Glossary: Adult ADHD Definitions

Medically reviewed

Last update: August 16, 202211 min read

1. ADD

ADD is the acronym for "Attention Deficit Disorder." ADD is an older term used for ADHD that characterizes the feature of inattention more than hyperactivity. The current terminology for this type of ADHD is ADHD predominantly inattentive type. 

2. ADHD

ADHD is the acronym for "Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder." ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder affecting both children and adults. Symptoms include inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity.

3. ADHD Coaching

ADHD Coaching is a form of ADHD treatment. In this type of therapy, a trained professional or an ADHD coach may help an adult with ADHD:

  • develop planning and management skills

  • build motivation

  • maintain focus to achieve goals 

  • Effectively navigate symptoms 

4. ADHD Combined Type

ADHD Combined Type is a subtype of ADHD. ADHD symptoms are usually divided into categories of:

- Inattention/or the inability to focus

- hyperactivity/impulsivity  

Combined type is where symptoms from both of these categories are present at a diagnostically significant level. 

5. ADHD Hyperactive-Impulsive Type

ADHD Hyperactive-Impulsive Type is a subtype of ADHD. It is the most common type of ADHD in children. The primary symptoms include:

  • Fidgeting a lot

  • Trouble staying still

  • Restlessness

  • Trouble keeping quiet

  • Very much “on the go”

  • Often talks excessively

  • Impulsively blurting things out

  • Trouble waiting your turn

  • Interrupting/Intruding on others

6. ADHD Predominantly Inattentive Type

This type of ADHD is most commonly diagnosed in adults and females. The primary symptoms include:

  • Carelessness/poor attention to detail

  • Diminished attention span

  • Poor listening skills

  • Lacking follow through

  • Disorganization

  • Avoiding tasks requiring concentration

  • Losing things

  • Easily distracted

  • Forgetful in daily activities 

7. Adult Self-Report Scale (ASRS)

The Adult Self-Report Scale (ASRS-V1.1) is a self-screening questionnaire to determine if a person has symptoms common in adult ADHD. It is a symptom checker consisting of 18 questions developed by the World Health Organization(WHO). This questionnaire cannot be used to diagnose ADHD but can offer valuable information about whether a person may have symptoms of adult ADHD.

Related: Adult ADHD Tests, Quizzes & Self-Assessments [2022 Guide]

8. Anxiety

Anxiety is associated with feelings of unease, worry and nervousness which may or may not be attributed to a particular event or scenario. The physical sensations often associated with anxiety such as stomach upset, sweating, increased heart rate are due to the body’s elevated stress response. Anxiety commonly experienced in people with ADHD.

9. Assessment & Diagnosis

The Assessment process of ADHD involves a series of evaluation steps which may include tools such as self-screening tests, interviews, questionnaires, cognitive screening and even physical exams. 

The Diagnosis process of ADHD includes the review of assessment tools and subsequent diagnosis by a licensed healthcare professional such as a psychologist, psychiatrist, neurologist, or in some cases, nurse practitioners, physicians or psychotherapists. Diagnostic standards for ADHD are outlined in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5).

Related:

10. Autism

Autism is also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder(ASD). Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder. ASD includes difficulties with social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.

11. Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by bouts of manic or hypomanic episodes and in many cases subsequent periods of depressive episodes. Mania and hypomania are marked by increased energy, irritability, and euphoria whereas the depressive episodes are characterized by extremely low moods, hopelessness, and losing interest in activities. The mood swings associated with bipolar disorder can affect sleep, energy, activity, judgment, behavior and the ability to think clearly. There are three types of bipolar disorder based on symptoms:

  • Bipolar I disorder: Having at least one manic episode that may be preceded or followed by hypomanic or major depressive episodes. 

  • Bipolar II disorder: Having at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode (but never a manic episode). 

  • Cyclothymic disorder: Having had at least two years of many periods of mood swings characterized by hypomania and periods of depressive symptoms that are less severe than major depression. 

  • Other types: People may also be diagnosed with bipolar disorder due to substance abuse or medical conditions. 

12. Brief Motivational Interviewing Therapy

Brief Motivational Interviewing therapy is a goal-oriented form of ADHD therapy. It helps you find the motivation to make positive changes. This form of treatment is helpful especially for adults who struggle with procrastination, feeling overwhelmed or stuck and those who respond well to encouragement. 

13. Bulimia Nervosa

Bulimia Nervosa is a mental health disorder in the category of eating disorders. It is characterized by episodes of binging, or eating large quantities of food, followed by different purging methods, such as vomiting, restriction or over-exercising. It can occur as a co-occurring condition in adult ADHD patients. 

