ADHD News & Research

Study: Video Game Addiction Prevalent in Young Adults with ADHD

A new study found that 82% of 17- to 29-year-olds with gaming disorder and 59% with Internet gaming disorder had ADHD, suggesting that the diagnostic criteria for IGD/GD could identify patients with attention deficit.

June 12, 2023

Young adults with ADHD are more likely to meet the criteria for Internet gaming disorder (IGD) or gaming disorder (GD) than are people without the condition, according to a new study published in the Journal of Attention Disorders.1

The study’s findings revealed many insights on video game addiction: More than half (59%) of the participants with IGD also had ADHD. Almost three-quarters of study participants with ADHD had IGD, compared to 30% among participants without ADHD. A staggering 82% of individuals with GD had ADHD, whereas just 21% of participants without GD had ADHD. More than half of the participants with ADHD (57%) had GD.

The study compared data collected over two years on gaming patterns and accompanying comorbidities, such as ADHD, between 136 clinical and 165 general gamer groups based in South Korea. Study participants ranged from in age from 17 to 29 years old. Sixty-three percent of the clinical group and 38% of the general gamer group met the diagnostic criteria for IGD. A smaller percentage of the clinical group (40%) and general gamer group (14%) met the diagnostic criteria for GD.

Researchers noted that members of the clinical group had fewer years of education, spent more time gaming on weekdays and weekends with many online friends, and were likelier to recognize their problematic gaming than were members of the general gamer group. The clinical group also spent fewer years engaged in Internet gaming than did the general gamer group. Whereas the general gamer group played for entertainment, the clinical group gamed for achievement and coping.

Gaming habits and patterns were assessed using self-reported questionnaires and the opinions of people who were important or close to study participants.

Video Game Addiction Could Identify ADHD

The study’s researchers recommended that care providers consider the possibility of ADHD when diagnosing a patient with IGD or GD.

“These findings may imply that diagnostic criteria for IGD could identify patients with ADHD; in other words, it is difficult to distinguish patients with IGD/GD from ADHD patients using IGD/GD diagnostic criteria,” researchers wrote. “Clarification is needed as to whether these results are due to the inadequacy of diagnostic criteria, whether treatment-seeking gaming behavior is driven by comorbid ADHD, or whether the problematic gaming behavior itself is a manifestation of the underlying ADHD.”

Despite several study limitations, including recall basis and cultural factors, the researchers said their findings confirmed a close association between ADHD and IGD/GD in line with previous studies. 2, 3, 4

“While the vast majority of people who play video games and engage with social media do so in a healthy, recreational way, technology use can certainly turn problematic,” said Jeremy Edge, LPC, IGDC. “The factors that drive problematic or disordered tech use are complex. That said, teens [or adults] with ADHD who face additional challenges with control and self-regulation may be at elevated risk for so-called ‘technology addiction,’” said Edge during the 2023 ADDitude webinar, “Addictive Technology and Its Impact on Teen Brains.”

He described several warning signs of gaming addiction, such as problems stopping the activity and/or controlling behavior and engagement around it; prioritizing activity engagement over other obligations, interests, and activities; activity cravings; negative emotional responses when not able to engage in the activity (e.g., irritability, anger, anxiety); and an inability to stop or recognize problems caused by excess activity engagement.

A live poll during the webinar revealed that many attendees faced challenges related to their kids’ or teens’ video game play. The most commonly cited issues included:

  • Getting them to stop playing when time is up: 25% of webinar attendees
  • Policing time spent playing video games: 23%
  • Getting them to do other activities following video gameplay: 19%
  • Dealing with the emotional fallout following video gameplay: 16%
  • Monitoring live interaction with other players: 5%

Help for Internet Gaming Disorder/Gaming Disorder

“If you or your teen shows signs of Internet gaming disorder or gaming disorder, talk to a doctor or mental health professional,” Edge said. “While still a growing field, help for technology addiction is available and ranges from psychotherapy and inpatient treatment clinics to recovery programs, support groups, and even medication.”

Edge also recommended:

  • Turn off or limit notifications for apps; count to 10 before opening the app (to build intentionality and impulse control).
  • Self-monitor feelings before and during screen use (i.e., anger while gaming).
  • Keep devices at a distance to undermine the trigger-action-reward feedback loop.
  • Attend a 12-step support group, like that offered by Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous (ITAA).
  • Redirect motivations (i.e., use transferable motivations to find a suitable, fun activity).
  • Improve connections with friends and family.
  • Address underlying issues that could drive problematic gaming use, like depression or anxiety.

View Article Sources

1Hong, J. S., Bae, S., Starcervic, V., & Han, D. H. (2023). Correlation Between Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Internet Gaming Disorder or Gaming Disorder. Journal of Attention Disorders0(0).

2Marmet, S., Studer, J., Grazioli, V. S., Gmel, G. (2018). Bidirectional Associations Between Self-Reported Gaming Disorder and Adult Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence from a Sample of Young Swiss Men. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 9, 649.

3Starcevic, V., Choi, T. Y., Kim, T. H., Yoo, S. K., Bae, S., Choi, B. S., Han, D. H. (2020). Internet Gaming Disorder and Gaming Disorder in the Context of Seeking and Not Seeking Treatment for Video-Gaming. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 129, 31–39.

4Yen, J. Y., Liu, T. L., Wang, P. W., Chen, C. S., Yen, C. F., Ko, C. H. (2017). Association Between Internet Gaming Disorder and Adult Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder and Their Correlates: Impulsivity and Hostility. Addictive Behaviors, 64, 308–313.