The Social Media Inflence on ADHD

Demi Aspey
10 mins read
Nov 1, 2023

Are you caught in the addictive loop of scrolling through Instagram stories or binge-watching videos on TikTok? 

If so, let's not kid ourselves—social media can feel like a parallel universe tailored just for your ADHD brain.

Before we go any further, let’s pump the brakes, sit back, and dissect this complex relationship between ADHD and social media. 

The rabbit hole is deep, but we’ve got the flashlight. 

Let’s take this explorative journey together, courtesy of Deepwrk’s ADHD blog.

First Things First: The ADHD Facts You Need To Know

ADHD is not a new phenomenon, but awareness of the condition has skyrocketed in recent years.

An American study reported that diagnosis of ADHD in adults is now four times that of children, and its prevalence more than doubled between 2007 and 2016. 

And since 2020, there’s been a 400% increase in the number of adults seeking an ADHD diagnosis, according to Dr Tony Lloyd, ADHD Foundation.

ADHD Google Search Trends Since 2014
"ADHD" Google Search Trends: Jan 2004 to Oct 2023

The general public has become increasingly more aware of ADHD - and we have news media and social media to (partly) thank for it! 

With increased awareness, better access to treatment and decreased stigma, people are more likely to bring up their concerns to their GP, which leads to more diagnoses and more people getting the support and treatment they need. 

What’s more, changes to diagnostic criteria are capturing more marginalized population groups, including women and people of color.

And we are so here for it. 🙌🏼

But…

ADHD UK estimates that 80 per cent of people in the UK who have the condition don’t know it – that’s 2 million undiagnosed (in the UK alone). 

Clearly, we’ve still got a way to go. 

So what role does social media play in ADHD?

Is it a blessing or a curse; a help or a hindrance? 

Let’s find out!

The Relationship Between ADHD and Social Media

Ever thought about how your ADHD brain chemistry interacts with dopamine-inducing platforms like TikTok, Facebook, or Instagram? 

While you might think that a quick swipe here and a double-tap there is harmless, it might be time to reassess. 

Numerous studies, including this one from Harvard Health Publishing and the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), show a relationship between heightened ADHD symptoms and excessive social media use. 

It’s like pouring espresso shots into an energy drink—stimulating but potentially overwhelming.

redbull and coffee adhd meme

So, what’s the real deal? 

Does social media amplify your ADHD symptoms, or is it a convenient scapegoat? 

Either way, the science says you should be cautious. 

Overstimulation from social media notifications can kick your ADHD symptoms up a notch, turning your mental playlist from shuffle to chaos mode.

Role of Social Media in the Rise of ADHD Diagnoses

Alright, let’s address the elephant in the room. 

Has the meteoric rise of social media contributed to an uptick in ADHD diagnoses? 

There’s a rising concern for false ADHD diagnoses, but a U.S. national survey from 2006 reported that only 11% of adults with ADHD were accessing treatment

And untreated ADHD has major health implication and elevated risk of substance abuse, depression, anxiety, car accidents, and suicide.

More people are now starting to understand the condition thanks to information online.

This is particularly true for women with ADHD and people of colour who have long been let down by medical research. 

This increased awareness, understanding, and fading stigma, can help people with undiagnosed ADHD recognise their symptoms and seek treatment.

As of October 2023, the hashtag #adhd has 32 billion views on TikTok and many credit social media platforms with helping them recognise symptoms, get a diagnosis, and seek treatment.

Diagnostic criteria is also starting to capture (albeit slowly) more marginalized population groups.

While some are concerned about ADHD overdiagnosis, major population groups remain underdiagnosed and face severe health implications.

Does Social Media Cause ADHD? 🧐

The million-dollar question! 

There’s no clear evidence to suggest that using social media causes ADHD. 

Research has found that children with higher digital media use have a higher rate of ADHD-related symptoms.

But it's difficult to argue for causation between the two, as genetic, family or other factors might be influencing both the higher ADHD symptom rate and the higher smartphone use, according to a 2022 Harvard Article.

Having ADHD symptoms often leads to higher digital media use due to dopamine-seeking behaviour. 

So it’s a chicken and egg kinda situation.

But what is clear is that social media platforms, designed to seize and hold your attention, become even more gripping when you add ADHD into the mix. 

They're engineered to feed you bite-sized pieces of content, perfect for the ADHD brain that thrives on quick hits of stimulation.