14. Circadian rhythm sleep disorder

It is a sleep disorder in which your sleep-wake cycle is not aligned with your current environment and it leads to disruptions in your quality of life. It can lead to problems like insomnia, excessive daytime sleepiness or both. Treatment options typically include behavioral therapy, sleep hygiene, and bright light therapy.

Related: How ADHD Affects Sleep [And What You Can Do About It]

15. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy 

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a form of psychotherapy, or talk therapy. It focuses on improving wellbeing by addressing underlying thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that negatively impact your functioning in the world around you. It is a type of therapy used to treat many mental health conditions such as depression, PTSD, and ADHD.

There are 3 main components of CBT:

  • Cognitive therapy: Thought patterns and beliefs that contribute to negative emotional states

  • Behavioral therapy: The influence of behavior in wellbeing and how to replace unhelpful behavior patterns with healthy ones

  • Mindfulness-based therapies: Directing attention to the present moment or the task at hand while letting go of all judgment.

16. Co-Existing Conditions

Co-existing condition is when two or more mental health conditions occur in a person at the same time. It is also called a co-morbid condition but is the preferred terminology for many people. 

17. Comorbidity

Comorbidity is a medical term when two or more disorders or illnesses are present in an individual at the same time. When the disorders are mental health disorders they are known as psychiatric comorbidities. Some conditions occur fairly commonly together, such as ADHD and major depressive disorder 

18. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

It is a type of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) that focuses more on coping with stress, emotional regulation, and improving relationships with others. It is excellent for people who have mood swings, are emotionally reactive, and have a lot of interpersonal conflict.

The core components of DBT include: 

  • Mindfulness: Learning to be in the moment

  • Distress tolerance: Handling stress through self-soothing, logic, and distraction

  • Interpersonal effectiveness: Becoming more assertive and fostering healthy relationships

  • Emotion regulation: recognizing and coping with intense negative emotions to reduce vulnerability and reactions

19. Depression

Depression, or major depressive disorder, is a mood disorder in which a person experiences several symptoms that significantly interfere with their quality of life. Common symptoms include sadness, hopelessness, changes to weight or appetite, sleep problems, reduced energy, and loss of interest in life. 

20. Dyslexia

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in nature, meaning it is due to differences in brain structure. Dyslexia is characterized by challenges with word recognition and decoding abilities. Many people with dyslexia have difficulties with reading, writing, spelling and comprehension.

When a person has similar difficulties but with numbers, it is known as dyscalculia. Up to 60% of people with ADHD also have a learning disability such as dyslexia or dyscalculia. Learning disabilities can range from mild to severe. 

21. Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) is a mental health disorder where an individual experiences excessive anxiety or worry the majority of the time, for a period of 6 months or more and it negatively impacts their life.  

Common symptoms of GAD include feeling restless or wound-up, irritability, muscle tension, trouble concentrating, excessive worry that you can’t control, and problems with sleep. 

22. Hyperfocus

Hyperfocus is a phenomenon in which a person feels unable to divert their attention away from the task at hand. People experiencing hyperfocus are completely absorbed and ignore everything and everyone else around them. It is a common symptom of ADHD among both children and adults.

23. Impulsivity

Impulsivity is the tendency of doing things suddenly without careful thought or planning without regard for consequences. For example, an ADHD person who experiences impulsivity may make dangerous decisions that put themselves or others at risk such as driving recklessly or spending excessively. Not all impulsivity is dangerous, sometimes it may be embarrassing such as “accidentally’ saying what’s on your mind when it is inappropriate to do so. 

24. Inattention

It is the state of getting distracted easily and having trouble keeping sustained attention. It may be characterized by difficulties focusing, losing track of conversations and frequent daydreaming. Inattention is one of the major symptoms of inattentive-type ADHD. 

25. Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBT)

Mindfulness-Based Therapy (MBT) is a form of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy that uses mindfulness based methods such as meditation and breathwork. It is commonly used for treating depression. The overarching goal is to experience emotional states without judgment while using cognitive tools to build healthier thought and behavioral patterns. 

A popular type of MBT known as Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), focuses more on the mindfulness based aspects in a structured eight-week program to help people more effectively manage stress, anxiety, depression and pain. 

26. Narcolepsy

Narcolepsy is a chronic sleep disorder characterized by sudden sleep attacks and excessive daytime drowsiness. Sometimes, narcolepsy may also include sudden loss of muscle tone, known as cataplexy. Cataplexy is sometimes triggered by strong emotional responses. 

Narcolepsy with cataplexy is known as type 1 narcolepsy, narcolepsy without cataplexy is known as type 2. It is believed that narcolepsy is more common in people with ADHD. 

27. Neurodevelopmental Disorder

Neurodevelopmental Disorder refers to a disorder that originates during brain development. These disorders impact the structure and function of the brain which can interfere with emotions, learning, development and mood. Common neurodevelopmental disorders include ADHD, Autism, Learning Disorders like Dyslexia.

