The Link Between ADHD and Computer and Video Game Addictions

Woman using a laptop in a darkened room

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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.

ADHD Increases the Risk of Excessive Computer or Video Game Use

People with ADHD 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.

Additionally, the social anxiety that is sometimes associated with ADHD can be a factor in cyber additions. A video game binge is often 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.

Signs of Computer or Gaming Addiction

Here is a list of possible warning signs:

  • Timewarp, 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

Getting Help for Cyber Addictions

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.

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.

How Parents Can Help Children Navigate the Cyber World in a Healthy Way

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.

1 Source
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  1. Wang B-Q, Yao N-Q, Zhou X, Liu J, Lv Z-T. The association between attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder and internet addiction: a systematic review and meta-analysisBMC Psychiatry. 2017;17(1):260. doi:10.1186/s12888-017-1408-x

Additional Reading
  • Kevin Roberts. Interview on October 18, 2010.

By Keath Low
 Keath Low, MA, is a therapist and clinical scientist with the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities at the University of North Carolina. She specializes in treatment of ADD/ADHD.