ADHD & Video Games: The Positive and The Addiction

The Positive:

Looking for a way to increase your child’s self-esteem?

Lots of parents of children with ADHD are. And now, here’s a simple way, according to one study, that is. Let them enjoy those playing those video games now and then.

That’s right! According to a study commissioned by Pop Cap, an online gaming company, playing casual video game playing can not only improve a child’s self esteem, but also his attention span, and memory. In addition, it can also help to relieve stress!

The study looked at more than 13,000 casual game players. Of these nearly 3,000 of the respondents said that they or someone in the care had ADHD.

Surprised? Perhaps you really shouldn’t be, explains Dr. Carl Arinoldo. He’s a psychologist in Stony Brook, New York. “It seems that children with ADHD often lack that sense of control that comes much more easily to their non-ADHD peers,” he says. “Playing casual games . . . is one area in their lives in which these children can experience some sense of control with the added benefit of achieving success in something.”

And that, he explains, serves “to enhance the child’s self-concept and self-esteem.”

Check out the entire article here.

The Negative:

The study above was commissioned by an online game company. I can’t say that I’ve read the study to let you know if there are biases in it. The fact that it was funded by a gaming company does suggest a bias.

That said, the conclusion makes sense for a ‘CASUAL gamer’ playing games can increase self esteem.

What about the negative?

It is a general trend in our society that kids are spending more time in front of a screen (i.e. TV, computer, gaming system) than they ever have in history. Kids don’t just go outside to ride bikes or play with friends as they used to. There is a clear increase in childhood obesity which is likely related to this.

How does this relate to kids with ADHD?

Video games are very stimulating – and thus are much easier to pay attention to than school work. Connecting with people online can be much easier than doing so in real life. Kids can be more defiant with their parents when they don’t want to turn the game off for fear of losing their progress on ‘this level’.

The biggest problem in this area for kids with ADHD is the overuse of video games.

In fact, video games can actually become addictive, and show the classic symptoms of addiction – i.e. tolerance, dependence and continuing despite harmful consequences.

Tolerance: This refers to the fact that the same amount doesn’t produce the same response. In alcohol, this could be that the 4 drinks doesn’t make you drunk anymore – and you ‘graduate’ to 6 drinks. Just ask any active (addicted gamer) if they would like to take more time to play whenever they can.

Dependence: This refers to feelings of withdrawal if one cannot have access to the addicted substance. In alcohol, one can go through a physiological withdrawal. In video games, if one is a gamer – of many hours per day – if the video game system goes off (due to damage to it, or parental restrictions), addicted players get angry, feel lost, and may have sadness or acting out behavior.

Harmful Consequences: This refers to negative consequences coming directly as a result of the addiction, but the person ignores them. In alcohol, it could be charges for driving under the influence, losing one’s job, etc. In video games – it can be failing school, getting into fights with friends or family, or losing motivation towards one’s goals.

Are all video games addictive?

All video games can be addictive.
Ones which are particularly concerning are the very long, involved ones – such as’World of Warcraft’.
Here is a youtube video which describes this:

The Bottom Line:

Casual video games can be fun and can build self esteem and increase social interaction.

Moderate video game usage can have its negative aspects – i.e. poor social interaction, more defiance, less time of physical activity and more defiance.

Excessive video game usage can lead to addiction – and similar to other addictions, one has to get away from the addiction, and receive treatment. In the same way an alcoholic can’t have just ‘one drink’, someone addicted to video games has to take a complete break, and not just play for ‘one level’.

It is clear that video games are here to stay. In recent years, video game earnings are getting close to those of Hollywood.

Please share your take on this issue below.


Dr. Kenny

[tags] video games, ADHD, addiction, World of Warcraft [/tags]


  1. Dr. Kenny:
    Did the report give an indication of what constitutes casual, moderate and excessive gaming?


  2. Some people say that playing online games such as World of Warcraft is a waste of time, I think those people have never played it. Of course some people are addicted, but they enjoy playing the game…

  3. Thank you for putting up this post.
    This is something that I am continually battling with my son who has ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome. As mentioned above the upside is that he feels connected with ‘friends’ that he can enter into a useful entity within the game where it is ‘us’ against ‘them’. Lots of stimulation – over stimulation in my opinion – so much so that he becomes angry and hostile if asked to stop playing the game. Even when it is a pre-set, agreed upon time, by him.

    Yes I feel that my son is becoming addicted to gaming. He’s starting highschool, grade 9, in a few weeks and I’m concerned regarding the future battles we will be having regarding the decreased amount of gaming time he will be having due to school work load. I’m trying very hard to make limits/boundaries with schedules and time allowances, but I’m constantly the watchdog – the bad guy, who puts an end to all his ‘fun’.

    Someone suggested doing a reward type credit system so that for work/alternate activities done there are credit rewards that are used for gaming time. Anyone used this? Find any success?

  4. Kids often spend far too much time playing video games. But parents, can set limits and also encourage the use of games that may promote learning executive skills. The key point is for parents or teachers to engage kids in thinking about what they are doing while playing video games and then connecting those thinking strategies to the real world. Obviously many games are not sutied to this approach. We discuss many games and other digital technologies that may be helpful to kids at I would strongly encourage parents to know what games their kids are playing and to be able to communicate about their game play.

  5. Games can help children – but gaming time needs to be managed correctly.

    I have 3 kids, my son has Aspergers. We recently bought Rock Band, and it has brought my kids an interest in music (my son loves the drumming, whereas the girls love the guitar).

    They are allowed to game for fairly short periods and when chores are done. Games for them have resulted in improved hand-eye coordination and a love of music – so much so that my son is now learning ‘real’ drums and my daughters are learning guitar and keyboard.

    The media are too quick to jump on videogames – when managed correctly they have have a positive influence.

  6. How i lost 3 years of my life…

    Howdy, my name is Ethan, i live in south dakota, now im 20 years old, here there is not very much to do, i want to say about 8 years ago my aunt who had breast cancer brought me to a store and said pick out a game, so i looked and picked out a game called DIABLO 2, and the DIABLO 2: LORD OF DESTRUCTION game, its an online computer game extremely close to WARCRAFT. I played this game constantly, everyday all day, for 2 years, i gained over 170LBS in those 2 years i weighted about 125 at the beginning of this game, at the end i weighted over 250 lbs being barely 5 foot tall, i never left the computer. I started missing family events, birthdays, holidays, my friends even started talking to me about how i never do anything anymore. sense i gained so much weight i was known as the fat kid in school. Alot of people got mean about that, i was always being called names, i hated it. When i was on this game, i felt like a god, everyone liked me! i would dream about our world becoming just like this game, i thought “man if i was my character in real life NO ONE would be making fun of me, they would all like me, and my bullys would never make fun of me again. This game made me feel like i was part of this world, this is my ticket right here, who needs a job i though all the time, my dad’s got money he’ll just pay for what i need! For my mom and dad everyday was a constant struggle for them dealing with me and this game, there would be days my mom would be screaming cryin, yelling at me to just get off, i wouldn’t, skipped school, never did home work, i would get ISS in school i’d just walk out and go home and get on my game. When i skipped school (called in for sick days) my mom would let me then sometimes unexpectly she would come home i would run up stairs and into my room before she got into the house. She would go down stairs to feel the seat of the computer just to see if i was playing it. My aunt pat who bought me this game pasted away in 2004 decemeber 22 at 5:18 p.m. with her very long fight with cancer(R.I.P. Pat). On thanksgiving (a month before hand) my parents and relatives really wanted me to go with them to eat (2 hours away from were my computer was), my mom said “Ethan this is probably Pats last holiday” i just kept thinking there is no way, whatever! My parents and I battled it out (veruably) tell me to go i refused, about one month later she pasted away… I never really did get to say good bye to the best aunt i have ever had in my life, she did everything for me. This game at age 11-14 ruined 3 years of my life that i will never get back, i never will get to really say good bye to pat (I MISS YOU SO MUCH). i was a very troubled kid growing up, i got put into a placement which i agreed on call “Girls and Boys town, Nebraska” When i got out i weight 250lbs, but i was a goot taller (i look ALOT differen’t). I had 2 quit very very hard but i new my life was falling apart. I stayed there for 2 years(at age 17 i got out) fastforward to the 2008 beginning of summer, i found my game in a box once again i started playing. The summer didn’t end up to bad but by christmas it was already to late i was hooked again expremely i started paying for items on this game, one day i spend over $200 bucks and still was not as satisfyed as i wanted to be. I wanted to be the best, i was determind.
    The beginning of 2009 i weighted over 340lbs. I quite, on july 4 2009, i found i was going to be a dad, i knew right then and there, im not going to be to fat to even hold my little girl. sense then until now i have weight around 270. Still working to lose the weight i had for many years, building the relationships back with friends and family, being a dad, and being a good son. For some people like me this game is almost a nightmare, i THINK if kids had ADHD as bad as i did when i was those ages, for some it would be the worse mistake you’ve ever made, others can handle it, some can’t…

    If you have any questions or would like to talk to me about my story please feel free to email me (

  7. Like anything, moderation is the key. Just don’t overdo it! lol Seriously though It is very easy to get over absorbed in online gaming, especially if every few seconds you are encountering a whole new experience. I find strategy guides tend to help with maintaining focus to a certain extent, although there is the potential for them to exacerbate the problem if the individual doesn’t have the required level of self control. Fortunately I feel I am old enough and wise enough not to get caught in that trap and generally nowadays stick more to reviewing than playing

  8. Why is it called attention deficit hyperactivity disorder when children with ADHD have an infinite capacity to sit still and play video games? Might the reason be that they just don’t care about boring things like learning thier times tables? What adult would allow theselves to be subjected to being forced to sit quietly in a classroom for 6 hours a day while someone droned on about differential calculus? Maybe ADHD children wouldn’t be so addicted to video games if there were some other place in thier lives where they weren’t ruled by a set of seemingly arbitrary rules set out to make everyone elses lives easier. Lets face it, kids aren’t able to go out and play or ride bikes any more. Their time and activities are becoming more structured, so of course video games are the escape that these children crave.

    • My dad asked the same question, “if you have ADD, then how can you focus so well on Video games and not school?”
      The reason is that ADD is not having attention, its controlling it
      After reading “Is it you, me, or ADD” Ive learned that ADD brains demand stimulation.
      Im and engineer at UCI, you know what Im good at? Problem solving
      In physics and Math I love solving problems, trying to find the answer stimulates my brain and literally makes it enjoyable
      The reasons I get Cs and Ds in those classes however? I cant do the second half of Math and Physics, Conceptual concepts, why? because that isnt stimulating

      ADD brains are addicted to Stimulants, its the brains heroin
      My biggest dealer is Video games
      I spend a lot of time on them and enjoy them because when I play them with friends at school, I like the strategy and thought that goes behind it
      Its not that we dont care about boring things, we know we need to learn time tables, but what might seem as boring and mundane for normal people is impossible for an ADDer
      This disorder is a disability, just like being unable to walk
      Its easy to say to an ADDer “Why dont you just grow up?” or “So what you have ADD, its just an excuse to get by through life being lazy! If you try Harder you can overcome it!”
      Would you tell a man in a wheelchair “Your just being lazy! If you tried hard enough you would be able to get up and walk!”

  9. I played world of warcraft to the exclusion of almost everything else for about 4 years. Im wondering if my adhd may have contributed to my video game addiction? Now that Im taking Strattera am I less likely to become addicted to video games?

    • Rick – ADHD may have contributed, but maybe not. If you have addictive traits – they may be lowered by taking a medication for adhd, though they may still be there – you’ll have to watch for that…

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