Researchers: Maladaptive Daydreaming Should Be a Diagnosis Distinct from ADHD
“Maladaptive daydreaming is an independent mental phenomenon, which often creates a deficit in attention as a side-effect, causing MDers in some cases to meet criteria for ADHD, but not necessarily vice versa.”
April 15, 2022
Some individuals diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may experience maladaptive daydreaming (MD), however, the two conditions are distinct and different, according to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Psychology that shows “that most adults with MD will meet the criteria for ADHD but that their attention deficit is secondary to their core problem of becoming addicted to their immersive, fanciful daydreaming.” 1 The researchers suggested that MD may be a more appropriate diagnosis for some individuals than is ADHD, though the former is not yet a formal psychiatric diagnosis.
People who present with MD deliberately slip into highly detailed and realistic daydreams that can last hours and interfere with their ability to function in the real world. ADHD, particularly the inattentive subtype, may cause an individual to lose focus and daydream but this behavior is neurological, not intentional. Making this distinction could improve the diagnostic process and treatment results, the researchers suggest.
Previous studies have found high rates of ADHD among people presenting with MD. 1 To determine whether ADHD and MD are separate disorders, researchers assessed 83 adults diagnosed with ADHD for inattentive symptoms, MD, depression, loneliness, and low self-esteem. Of those adults, 20.5% met the proposed diagnostic criteria for MD; those individuals showed significantly higher rates of depression, loneliness, and lower self-esteem than those adults with ADHD who did not meet the criteria for an MD diagnosis.
“Maladaptive daydreaming is an independent mental phenomenon, which often creates a deficit in attention as a side-effect, causing MDers in some cases to meet criteria for ADHD, but not necessarily vice versa,” the authors said. “Moreover, we found that ADHD symptoms did not differ in severity across the groups, again supporting the idea that MD is not secondary to ADHD, nor is ADHD a predisposition to MD, but rather, MD is a discrete construct.”
The authors would like to see maladaptive daydreaming recognized as a formal psychiatric syndrome and added to the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
1 Theodor-Katz, N., Somer E., Hesseg R.M., Soffer-Dudek, N. (2022). Could immersive daydreaming underlie a deficit in attention? The prevalence and characteristics of maladaptive daydreaming in individuals with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Clinical Psychology. 1002/jclp.23355