Adolescents with ADHD and the Risk of Internet Addiction

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It is already established that there is a very high likelihood that those with ADHD will abuse drugs such as alcohol and marijuana. Also, they are more likely to have problems at school because of difficulties with focusing and experience social difficulties except with other youngsters who feel like outsiders. Now, it appears they have another problem confronting them and it's Internet Addiction.

A new study seems to suggest that adolescents with disorders such as ADHD, Depression and Social Phobia, are more likely to become addicted to the Internet as compared to other teenagers. The study appears in the October 2009 issue of Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.


The researchers studied 2,293 youngsters in the 7th grade. Their average age was 12 and they were assessed for the disorders mentioned above. Then, six to twenty four months later, the same youngsters were asked about their usage of the Internet.

The results were very revealing. Some 11 percent of the youngsters were addicted to the Internet. Those with the ADHD diagnosis were most likely to be addicted. Social phobia predicted the addiction for girls but not for boys.

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It is thought that youngsters with ADHD become addicted to the Internet because it satisfies their need to speed, immediate gratification and new and stimulating situations.

Definition of Internet Addiction:

However, part of the difficulty with this topic is that there is no clear definition of Internet Addiction. Computers and the availability of the Internet has pervaded every home. People of all ages are using the technology for entertainment and information. With larger amounts of leisure time taken up with the internet, how can this type of addiction be defined?

In the study, being male, spending more than 20 hours a week on the Internet and playing online games were risk factors for Internet obsession.

Most often, Internet addiction is considered to be excessive use of the Internet that negatively impacts grades, family relationships or emotional state. Symptoms include a preoccupation with the Internet, greater use of the Internet than anticipated or desired, an inability to stop, and using the Internet so much that it crowds out other activities.

According to Dr. Harold Koplewicz, director of the Child Study Center at New York University Langone Medical Center:

"Children and teens are spending a tremendous amount of time on the Internet. Activities can range from chatting and using Facebook to participating in online gaming, shopping, pornography or 'Second Life,'" he said.  "Like anything else, when it's done too much and it starts causing dysfunction in other parts of our lives, it qualifies as an addiction, obsession or compulsion."

What parents and teachers need to watch out for, with all children, but, especially those with ADHD, are behaviors such as:

1. Spending vast amounts of time at home playing various internet games.

2. Staying up late at night on the Internet.

3. Sleepiness at school. Of course, this could be a symptom of many problems including drug abuse.

4. Failing to do homework assignments.

5. Deteriorating grades.

6. Choosing the internet instead of spending time with friends, school clubs or sports activities.

7. Loss of time with the family because of time on the internet.

In other words, disruptions in important school and home activities due to computer usage, are signs of a serious problem.

As a therapist I have worked with adult ADHD patients who become entangled in the same addiction. It is not unusual for them to risk loss of their jobs because they are too tired to go to work the next morning or they are wasting their time at work using the computer for other than work activities.

It is important not only that parents be aware of this but that they intervene to get their children help if they do or may have ADHD. There is most definitely help available for children, teens and adults with this disorder.

Your questions and comments are encouraged and, that includes from teenagers who, themselves are so very affected by this whether or not they have ADHD.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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