Social Media Use and ADHD Symptoms

A relationship between adolescents’ social media use and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) has been previously established, but whether or not the association is based on social media use intensity or addiction-like social media use problems is less clear. Researchers for a new analysis sought to determine what type of social media use—intensity or problems—was associated with ADHD symptoms, and to evaluate where any relationship between the two may be trending.

The study authors conducted a three-wave longitudinal study including 543 Dutch adolescents aged between 11 and 15 years; 293 participants (54%) participated in all three waves, while 198 (36%) participated in two and 52 (10%) in one. Adolescents filled out a survey regarding their social media use. Intensity was gauged with questions pertaining to how often participants checked social network sites daily as well as how many times weekly they “like” messages, photos, or movies from others on social network sites; how many times they sent out response or share messages, photos, or movies from others on social network sites; and how many times daily they send messages, photos, or movies using their smartphone. To establish social media use problems, researchers implemented the Social Media Disorder scale, which considers “preoccupation, persistence, tolerance, withdrawal, displacement, escape, problems, deception, and conflict, which are in line with criteria for substance dependence.”

Over time, problems with social media use increased symptoms of ADHD, but intensity of social media use did not impact ADHD symptoms.

“Specifically, we consistently found that adolescents, whose [social media use] problems increased, also experienced increased attention deficits 1 year later,” wrote the researchers, adding that “adolescents whose ADHD‐symptoms increased neither reported increased [social media use] intensity 1 year later nor did they report increased [social media use] problems 1 year later.”

The researchers determined the relationship between social media use and ADHD symptoms to be unidirectional, with the authors conceding that “[social media use] problems increased ADHD symptoms, [but social media use] intensity did not.”

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