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The number of people diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has risen steeply over the past few years. According to recent findings in the US, the number of women newly diagnosed between 23 and 49 years of age nearly doubled between 2020 and 2022. In the UK, there was a twenty-fold increase in ADHD diagnoses in men aged 18-29 between 2000 and 2018, as well as a fifty-fold increase in prescriptions for ADHD medication.
So, what’s behind this stunning rise? If you’ve ever struggled to tear yourself away from your phone or laptop screen, you may wonder whether technology is responsible for an ADHD epidemic. After all, so many of us struggle to focus on everyday tasks or worry about our children’s increasingly tiny attention spans. But can screens really be blamed for this often-misunderstood condition? To help you separate myth from fact, we’ve put together some helpful information below.
Put simply, there is little evidence to suggest that screen time can actively cause ADHD. ADHD is a neurological condition linked to a person’s genetic makeup, meaning people cannot “catch” or “cure” it. However, research shows that frequent use of digital media can generate similar symptoms to those associated with ADHD.
A recent study assessing over 2,500 high school students found that the most prolific digital media users (including social media) were more likely to demonstrate inattention and hyperactivity-impulsivity than peers who spent less time online. As such, people who spend lots of time online may start worrying whether their addictive behaviours are evidence of undiagnosed ADHD.
While screen addiction and ADHD generate similar symptoms, they may warrant different types of treatment. For example, between 55% and 62% of people with ADHD take stimulant medications to relieve their symptoms – drugs that may actually inhibit productivity and focus in those without ADHD. Broadly speaking, people hoping to tackle screen addiction are recommended more conservative treatments such as cognitive behavioural therapy and mindfulness to improve their attention spans.
While it’s tempting to blame the internet for increased ADHD prevalence, the reality is much more complex. Other reasons for the rise in diagnoses include:
As ADHD diagnoses rise, more people are learning about its effects. At the same time, more high-profile celebrities are talking openly about their ADHD diagnoses and symptoms, including Simone Biles, Channing Tatum, Justin Timberlake, and Michael Phelps. Increased awareness means more people are likely to recognise ADHD symptoms and seek professional help when necessary.
The diagnostic criteria for ADHD have shifted gradually in line with changing evidence. As such, there have been several revisions of the guidelines for diagnosing ADHD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), promoting more accurate identification of people with the condition.
ADHD is linked to other conditions, including depression, anxiety, autism, and learning disabilities. As the medical community gets better at recognising these links, more people with complex presentations are receiving ADHD diagnoses.
We live in a fast-paced society full of distractions. Such triggers may increase the severity of ADHD symptoms, encouraging more people to seek professional help.
The past decade or so has witnessed a mental health revolution, with more people willing to open up and their struggles without fear of stigma. While the stigma surrounding ADHD still exists (particularly for women), increasing awareness of the condition means more people experiencing symptoms are willing to seek a diagnosis.
While screens don’t directly cause ADHD, they can significantly exacerbate symptoms. Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to tackle screen addiction if you have ADHD. Even better, these approaches can also help those without an official diagnosis. Strategies include:
While these tips may sound simple, they could transform your relationship with your digital devices, whether you have ADHD or not.