Certain Psychiatric Symptoms May Predispose People to Addictive Social Media or Video Game Use

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Both ADHD and OCD were positively associated with addictive use of video games and of social media.
Both ADHD and OCD were positively associated with addictive use of video games and of social media.

People with psychological conditions such as attention hyperactivity deficit disorder (ADHD), obsessive- compulsive disorder (OCD), or mood disorders may be more likely to report excessive use of video games or social media according to a study led by Cecilie Schou Andreassen, a psychologist with the University of Bergen in Norway.1 Males were more likely to be addicted to video games, whereas females were more likely to be addicted to social networking. Being single increased the likelihood of either type of addictive behavior.

The study was conducted using a Web-based survey, with the link appearing in online editions of 5 Norwegian newspapers between March and May 2014. Approximately 24,000 people aged 16 to 88 (mean age, 36 y) completed the survey; 65% were women. The survey included several validated assessments, including the Bergen Social Media Addiction Scale, the Game Addiction Scale, the Adult ADHD Self-Report Scale, the Obsession-Compulsive Inventory-Revised, and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. Respondents also provided information about their relationship status and education level.

Both ADHD and OCD were positively associated with addictive use of video games and of social media. The disorders' positive association with addictive social networking was greater than their association with addictive video gaming. The authors speculated that the inherent features of social networking platforms (eg, constant updates that cause phones to beep or vibrate) may attract people with ADHD to engage in excessive or compulsive social networking as a form of self-medication. They also hypothesized that people with OCD may be driven to addictive social media use by a “constant urge to check their social networks for new information or updates—because of the fear of missing out.”

The survey indicates that anxiety corresponded with an increased likelihood of addictive social networking but with a reduced likelihood of addictive video gaming. The opposite was true for depression.  “These findings may indicate that addictive social networkers are more anxious than depressed, while addictive gamers may be more depressed than anxious,” the authors wrote. They proposed that anxious people turn to social networking because they struggle with face-to-face communication, whereas depressed people withdraw from social networking and social contact in general.

The researchers also identified demographic differences in technology addictions. For example, males and females developed addictions for different types of computer activities. “Men seem generally more likely to become addicted to online gaming, gambling, and cyber-pornography, while women to social media, texting, and online shopping,” Dr Andreassen said in a press release.2 The authors found an inverse relationship between age and both types of technological addiction. Video game addiction was especially prevalent among younger men with psychiatric symptoms. “Excessively engaging in gaming may function as an escape mechanism for or [as a means of] coping with underlying psychiatric disorders in [an] attempt to alleviate unpleasant feelings and to calm restless bodies,” she explained in the press release.2


The investigators found no relationship between the propensity for video game addiction and the propensity for social networking addiction. This led them to conclude that the 2 behaviors were distinct and should not be lumped together under an umbrella term like “Internet use disorder.” The tendencies revealed in the study may provide opportunities for preventing addictive online behaviors in at-risk individuals, although additional study is needed to identify effective strategies.

References 

1. Schou Andreassen C, Billieux J, Griffiths MD, et al. The relationship between addictive use of social media and video games and symptoms of psychiatric disorders: A large-scale cross-sectional study. Psychol Addict Behav. 2016;30:252-262.

2. Andreassen KE. Videogame addiction linked to ADHD: young and single men are at risk of being addicted to video games. The addiction indicates an escape from ADHD and psychiatric disorder [press release]. http://www.uib.no/en/news/97400/videogame-addiction-linked-adhd. Updated April 25, 2016. Accessed May 5, 2016.

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