ADHD News & Research

Gaming Disorder and ADHD: Brain Scans Show Distinct Similarities

ADHD and Internet Gaming Disorder share many common symptoms, including inattention, impulsivity, and low self-esteem, among others. This overlap led researchers in South Korea to study the brain scans of patients with ADHD and/or IGD, and to discover similar brain functional connectivity both before and after treatment.

November 25, 2019

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common comorbidity associated with Internet Gaming Disorder (IDG), a condition with symptoms including depressed mood, high impulsivity, executive dysfunction, and hyperfocus, among others. Similarities between the two conditions are well documented. Now, a new study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders suggests that patients with ADHD and IGD also demonstrate similar brain functions — both before and after being treated with medication and therapy for one year.1

Researchers in South Korea used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the brains of 26 patients with ADHD, 29 patients with ADHD and IGD, and 20 patients with IGD only. Specifically, the researchers were studying shifts in clinical symptoms and changes in brain activity among the patients — all adolescents who visited Chung-Ang University Hospital’s Online Game Clinic and Research Center over the course of three years.

Prior to treatment, fMRI revealed that patients with both disorders displayed decreased functional connectivity within the attentional network, including the frontal, parietal, and occipital cortices and decreased functional connectivity between the cortex — the part of the brain responsible for cognitive behavior and decision making — and the subcortex — the part of the brain involved in motor control and skills learning. Patients were then treated with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and participated in one-on-one education sessions with a therapist. Patients with ADHD were treated with methylphenidate or atomoxetine and patients with IGD were treated with bupropion or escitalopram. After one year of treatment, functional connectivity was increased between the cortex and subcortex in all patients; brain scans of patients with ADHD and IGD continued to look quite similar.


1 Han, D. H., Bae, S., Hong, J., Kim, S. M., Son, Y. D., & Renshaw, P. Resting-State fMRI Study of ADHD and Internet Gaming Disorder. Journal of Attention Disorders (Oct. 2019).