However, let’s make one thing clear: while the high-speed, ever-changing nature of social media can exacerbate ADHD symptoms, it’s not a confirmed causative agent. 

There are a lot of hypotheses about why social media heightens ADHD symptoms, including:

  • Disrupting sleep
  • Displacing time used for health-promoting activities (e.g. exercise)
  • Using up attentional resources to scan and shift through fast-paced social media

"Excessive use of electronic media has been found to be associated with physical and psychological adverse consequences including poor sleep, decreased social coping, and increased ADHD symptoms"

That is to say: social media can stir the pot, but it may not be the one initially lighting the fire. Still, if you find your ADHD symptoms flaring up with each swipe, tweet, or post, it might be time for some self-reflection.

The Pros of Social Media for ADHD ✅

Before you decide to nuke all your social media accounts, let’s chat about the silver linings.

Social media can be an incredible resource for ADHD management and a wonderful way to connect with like-minded individuals. 

Community

The power of community shouldn't be underestimated; it's a tool for discovery, support, and shared understanding.

Online communities create a sense of belonging; they help us to feel less alone.

Connecting with people sharing the same diagnosis can help you feel less misunderstood and lonely.

Online communities can provide this much needed sense of belonginess and a group of people who understand your struggles.

You can find your tribe online—a tribe that gets the challenges of forgetting appointments or the beauty of hyperfocus. 

Awareness

Instagram has infographics, reels, and posts that can make ADHD education more accessible and less intimidating.

Social media and User Generated Content (UGC) is helping women and people of colour identify possible symptoms.

Social media is creating awareness, de-stigmatising mental health, and prompting people to seek help.

Virtual Coworking & ADHD Body Doubling Online

From ADHD coworking to online body doubling groups on Facebook, these platforms can offer invaluable resources that can bring people together, help them get things done and offersupport, understanding and camaraderie.

The Key Take Away?

Your social platforms can be more than just a highlight reel. 

They can be a library, a support group, and a classroom rolled into one.

The Cons of Social Media for ADHD ❌

Now, we must venture into the darker corners. 

The perils of social media for the ADHD mind are numerous and multifaceted. 

The instant gratification of a new like or comment offers a quick dopamine hit, fueling a cycle of impulsivity and instant reward-seeking behaviour.

adhd and social media trying to be productive adhd meme

Worsening Of ADHD Symptoms 🧠

We said what we said.

Social media feeds dopamine-seeking behaviors in people with ADHD. It can supercharge impulsivity and reduce productivity. It demands our attention while shortening our attention span. 

It’s easy to see how a daily scroll through your socials can quickly become an…

Misinformation ℹ️

Social media might be great for busting myths and breaking down stigmas, but there’s also the potential to spread misinformation. 

According to this study, 52% of the 100 most popular videos on TikTok contain misleading information.

Addiction 😯

From a quick check-in to see the latest posts, it’s an easy slide into the swamp of social media addiction. 

The constant need for the newest updates keeps you chained to your device, affecting both your mental well-being and productivity.

According to a Havard article, the shares, likes and comments from social media trigger the brain’s reward center, “resulting in a high similar to the one people feel when gambling or using drugs”. 

It’s easy to see how people with ADHD turn to social media for a quick fix of dopamine - and how this habit can quickly become an addiction. 

Depression & Anxiety 😔

Endlessly scrolling through curated lives and success stories can stir a sense of inadequacy, thus fanning the flames of depression and anxiety. 

The constant comparison with others can be soul-crushing, especially when the ADHD brain already leans towards self-critical thoughts.

Poor Sleep 😴

ADHD and poor sleep quality go hand in hand.

40-80% of people with ADHD struggle with sleep disorders, yet this symptom is often overlooked.

A late night doom scroll increases exposure to blue light and causes all sorts of sleep-related issues, including insomnia, disrupted sleeping, and difficulty waking up in the day.

Sound familiar?

Check out our blog ‘ADHD Difficulty Waking Up In The Morning’ for practical tips on how to sleep better with ADHD.

Instant Gratification 😍

Those hearts, thumbs-ups, and emoticons—they're more than just pixels on a screen; they're digital validation. 

However, this dopamine rush is short-lived and can lead to an addictive loop, pushing you to seek out the next immediate reward.

Deterioration in Productivity 😬

We’ve all been there—picking up the phone for a "quick" social media check, only to find that hours have slipped away. 

In fact, this report shows that the average person spends 1.5 hours on TikTok each day! 

