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The Difference in ADD vs. ADHD and How to Treat It in Adults

ADD and ADHD are two terms often used interchangeably when non-professionals discuss these mental issues. Generally, people focus on teens and adolescents who suffer from ADD and ADHD, but adults struggle with these two conditions as well, though treatment methods aren’t the same for adults compared to adolescents.

What Are the Differences between ADD and ADHD?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is actually a subtype from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) that is predominantly called inattentive ADHD. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) only recognizes ADHD as the disorder and ADD as a subset of it.

What Is ADHD?

ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that tends to affect adolescents, though a third of them carry it to adulthood. Some of the common symptoms that define ADHD include lack of impulse control, poor attention abilities, and hyperactivity. There are three subtypes of ADHD: inattentive, hyperactive-impulsive, and combined.

Predominantly Inattentive

This subtype of ADHD is characterized by lack of focus and disorganization. This was formerly known as ADD.

Predominantly Hyper-Impulsive

This subtype of ADHD features impulsive decisions and restlessness.


This subtype combines inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity.

ADHD Symptoms in Adolescents and Adulthood

The manifestation of ADHD differs when the patient is a teen versus when the patient is an adult. Recent discoveries in the symptoms of adult ADHD has led to an increase of adult diagnoses. A general inability to focus is the symptom that is most present in both adolescents and adults, but this is displayed through different behavioral patterns.

ADHD in Adolescence vs. Adulthood

Adolescents with ADHD reflect their disorder symptoms through the most prominent aspects of their lives, which are school and play. They tend to have poor school performance and more aggressive physical activities. Teens are still learning proper behavior, so they demonstrate their impulsivity in a more blatant manner that is not exhibited as obviously in adulthood. Some of the symptoms of ADHD in adolescents are not limited to, but include:

  • Playing excessively, even when inappropriate
  • Blurting out answers
  • Showing disregard towards rules
  • Causing distractions
  • Being constantly distracted
  • Not listening when spoken directly
  • Lacking attention to detail

Adults with ADHD demonstrate their condition through their work performance and other responsibilities and lifestyle choices associated with adulthood.

They may have poor job performance and their hyperactivity manifests through smaller actions like fidgeting. Adults are assumed to know better behavior but may still slip sometimes. Among the ADHD symptoms for adults are:

  • Restlessness
  • Incapability to hold a steady job
  • Boredom
  • Reckless driving and money spending
  • Forgetting ordinary tasks and chores
  • Lacking self-motivation

How to Treat Adult ADHD or ADD

Psychiatrists can treat adults for ADHD through a multidisciplinary approach. Some of the elements in this treatment include:

  • Medication
  • Psychotherapy
  • Skill training
  • Educational and support groups

Medications for Adults with ADD or ADHD

Medication is a prominent aspect of ADHD adult therapy. Most medications used to treat the disorder in teens are also used in adulthood. Not every medication is ideal for each patient, so choosing the right medicine is an important step.

Pros of Medication

Medications such as antidepressants and stimulants have plenty of benefits when it comes to treating ADHD. Some of the following benefits include:

  • Improved concentration
  • Improved mood
  • Decreased impulsivity
  • Flexibility of use between adolescents and adults

Learn More About Treating ADD/ADHD

Cons of Medication

Medications also have some drawbacks in their use for ADHD treatment. Other forms of treatment like behavioral therapy and counseling are needed for maximum efficacy. Medication is carefully selected, depending on the patient, since certain patients may have genetic resistance to them and certain interactions may worsen other medical problems. Some side effects of medication include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Mood instability
  • Heart problems
  • Suicidal thoughts

Alternatives to ADHD Medication

In situations wherein disadvantages discourage an adult from using ADHD medication during treatment, alternative methods may be applicable. Some alternatives to ADHD/ADD medication include:

Specialized Diet

Certain chemicals in foods such as allergens, food colors, and preservatives have been linked to ADHD behavior. Some of the foods to avoid include milk, eggs, chocolate, and fruits rich in salicylates, and the preservative sodium benzoate.


Meditation methods such as yoga and tai chi have been proven to improve ADHD symptoms. Participation in these exercises can improve symptoms such as hyperactivity, anxiety, distractions, and inappropriate emotions.


Therapy methods like cognitive behavior therapy can assist in solving specific behavioral problems stemming from ADHD. This type of therapy involves tactics and organizational improvements, such as setting up goals and rules, developmental skills, and “executive functions” that range from planning to time management.

Some supplements are known to help calm symptoms of ADHD, such as hyperactivity. Supplements taken for ADHD include zinc, vitamin B-6, magnesium, as well as herbs like passionflower and ginseng. Supplement treatment has displayed mixed results in many patients and requires a doctor’s supervision before taking them.

Some psychiatrists combine alternative methods with medication to create a balanced impact on ADHD patients. For instance, doctors from Fifth Avenue Psychiatry in NYC, such as Dr. Bassett, specialize in cognitive behavioral psychotherapy, while Dr. Megwinoff combines alternative treatment methods like diet, meditation, and supplements in her treatment approach.

Help and Resources

Fifth Avenue Psychiatry provides discreet concierge mental health and addiction treatment, administered by experienced and compassionate psychiatrists in NYC, located in the Upper East Side of Manhattan. For more information on Fifth Avenue’s approach to treatment, please make a phone call to 212-734-0506, fill out a contact form, or visit the facility.

Olga Megwinoff, MD

Olga Megwinoff, MD

Dr. Megwinoff is a Board Certified Psychiatrist who trained at NYU Langone Health where she completed her residency in Psychiatry in 2000. At NYU Langone Health, Dr. Megwinoff was exposed to and gained an expertise in the treatment of substance abuse disorders and alcoholism. After finishing residency at NYU, Dr Megwinoff attended the Child and Adolescent Fellowship at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. As a private practice clinician, Dr. Megwinoff has been formally learning Buddhist Meditation for the last 10 years.

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