Aims Many children and young people use the internet for playing games and to help with homework, but for some their use of the internet is excessive. Families have asked whether a connection between ADHD and Internet Addiction is known. We aim to answer this question.
Methods Searches of PUBMED and EMBASE were carried out using keywords “ADHD”, “Internet addiction” and “pathological Internet use”. All studies identified as relevant were reviewed independently by the two researchers.
Results Internet Addiction or Problematic Internet Use (PIU) is excessive computer use that interferes with daily life. It has been discussed extensively as a diagnosis but is not currently included in DSM-V. The reward mechanism is thought to be a behavioral addiction similar to gambling. Excessive and addictive internet use and computer game playing is increasingly a problem with the studies reviewed reporting a prevalence of 2 to 20% in young people.
In ADHD, Internet Addiction is one of a range of co-morbidities, along with depression, anxiety, personality disorder, eating disorders, sleep disorders and tic disorders. Whether web based activities appeal to the short attention of ADHD suffers or whether excessive Internet use may cause inattention, remains to be elucidated.
In Internet Addiction, co-morbid conditions including depression, hostility, substance abuse disorder and social anxiety disorder are identified with ADHD being a common and consistent association. Those with Internet addiction were found to have less control over time and more impulsivity.
Conclusion For the majority the internet is a useful and stimulating way to discover and explore the world however for some children and young people their use becomes pathological. Children and young people today often have access to a range of electronic devices meaning internet use can quickly become problematic.
The studies reviewed demonstrate a clear association between ADHD and problematic internet use. Families who present to clinic and identify internet use as a primary problem, along with those with an ADHD diagnosis should have this newly emerging condition considered along with screening for the associated co-morbidities.
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