anyway:  Do not diagnose yourself and do not self-medicate.

adhd vs add in adults

Treatment Options

Treating ADHD and ADD in adults can be a difficult task. 

Depending on the type of symptoms an adult has, treatment options may vary. 

ADHD is characterized by hyperactivity, impulsivity and difficulty staying focused while ADD is distinguished by the same but without the overactive behavior associated with ADHD.

Fortunately, there are several treatment options available for both types of disorder. 

These include medication such as stimulants or non-stimulants to help control symptoms, psychotherapy to address underlying issues that might be contributing to the condition, lifestyle changes like eating healthier food or exercising regularly, and alternative therapies such as meditation or biofeedback training. 

Each person’s situation is unique so it’s important to discuss with your doctor which option might best fit your needs.

And, as we have mentioned, medication is a serious step and not one to be taken lightly.

Because of that, we generally recommend exhausting all other treatment options before considering medication as a solution.

If we were talking about schizophrenia or another extreme condition, then we would be more inclined to recommend medication as a first option – but we don’t think you’re going to do anything that can’t be undone in the next few months just because you have difficulty focusing for hours on a boring assignment.

Take your time and work with your healthcare professional to get to the root of your problems before jumping straight to the conclusion that every major or minor problem in your life is simply the result of one of various genetic curses you were born with which must be pharmaceutically suppressed by two ever-increasing doses a day until you die.

You’re probably going to be ok. 🙂

older men running


ADHD and ADD in adults can lead to some inconvenient problems if left untreated

However, it is also important to recognize that many if not most of the underlying causes are in fact not the result of a genetic disorder but rather of external factors which you might actually be able to do something about.

Treatment options vary depending on the underlying cause of the disorder and can include therapy, lifestyle changes, or medication. 

Taking time to understand and recognize these symptoms is a powerful way to remain proactive in taking care of your mental health. 

It is also important to understand that ADHD and ADD in adults are not a sign of weakness or lack of character; they are medical conditions.

As always, don’t be afraid to contact and work with a healthcare professional if you feel that it is simply getting to be too much for you to handle on your own.

Schedule an appointment with dr ori

Are you ready to start living fully?

To learn more about individual therapy schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation and we’ll help determine if our services are a good fit for you.

Schedule an appointment with dr ori

Are you ready to start living fully?

To learn more about individual therapy schedule your FREE 15-minute consultation and we’ll help determine if our services are a good fit for you.

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