ADHD And Video Games: What’s The Connection?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated September 19, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

There is often speculation about whether video games may play a role in the development or severity of ADHD and its symptoms. Supporting evidence on both sides can be found, leading to inconclusive results overall. While parents are typically encouraged to manage their children’s video game and internet usage, it’s possible that skill-building video games may be used for ADHD treatment at some point in the future. Often, engaging in activities like music, art, and sports can be helpful for children with ADHD, while their parents may benefit from online therapy, where they can receive guidance and support.

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Why Video Games May Be A Concern

Video games have been under investigation regarding their potential role in contributing to ADHD. Because of this disorder’s general status as a relatively new condition and its prevalence amongst young people, many have questioned whether the frequent use of electronics could be to blame for ADHD.

Offline gaming, specifically, has been questioned because it does not typically facilitate communication skills when compared to online games, where players can often join groups, chat with friends, and work as a team.

Despite this, even online games may be problematic for certain individuals and can be very addictive. This may apply to general Internet use as well.  Internet addiction has been described by some as a genuine health concern.

While time spent on gaming can be an issue, some believe that too much gaming may worsen ADHD symptoms. 

Video Games' Effect On The Brain

Due to the often-stimulating nature of video games, people with ADHD can be vulnerable to addiction. In addition, video games may reinforce specific traits that are prominent within the condition.

While three hours per day may be the average time spent on electronics, it has been shown that adolescents who spend just one hour a day playing games or using the Internet can have more severe symptoms than those who do not participate in these activities.

Video games can be attractive to those with ADHD because they typically offer immediate rewards, and there are often great incentives to reach the next stage of a game. This can encourage the user to keep playing and make it difficult to stop.

Screen changes in video games tend to happen quickly. In addition, video games generally don’t demand attention and working memory from the user, nor does focusing on the screen typically require much effort.

Additionally, the relationship between ADHD and video games may also involve the reward pathway in the brain, and patients who have the condition tend to continually seek its stimulation.

Research shows that gaming can amplify the release of striatal dopamine and encourage reward dependency. This can also correlate with a previous study that shows that individuals with Internet addiction often had the same increased reward dependency. These same genes can be tied to alcoholism, pathological gambling, and other types of addictions.


How Might Video Games Make ADHD Worse?

Although gaming has many features that can attract those with ADHD, it is hypothesized that there could be a “bidirectional relationship” between the two. Gaming may provide things that individuals with ADHD want; however, it can also make the condition worse by exacerbating symptoms.

Below are some symptoms of ADHD that are believed to be reinforced by prolonged video game use:

  • Disinhibition
  • Quick responsiveness
  • Need for rewards
  • Inattention
  • Impulsivity

Because of this, it is speculated that spending more time on video games can increase the negative effects that ADHD has on scholastic performance, an area where many young people may experience challenges.

Video Games’ Impact In The Classroom

Sitting in class and completing homework can be challenging for those with ADHD because these activities often require mental effort and careful attention. Aside from receiving good grades and avoiding punishment for bad ones, there may not be immediate incentives and rewards for completing schoolwork efficiently.

The combination of ADHD and games may be problematic because it can allow these symptoms to persevere and affect schoolwork and other important aspects of life, rather than relieving them by promoting skill-building and behavioral changes.

Other activities such as sports, martial arts, music, and art are often argued to be a more effective and better use of one's time for someone with ADHD because they can improve attention, self-control, self-discipline, and behavioral intervention.

However, some games, particularly online ones, may be useful for facilitating team-building and communication skills, which can also translate into everyday life. Some researchers are interested in the possible positive effects of video games on those with ADHD.

How Might Video Games Help ADHD?

Video games have frequently been a cause for concern, particularly with parents, because of the potential problems presented in the previous two sections. However, it may be possible that these games could be helpful in other ways for those with ADHD.

Both anecdotal and empirical evidence may point to games having a positive effect on the minds of those with ADHD. This may not discredit the other research, but it can offer another perspective on the issue at hand.

Contrary to the notion that gaming reinforces inattention, many parents of children with ADHD have reported that gaming can be evidence of good attention. Certain games may also improve reading skills if the game is more text-driven. Role-playing games may be a good example of this because they are often lengthy. Using text for game dialogue may be both traditional and practical, as it could be very expensive to apply voice-acting to every part of these games.

Technology-Based Treatment Approaches

Instead of relying solely on medication, there have been many new technology-based approaches to treat ADHD like memory, attention, and inhibitory control, and their effects can be measured through EEG and neurofeedback.

Through this kind of software, children may train relevant skills that could be applied to real life. For example, training inhibitory control could help people resist sweet foods.

As mentioned previously, the brain's reward pathway often plays a crucial role in the relationship between ADHD and video games. Cognitive training is generally designed to be fun and engaging, and it tends to reward good performance. However, this could also be a downside in supporting the case that games are beneficial.

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Because these studies are typically controlled and specifically created to address various skills, they may only make a case for those specific games. Recreational games typically are not designed with any particular skills in mind, so it may not be accurate to say that all games can be assets.

Despite this disclaimer, it could still be possible that games actively promoting skill-building could be the future of treating ADHD, and they might be another avenue to try alongside medication and therapy.

Online Therapy May Be Helpful For Parents Of Children With ADHD

Parenting a child with ADHD can come with various stressors, and one way for parents to learn how to handle their stress healthily could be through therapy. Online therapy can be an excellent alternative to face-to-face therapy for those with busy schedules, as you can connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home at a time that works for you.

According to this study, online therapy can be highly effective in treating a number of mental health concerns, especially anxiety and the effects of stress. If you’re a parent experiencing anxiety, stress, or any other mental health challenges, you may wish to consider giving online therapy a try.


ADHD can be a complex condition, and it is often believed that video games can influence its development and worsen symptoms. There is generally supporting evidence from both sides that gaming may or may not be problematic for those with ADHD, and because of this, results can be inconclusive. It may be possible that skill-building video games could be used for ADHD treatment in the future, but parents of children with ADHD are often advised to manage their children’s internet and video game usage and encourage activities such as sports, music, and art. Online therapy may also be helpful for parents to get the support and guidance they deserve.

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