ADHD and the relentless internet – is there a connection? | Technology | The Guardian

ADHD and the relentless internet – is there a connection? | Technology | The Guardian.

Hyperactivity disorders are now the second most diagnosed childhood conditions in the US behind asthma, with 20% of college students sufffering

A young boy at a computer
‘Our brain grows and changes according to our experiences.’ So is the effect of the internet mimicking ADHD? Photograph: Alamy

The internet might make you feel hyperactive, but do you really have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder?

Michael Pietrus PsyD, coordinator of the ADHD assessment protocol at the University of Chicago, explains how the internet encourages behaviour that at least mimics ADHD, and can exacerbate the condition in people who have it already.

Pietrus looks after many students at the college who feel the effects of academic and social pressure. In the US, 11% of children between four and 17 now have a diagnosis of ADHD and the rates have been going up by 5% every year from 2003 to 2011. It’s now the most commonly diagnosed condition for children in the US after asthma. Twenty per cent of the US college population now have ADHD, which appears as hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity, and are at higher risk of substance abuse and self medication, depression and a host of other consequent conditions.

“People with ADHD are hardwired for novelty seeking, which until recently was an evolutionary advantage,” said Pietrus, speaking at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas. ADHD sufferers have fewer dopamine receptors, which means that a normally interesting activity seems less rewarding or even boring.

No one can explain the increase in ADHD in the US, Pietrus said. “People engage in compulsion for all sorts of reasons and often because of the way their personality extends into the online space. But compulsive behaviour is reinforced and rewarded, and that has an impact on the ability to plan and organise as well as focus on tasks and self regulate our behaviour.”