28. Neurofeedback (NFB)

Neurofeedback (NFB) is a type of biofeedback or brain therapy that uses principles of operant conditioning (or learning through reinforcement) to improve brain functioning. Sessions include having non-invasive electrodes attached to your scalp for electroencephalography (EEG) feedback, which is presented on a screen. EEG monitors your brain activity while performing certain tasks, essentially allowing you to learn skills like self-regulation. ADHD is associated with alterations in brain waves in the frontal lobe and neurofeedback may help normalize some of this activity over repeated sessions. 

29. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that causes a person to have uncontrolled, recurring thoughts or fears(obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) they feel they need to repeat over and over in order to alleviate anxious feelings. It is possible to have only obsession or only compulsions but many people with OCD experience both. 

30. Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD)

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) is a type of behavior disorder mostly diagnosed in childhood. A child with ODD displays various defiant, uncooperative and hostile behaviors towards their peers, parents, teachers or authority figures. Children with ODD may develop a more severe disorder called conduct disorder. 

31. Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS)

Restless Leg Syndrome (RLS), also known as the Willis-Ekbom disease, is a nervous system disorder characterized by abnormal, uncomfortable or unpleasant sensations in the legs along with an urge to move them. Symptoms of RLS include:

  • Unusual feelings in the legs like itching.

  • Pulling.

  • Crawling & nighttime leg twitching.

Symptoms are often worse at night and when laying down, sitting or resting. 

32. Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD)

Seasonal Affective disorder (SAD) is a type of major depressive disorder that is characterized by depressive symptoms that are only present during certain seasons, and remitting during other months. The most common type occurs in winter, with symptoms beginning in fall and remitting in spring. Winter onset SAD is associated with low mood, excessive sleepiness, craving sweets and carbs and weight gain. Spring onset SAD is associated with irritability, sleep disruptions, low appetite, and weight loss. 

33. Separation Anxiety Disorder

Separation Anxiety Disorder is a mental health condition that happens when an individual experiences excessive anxiety related to worries about being separated from a loved one. Children, as well as adults, can experience this disorder. Common symptoms include refusing to be alone, nightmares about separation, excessive worry about the health or wellbeing of loved ones (i.e. something bad happening to them), and frequent muscle aches or stomach issues. 

34. Sleep Apnea

Sleep Apnea is a sleep disorder that is characterized by periods in which breathing stops and starts repeatedly through the night. Symptoms include loud snoring, pauses in breathing, insomnia, gasping for air and morning headache. Sleep apnea is potentially serious and is associated with issues such as heart disease, depression, blood pressure problems, and type 2 diabetes. Sleep apnea is usually diagnosed through a physical exam and a sleep study. 

35. Social Anxiety Disorder

Social Anxiety Disorder is also sometimes referred to as a social phobia. It is a condition in which a person has an excessive fear of social situations. People with social anxiety disorder are often fearful about being judged negatively or embarrassing themselves. They may avoid situations for fear of intense scrutiny and to avoid perceived worst possible outcomes. Social anxiety disorder is often accompanied by physical symptoms such as sweating, blushing, increased heart rate, upset stomach, trouble catching your breath and muscle tension. 

being judged negatively by others and is overly conscious about what everyone thinks of them.

36. Stressors

A stressor is an activity, event or stimulus that causes a stress response in the body. Stress can be acute or chronic. There are two types of stressors: 

  • Physiological stressors: Stressors that are external or in the environment that disrupts your internal condition or puts strain on the body. Some examples of physiological stress include injury, illness, extreme temperatures and exercise.

  • Psychological stressors: Perceived threats to our wellbeing that can range from mild to severe. There are several types of psychological stressors. For instance, routine stress is persistent daily stressors in activities like school or work. Traumatic stress refers to major events such as accidents or assaults. There is also sudden negative stress, which refers to extremely difficult sudden changes such as break-ups or job loss. 

37. Stimulants

Stimulants are drugs that stimulate the brain and the central nervous system thus speeding up messaging between the brain and the body. Some stimulants, like caffeine, are used daily by millions of people. Other stimulants, such as ADHD medications, are only available by prescription. 

The primary type of stimulant drugs used for ADHD are methylphenidate and dextro-amphetamines. These stimulants boost certain brain chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine which help increase focus and attention. There are non-stimulant drugs that are available for the treatment of ADHD as well, for example, Atomoxetine (Strattera).


Lisa Batten, PhD, CPT, PN1

Lisa Batten is a clinical scientist, therapist, and writer specializing in neuroscience and clinical pharmacology. She has a master’s degree in clinical psychology and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology.