ADHD News & Research

Study: College Students with Gaming Disorder Likely to Display ADHD Traits

More than one-third of college students with gaming disorder exhibit ADHD symptoms, compared to less than a quarter of students without the disorder.

May 25, 2024

New research proposes that ADHD may increase the risk of gaming disorder (GD) in college students, hindering academic success and sleep. 1

The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, reported that 35.7% of college students with GD display ADHD symptoms compared to 23.3% of students without gaming disorder.

Gaming disorder is a mental health condition marked by excessive and compulsive engagement in Internet games, which can significantly disrupt relationships, school, and work. The behavior must be present for at least 12 months (or shorter in severe cases) to receive a GD diagnosis.

After surveying 383 university students in Lebanon, the researchers determined that ADHD symptoms directly affect academic performance and indirectly increase the risk of GD. Among students classified as high academic performers with GPAs of 3.2 and above, only one met the criteria for symptoms of GD or ADHD.

“The absence of GD and ADHD symptoms among high academic performers suggests that academic engagement and success may be protective factors against these conditions,” the study’s authors wrote. “Alternatively, it may be that the symptoms of these disorders disrupt academic performance, which would be consistent with the negative correlation observed between disorder prevalence and academic excellence.”

Gaming behaviors may distract college students from academics as they prioritize playing video games over studying. The study reported that students with a gaming disorder spend more time gaming on weekdays and weekends than do those without the disorder. “The correlation between GD and gaming hours, particularly on non-school days, suggests that free time may exacerbate gaming behaviors, potentially leading to disorder,” the study’s authors wrote. “This finding has practical implications for the management of GD, as it highlights the importance of structured time and alternative leisure activities as part of the therapeutic approach.” 2

Gaming Disorder Affects College Students’ Sleep Habits

According to the researchers, GD also impacts students’ sleep quality and duration. On average, students with GD sleep 6.1 hours; 64.3% wake up in the middle of the night to game. In comparison, those without GD sleep between 6.8 to 7.2 hours, with negligible nocturnal awakenings for males and none for females.

“The high incidence of nocturnal awakenings in the disordered gaming group (DGG) to continue gaming is a concerning trend that warrants attention due to the critical role of sleep in cognitive function, emotional regulation, and overall health,” the study’s authors wrote. 3

Findings also indicate that ADHD is more predictive of GD in females than in males, though other factors beyond ADHD may contribute to the development of GD, especially in females. These results echo a study published in June 2023 in the Journal of Attention Disorders. That study found a staggering 82% of individuals with GD had ADHD; more than half of the participants with ADHD (57%) had GD. 4

Why Gaming Appeals to College Students with ADHD

Why are students with ADHD symptoms more susceptible to gaming and, consequently, gaming disorder?

“From escapism and socialization to competition, video games are highly engaging, reinforcing, and stimulating by design,” said Jeremy Edge, LPC, IGDC, during the 2023 ADDitude webinar, “Addictive Technology and Its Impact on Teen Brains.” “Prolonged, excessive exposure to immediate rewards and dopamine hits in gaming may diminish the number of dopamine receptors in the brain over time, which can lead to tolerance and further stimulation seeking. 5 Gamers who are motivated by both escapism and achievement and who consider gaming part of their identity, are most at risk for problematic or disordered gaming.”

While the PLOS ONE study suggests a strong link between ADHD symptoms and GD, the study’s design does not establish causality and relies on self-reported data, which may introduce bias. In addition, the prevalence of ADHD in the sample is also higher than typical epidemiological estimates.

“More longitudinal studies are needed to clarify the causal relationships between ADHD and GD and to track how these relationships evolve,” the study’s authors wrote.

Edge emphasized that anyone showing signs of gaming disorder should talk to a doctor or mental health professional. “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,” he said.

View Article Sources

1 Hawai, N., Samaha, M. (2024). Relationships of Gaming Disorder, ADHD, and Academic Performance in University Students: A Mediation Analysis. PLOS ONE.

2 Buono, F.D., et al. (2020). Gaming and Gaming Disorder: A Mediation Model Gender, Salience, Age of Gaming Onset, and Time Spent Gaming. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 23(9): p. 647–651.

3 Bourchtein, E., Langberg, J.M., Cusick, C.N., Breaux, R.P., Smith, Z.R., Becker, S.P. (2019). Technology Use and Sleep in Adolescents With and Without Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. J Pediatr Psychol.

4 Hong, 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 Disorders, 0(0).

5 Sussman, C. J., Harper, J. M., Stahl, J. L., & Weigle, P. (2018). Internet and Video Game Addictions: Diagnosis, Epidemiology, and Neurobiology. Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Clinics of North America,27(2), 307–326.