This deterioration in productivity is especially lethal when you're grappling with ADHD, where time management is already a hurdle.

approaching deadlines adhd meme

6 Strategies to Break the Social Media Addiction

Enough talk. 

It’s time for action. 

Here's a toolbox of practical strategies to help you reign in your social media habits:

1. Step back and evaluate your social media use 🧠

The first step in any form of recovery is acknowledgement. 

Take a deep dive into your screen time stats. 

Are you OK with the hours you're giving away to social media? 

If not, it’s time to make a change.

2. Plan & schedule your social media use ⏰

Start treating your social media time like any other appointment in your calendar. 

Limit yourself to specific time slots during the day. 

Utilise tools like an accountability partner app to keep you in check.

3. Turn off notifications 📲

Every ding and buzz is a siren call for distraction. 

Turn off all non-essential notifications to take back control of your attention span.

4. Ditch your phone before bed 📵

The hour before bedtime should be a sanctuary for winding down. 

Instead of filling this time with the chaos of social media, opt for more calming activities (like reading).

5. Find replacement activities 📒

Distraction can be a powerful tool when used right. 

Instead of reaching for your phone, reach for a book, lace up your running shoes, or even indulge in some mindful colouring. 

For more valuable insights into managing ADHD, don’t hesitate to check out our ADHD Ultimate Guide.

Looking for a social-media-free dopamine hit? Check out our guide for 10 Natural Ways to Increase Your Dopamine.

Having ADHD tricking your brain meme

6. Delete social media (last resort) ❌

If you find that moderation is simply not working, the nuclear option is to delete your apps. 

It’s drastic but could be necessary for reclaiming your mental space.

Final Thoughts 💭

So, as we bring this exploration to a close, let’s be crystal clear—being mindful of your social media use is not just about reducing screen time; it’s about enhancing the quality of your real-world time. 

You should be the master of your social media experiences, not an unwitting pawn in a game of digital distraction.

And there you have it—a comprehensive analysis of the intricate relationship between ADHD and social media, brought to you by Deepwrk. 

Ready to break free? 

Well, you’ve got the strategies and insights now.

Go ahead and take the reins—you’ve got this, and remember, we're always here to back you up!

FAQs ❓

Does quitting social media help with ADHD?

Yes and no.

Social media can contribute to issues such as depression, insomnia, addiction and can even worsen ADHD symptoms.

Reducing or quitting social media can certainly limit distractions and may improve focus.

At the same time, it can greatly help increase awareness, generate understanding, and help you find a community. 

Why is ADHD trending on social media?

ADHD is trending because awareness is growing, and with this increased visibility comes both support and scrutiny. 

Social media provides a platform for discussions that can lead to both enlightenment and controversy.

Can social media make ADHD worse?

While it won't necessarily "cause" ADHD, excessive social media use can aggravate existing symptoms, making management more challenging.

Sources & References

  1. Elie Abdelnour, Madeline O. Jansen, Jessica A. Gold. (2022). ADHD Diagnostic Trends: Increased Recognition or Overdiagnosis?
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC9616454/
  2. Lisa B. Thorell, Jonas Burén, Johanna Ström Wiman, David Sandberg & Sissela B. Nutley. (2022). Longitudinal associations between digital media use and ADHD symptoms in children and adolescents: a systematic literature review. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00787-022-02130-3
  3. Anthony Yeung, Enoch Ng, and Elia Abi-Jaoude. (2022). TikTok and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Cross-Sectional Study of Social Media Content Quality.
    https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/07067437221082854
  4. Winston Chung, Sheng-Fang Jiang, Diana Paksarian, et al. (2019)Trends in the Prevalence and Incidence of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adults and Children of Different Racial and Ethnic Groups. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2753787
  5. Chaelin K. Ra; Junhan Cho; Matthew D. Stone; et al. (2018). Association of Digital Media Use With Subsequent Symptoms of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Among Adolescents. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2687861
  6. Dora Wynchank, Denise Bijlenga, Aartjan T. Beekman, J. J. Sandra Kooij, and Brenda W. Penninx. (2017). Adult Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Insomnia: an Update of the Literature. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11920-017-0860-0
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Demi Aspey
Demi is the founder of the creative agency, Sonder Script, a culture columnist for House of Coco magazine, a part-time lecturer, and a soon-to-be Doctor in screenwriting. She is a scriptwriter by speciality and a copywriting cultivator by trade. Demi is a mental health advocate and was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult.