ADHD and Computer Addictions

Expert Kevin Roberts offers tips on managing cyber addiction in kids with ADHD

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The Internet, computer games, Facebook, Twitter, smartphones, texting, instant messages -- these are just some of the ways we stay plugged in, have fun, and connect socially with others. None of these technologies are inherently negative, but for some individuals -- especially those with ADHD -- these cyber activities can easily lend themselves to compulsion.

Kevin Roberts is a nationally recognized expert and the author of Cyber Junkie: Escaping the Gaming and Internet Trap (Hazelden 2010).

He also runs support groups to help cyber addicts who struggle to get their lives back on track. This area is a very personal one to Kevin, as he is a recovering video game addict himself.

Q: What is the link between ADHD and excessive use of the Internet, computer or video games?

A: ADHDers are more prone to addiction of all types, so they are particularly susceptible to cyber addictions that involve computers, video games, and the Internet. Offerings of the cyber world provide engaging stimuli that change consistently, giving ADHDers a medium that seems attuned to their cerebral hard wiring.

Q: In what way does the social anxiety that can sometimes be associated with ADHD play into this as well?

A: I can tell you from personal experience that anxiety is a factor in cyber addictions. I have dealt with anxiety my whole life, and often a video gaming binge was preceded by periods of intense anxiety.

For those who have social anxiety, video gaming, and the Internet provide a "safe" interface through which to interact with people, but one which seems to limit the advancement of social skills rather than enhancing it.

Q: What are some of the signs that you (your child, partner or other loved one) might have a cyber addiction?

A: Here is a list of possible warning signs:

  • Time warp, an inability to determine cyber time
  • Lying about cyber behaviors
  • Changes or disruptions in sleep
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Losing interest in other hobbies and recreational activities
  • Poor performance in school or at work
  • Two hours a day, more than four days a week of cyber activity
  • Suffer from backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, stiff neck, nerve pain, eye strain
  • Inability to see the negative consequences of cyber activity
  • Eating meals at the computer
  • Mood swings
  • Withdrawal symptoms after playing games or cyber activity, such as headache, malaise, light-headedness

Q: Where can a person go for help?

A:I would look for a local therapist who is familiar with cyber addictions. Often times, when people excessively spend time on the computer, Internet, or video games, it is just the tip of the iceberg. Other issues may very well be in play. Professional help may be necessary.

Q: What are the steps an individual can take to move towards recovery?

A: First of all, you have to admit you have a problem. Once you take that most crucial step, you need to find an ally or support person who can help you figure out what resources might be needed to successfully confront your problem.

Q: What can a person do when they recognize that their loved one has a cyber addiction, but this loved one is in total denial that a problem exists?

A: You definitely need to look at what you're doing to enable the problem. That person must be forced to confront the consequences, and you have to make sure that you're not doing anything to prevent that.

Q: And for the parents of children with ADHD, how can they help their child navigate the cyber world in a safe, healthy way?

A: First of all, you have to be aware of the potential danger and know the warning signs. Secondly, you have to ascertain what your child's motivations are: adventure, fantasy, escape, excitement, withdrawal, achievement, relief for anxiety, etc.

Then you have to find ways of getting your child to meet that need in the real world.

If your child needs intensity or excitement, maybe it's time to look into paintball (paying great attention to the need for safety equipment), and other intense sports. If role playing seems to be the motivating factor, get your child involved in theater, acting classes, comedy classes, or a summer drama camp. Your child's motivations hold the key to intervention.

In addition, try to get involved in the cyber activities of your child when he or she is young so that you are tuned into that part of his or her life. Remember, it can be quite tricky to find motivational "carrots" for an ADHDer, so if cyber activities carry motivational potential, you may want to use them!

Roberts has a website that provides related information:


Kevin Roberts. Interview on October 18, 2010.