ADHD and Video Game Addiction: It Starts with the Brain

Feb 20, 2024

Most kids love playing video games. However, research found a link between Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and video game addiction. 

Young adults with ADHD are more predisposed to video game addiction, according to a study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders. In another study about video game addiction, nearly 60% of the participants who were addicted to video games also had ADHD. 

This study was based on two years of research in South Korea on video game behaviors and co-existing conditions like ADHD. These participants had more free time for video games on weekdays and weekends since they had fewer years of education. 

They were also more likely to recognize their problematic video gaming habits. The clinical group also spent less time on internet games than general gamers. General gamers played for entertainment, while the clinical group played for coping reasons.

The link between ADHD and video games

Another study in 2021 studied the link between ADHD and video games. Kids with ADHD spend more time playing video games than their counterparts. The study also noted the severity of the addiction in combination with the ADHD symptoms.

Video compulsion leads to increased ADHD symptoms like hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention. The more intense the symptoms associated with ADHD, the greater the chance of developing a video game addiction

Do video games cause ADHD?

The above-mentioned study found that ADHD doesn’t cause video game addiction. However, it’s also important to note that ADHD could be an overlying factor in problematic video gaming. 

The reason why kids with ADHD are more likely to play video games is because of the severity of their symptoms. Andrew Lightfoot, professor of healthcare research at La Salle University stressed that video games don’t cause ADHD. 

Can you use video games to help manage ADHD?

Video games aren’t always harmful. A study back in 2015 found that video games can be used for diagnosis and treatment. Back in 2002, video games could help kids with ADHD. 

Moderate use of video games can improve the following: 

  • Mathematical skills

  • Reading development 

  • Language skills

  • Social skills 

  • Spatial intelligence

There’s still ongoing research on the benefits of video games as a treatment tool for ADHD. 

What are the benefits of playing video games?

Most parents are uncertain about video games. They ban them because they’re afraid their child’s behaviors or habits will change. Despite the concerns, there are benefits associated with playing video games. 

Some of those benefits include improved creativity, concentration, language skills, memory, and teamwork. Video game use also makes it easier for kids to develop cognitive skills and learn educational content. 

Back in 2014, Andrew Przybylski, a psychologist at the Internet Institute at Oxford University, published a study in the journal Paediatrics explaining how often kids should play video games.

Kids who spend less than an hour on video games had a stable childhood, compared to those who spent three hours or more per day. As always, moderation is important when it comes to the benefits of video game use. 

Hyperfocus

Video games can help children with ADHD to achieve a state of hyperfocus over time. This heightened state of hyperfocusness encourages them to set goals and achieve them. That’s because video game playing raises dopamine levels in the brain. 

Winning video games produces dopamine due to reward-seeking, which encourages them to seek it in other areas of their life. On the other hand, increased screen time can be associated with hyperactivity and impulsiveness. This is why moderation is necessary. 

Stimulation

Video games also help people with ADHD engage with auditory and visual stimulation. Trends like Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) increase the effects of simulation.

More research is needed to see if the benefits of simulation can symptoms associated with ADHD. One study found that kids with ADHD are more likely to have sensory processing disorder (SPD), which is a condition that affects how your brain processes stimuli. 

This affects hearing, sight, smell, touch, and taste. SPD incorporates all of your senses. This means that your child is sensitive to stimuli that most kids are not. Some kids with ADHD might have a higher sensitivity to stimuli. 

Socialization and Sense of Accomplishment

According to a research review published in American Psychologist, video games help kids with ADHD socialize. Some kids struggle to socialize due to the severity of their symptoms. Video games help them build relationships and interact within a virtual environment. 

The same is true for adults with ADHD who struggle to socialize or maintain relationships. This doesn’t suggest that everybody with ADHD has social issues. 

Some people are seen as socially inept because of their neurodivergence. This makes it harder for them to socialize and maintain relationships. 

Feeling of Safety

It can be embarrassing for kids with ADHD to fall behind in school or be picked last in gym class. This makes them feel a lack of safety. When they play video games, they don’t have that fear. 

If they make a mistake, nobody knows. Also, if they lose a game, it’s not as discouraging as getting an F. Video games encourage them to improve their score. They have multiple attempts to win without anyone judging or scolding them. 

Self-Medication

Video game use can be a form of self-medication. It provides a dopamine hit, which provides pleasure. Kids with ADHD often have lower levels of dopamine in their brains.

Those with higher levels of dopamine have fewer symptoms of ADHD. Video games allow kids with ADHD to experience pleasure despite their low levels of dopamine. This allows them to self-medicate healthily and feel better about themselves. 

Conclusion

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), kids who are exposed to video games are twice as likely to develop ADHD compared to those who play less often. Video game use does not cause ADHD. Yet, there’s still a connection between video game use and ADHD. 

If you notice that your child has an unhealthy relationship with video games, you should get help for them as soon as possible. Wondering if they have a video game addiction? Book a call with Birches Health today. 


Resources: 

Video Game Addiction Prevalent in Young Adults with ADHD

Is Your Child Hooked On Video Games?

Journal of Attention Disorders

Video Games in ADHD and Non-ADHD Children: Modalities of Use and Association With ADHD Symptoms

Benefits of Videogames

Video game addiction, ADHD symptomatology, and video game reinforcement

A little video game-playing linked with better-adjusted children

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Data and Statistics About ADHD

Video game play may provide learning, health, social benefits, review finds

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