What is attention deficit disorder (ADD)?

People with attention deficit disorder (ADD) are not lazy, crazy or stupid. Their brains are simply wired a little differently. As a result, these people often slog their way through life barely passing school or getting fired from job after job because they don’t understand why they can’t get things done like a “normal” person.

ADD is a condition whereupon people have trouble focusing and being able to complete tasks. They have no trouble starting tasks, just finishing them. There are two main sub types, the hyperactive variant and the inattentive variant. Both kinds have to read the same paragraph five times because they cannot stay focused enough to actually absorb what it says.

Interestingly, on occasion, both types can actually hyper focus for a defined time on a task, but it is not easy to control or predict when this will happen.
Although this is not a standard diagnostic scheme used by most in psychiatry, I have personally found that dividing ADD into the following seven types can be useful for both treatment and prognosis.  There are seven distinct types of ADD, and it is critical to know which type you have. ADD is not one thing, and one treatment does not fit everyone. It is also possible to have more than one type.Here's a summary of the seven types of ADD:
  • Type 1. Classic ADD (ADHD) -- inattentive, distractible, disorganized, hyperactive, restless, and impulsive.
  • Type 2. Inattentive ADD -- inattentive, easily distracted, disorganized, and often described as space cadets, daydreamers, and couch potatoes. Not hyperactive!
  • Type 3. Over-focused ADD -- inattentive, trouble shifting attention, frequently get stuck in loops of negative thoughts or behaviors, obsessive, excessive worrying, inflexible, frequent oppositional and argumentative behavior. May or may not be hyperactive.
  • Type 4. Temporal Lobe ADD -- inattentive, easily distracted, disorganized, irritable, short fuse, dark thoughts, mood instability, and may struggle with learning disabilities. May or may not be hyperactive.
  • Type 5. Limbic ADD -- inattentive, easily distracted, disorganized, chronic low grade sadness or negativity, “glass half empty syndrome,” low energy, tends to be more isolated socially, and frequent feelings of hopelessness and Worthlessness. May or may not be hyperactive.
  • Type 6. Ring of Fire ADD -- inattentive, easily distracted, irritable, overly sensitive, cyclic moodiness, and oppositional. May or may not be hyperactive.
  • Type 7. Anxious ADD- inattentive, easily distracted, disorganized, anxious, tense, nervous, predicts the worst, gets anxious with timed tests, social anxiety, and often has physical stress symptoms, such as headaches, and gastrointestinal symptoms. May or may not be hyperactive.
Knowing your type is essential to getting the right help for yourself.
Healing ADD Special Offer 

Attention Deficit Disorder is currently called Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, inattentive subtype. The popular term ADD means that a person has the core symptoms of difficulty concentrating, focusing and following through, but without the hyperactivity component.

While current understandings of ADD focus on it as a brain disorder, very recent developments in understanding neuroplasticity are likely to shift that way of looking at ADD. Neuroplasticity is a recent scientific breakthrough that shows us the brain actually changes in response to a person's experience. In short, it tells us that we have the power to rewire our own brain.

If the lessons of neuroplasticity are taken to heart, we will hear children diagnosed with ADHD saying things like "My brain has a difference called ADHD. Scientists know that the brain can be changed, so I am working hard to increase my brain's capacity." This perspective increases a child's motivation. He works hard because he thinks of himself as a brain athlete.

Attention deficit disorder (ADD) is the older term used to describe attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Attention deficit disorder is also sometimes used to describe the inattentive subtype of ADHD. In 1994, ADD was renamed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder to include not only inattention, but also symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity.
John Preston, PsyD

ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a neurological condition affecting approximately 7% of children and 4% of adults. It has been clearly shown that about 40% of ADHD children and teens outgrow the condition in late adolescence or early adulthood. ADHD is felt to be a genetically transmitted disorder of brain chemistry (specifically decreased availability of the neurotransmitter, dopamine, in the frontal lobes). It is not caused by environmental factors (i.e. not due to traumatic experiences, abuse, neglect, etc.)

The attention problems in ADHD are really a difficulty in what is called "intrinsic motivation”. This is the ability to motivate oneself to do things that may be difficult or boring tasks. This is commonly called "will power". All of us during childhood or early adult life have had to take courses in school that are either very challenging or not interesting. The ability to stay focused on such tasks and complete them requires intrinsic motivation. This is what is largely underdeveloped in people suffering from ADHD (It has nothing to do with one's IQ. There are many very bright children with ADHD). It is in school is where a lack of intrinsic motivation can lead to problem behavior. ADHD kids cannot stay on task or manage age-appropriate self-control. However, if the situation they are in is interesting or exciting, they can pay attention as well as anyone else their age. So, the problematic behavior is situation specific. What you see often is great difficulty paying attention in the classroom, but the ability to be riveted to a video game at home, paying close attention for hours...why?...because it is inherently exciting and engaging.

Stimulant medications (e.g. Adderall, Ritalin, etc.) activate the frontal lobes and when the medication is in their blood stream, they can pay attention and exercise better self-control.

ADHD children are often rejected by other children who find their behavior annoying. They often are rejected and develop low self-esteem. Many ADHD teens then turn to drug abuse as a way to cope with this. Even though stimulants can be a drug of abuse, they are rarely abused by ADHD teens. In fact, it is often a struggle to get teenagers to take the medicine. And, research has shown that when you compare ADHD kids who are not being treated with medications to those ADHD teens who are treated, by late adolescence, those treated actually have one-half the rate of substance abuse compared to their untreated peers.

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) was called attention deficit disorder (ADD) for many years. And then, in 1994 (the same year Schindler's List swept the Oscar’s), a group of brainy scientists started revising the big bible of mental health. They realized that many people with ADD also had problems with hyperactivity and impulsivity. So they added a capital "H" to ADD, creating the term we all know today, ADHD.
Kelly Traver
Internal Medicine

A condition you hear a lot about is attention deficit disorder (ADD) or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In this condition, the dopamine level is low. Your dopamine level controls your motivation. You need to have a high enough amount of dopamine to hold your attention. Some people create all kinds of stressors in their lives or turn to risk-taking behaviors to deal with chronically low dopamine levels. Others stall before deadlines because they have learned that last-minute stress helps them focus. Medication given for ADD or ADHD works by raising dopamine levels; exercise too can do this. Dopamine, like most chemicals in your body, does best when kept in a certain range, not too high and not too low. Dopamine levels are too low in Parkinson's disease and too high in schizophrenia.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.