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The Lesser-Known ADD

Updated on June 19, 2011

ADD-PI is just as real, and can be just as disabling, as ADHD

For many years now, “ADD” has been synonymous with “hyperactive” in the minds of most people.  When people think of ADD, they think of the classic symptoms – inability to sit still, constant chattering, inability to pay attention – basically, all the classic signs of attention deficit coupled with hyperactivity (usually known as ADHD).  But there is another, less well-known form of ADD.  It’s called ADD-PI, and it can be just as hard on those who have it as those with the classic ADHD.

ADD-PI stands for “attention deficit disorder, primarily inattentive.”  It is more likely to affect girls and women, although boys and men can have it too.  ADD-PI is harder to diagnose, and more often goes undiagnosed than ADHD.  It’s a disorder that can cause hardships for many people who don’t even realize they have a treatable condition.

Those with ADD-PI experience the same attention problems as those with ADHD.  However, the other symptoms are almost opposite of what the ADHD crowd experience.  Some of the primary symptoms of ADD-PI include excessive daydreaming, zoning out, restlessness/fidgeting, and constant fatigue/tired feeling, in addition to the standard attention problems of thoughts that jump around, memory problems, etc.  People with ADD-PI may be described as dreamy, spacey, lazy, unmotivated, foggy, etc.  These labels can be extremely detrimental to the ADD-PI person, especially if they don’t realize they have this disorder.  These people don’t know why they are the way they are, and often believe they truly are lazy, or that there is something fundamentally wrong with them.  This labeling can have serious negative impacts throughout their lives.

ADD-PI and ADHD are medically proven disorders involving dopamine amounts and receptors in the brain.  Simply put, the brain of a person with ADD is not getting the dopamine it needs.  Whenever a normal person does something enjoyable, an amount of dopamine is released by the body.  This is what causes the “enjoyable” sensation when we do something we like.  This is also why many people with ADD (of either kind) are able to hyperfocus on something that interests them.  Hyperfocusing means the person with ADD is able to focus exclusively on one thing, often for hours at a time, that they enjoy.  Hyperfocusing keeps a steady stream of dopamine going to the dopamine-deficient ADD brain.  This ability to hyperfocus has caused some debate as to whether ADD is real – if someone can focus on something, they obviously don’t have attention issues.  This is simply not the case - hyperfocus is the brain’s way of getting the dopamine it needs to function properly in those with ADD.

Those with ADHD and ADD-PI are able to hyperfocus, and this is another reason why those with ADD-PI may not realize they have this disorder.  They may think because they can focus so long and so well on things they like, that there is something else wrong with them, like laziness, that makes it so difficult for them to focus on the things they don’t particularly enjoy.

This is also why stimulants such as Adderall, Concerta, and Ritalin are so effective at treating both ADHD and ADD.  The stimulants provide dopamine to the ADD brain.  The ADD brain then doesn’t have to continuously “jump around” trying to find a thought, idea, or activity that will provide it with the dopamine it needs.  This is how the stimulants calm the ADD brain, as opposed to creating hyperactivity.

People with ADD-PI can greatly benefit from treatment.  The stimulants are well-tolerated by approximately 90% of those with ADD, and for most, there are no side effects at all.  Those with ADD-PI especially benefit because the stimulants also aid the excessive fatigue most of them struggle with.

I myself have ADD-PI, and I wasn’t diagnosed until my adult years.  I went many years thinking I was weird, had something wrong with me, and so on – none of it good.  I had depression and anxiety issues, and I tried medication for those, only to find I did not do well on the medication at all.  That would be because the actual problem wasn’t being treated – my ADD.

Uncontrolled ADD can cause depression and anxiety in people who have it.  Once I was properly diagnosed and started taking medication for the ADD, my anxiety issues and depression issues have all but disappeared.  I am not saying that treating ADD will cure anxiety and depression – many people continue to have these issues even after their ADD is controlled.  However, for those whose anxiety and depression is solely caused by uncontrolled ADD, the medication can do wonders.  Even those who have depressive/anxiety issues separate from their ADD may find those issues more manageable when their ADD is controlled.

So, if you’re like me, and have a brain that won’t stop thinking; that often jumps between thoughts, sometimes not even finishing a thought before starting the next one; fatigue throughout the day (absent any sleep disorders); daydreaminess; inability to sit still (constantly fidgeting/tapping a foot/playing with a pen, etc.), or other symptoms, and you’ve heard all your life that you’re lazy, unmotivated, and other things along those lines, you may want to head over to your doctor for an assessment.  If you do have ADD-PI, chances are huge that you don’t know it.  It would be well worth the time to get help for something that may have been making your life so difficult for so long.


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    • profile image


      3 years ago

      This made me cry of relief. Thank you so much. Going to the doctors tomorrow!!!

    • Lenore Robinson profile image

      Lenore Robinson 

      7 years ago from Delaware

      Good information, sharing your insight may make a difference to many people.

    • profile image

      rorshak sobchak 

      7 years ago

      Great write up. I can see how this could make ones life difficult. Keep up the great work.


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