ADHD and gaming

Although ADHD symptoms are presented different in girls than in boys, for me there is one aspect that makes me fit the stereotype boy with ADHD. I am a gamer. I own a wii, an x-box, a playstation and my laptop and phone are filled with games. Everyday I spend at least one hour playing a game, but keeping this time within this hour is the most difficult thing I have to do every day.

When I’m in control of my ADHD devil, when things are well and life is bright, I don’t do any real gaming. I use the games on my phone to wake me up in the morning, to recharge me in the office and relax me at night, but I am able to resist my consoles and computer, I am able to minimize my gaming time and resist real gaming. However, when the chaos grows inside me, I start to spend more and more time behind a screen, often unable to stop playing, getting completely lost.

Common problem

Gaming addiction is a common problem amongst ADHD brains, some parents are even afraid that gaming causes their child to develop ADHD. Off course this is not true, however, a child spending too much time behind a screen might be a sign of this child having an ADHD devil inside his or her mind.

ADHD devils seem to have a weak spot for gaming, there is something about games that makes the devil so interested that it is almost impossible to win the fight against his gaming interests. At least for me, gaming has become a kind of self-medication, a tricky one, because I always have to be careful to not spend too much time playing.

Gaming works, it slows down the chaos inside me, however, addiction to gaming is a big risk because of my devil. I always have to fight him in order to stop, or not begin and this is what makes gaming dangerous. On one side, gaming makes me feel better, but it is also a sign of me being not in control, finding the balance between gaming to relax and a gaming obsession is hard. Let’s first look at why games are so irresistible for the ADHD devil.

Concentrate without a fight

ADHD brains have trouble concentrating, paying attention to someone’s words or a book is often very hard for us. Gaming however, is designed to catch someone’s attention. All the action, images, sounds, movements, there is so much happing in a game that it is almost impossible to not pay attention to it.

Games are designed to keep your mind from wondering, they support your attention. For ADHD brains, gaming is one of the few things for which they don’t need to fight extremely hard to stay focussed, one of the few things that makes us feel like we are able to pay attention without a million thoughts rushing through our minds to distract us.

Hyperfocus

The game’s constant flickering of light and sound effects are not the only reason we are able to stay focussed. There are a lot of games that are a mix between times of action and times of rest, most of the games I play have this, and they pair perfectly together with my hyperfocus.

I mostly play MOBA’s (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena’s), like Dota or Smite and open world games, like the Elder scrolls or Assassin’s creed. The first type is a game that takes 20-40 minutes in which a lot needs to happen. The second type contains fights or missions that take about the same amount of time, but in between there is time to discover the map, talk to locals or hunt animals.

The timeframe of 20-40 minutes matches precisely with the time I’m able to hyperfocus, the time I’m able to enter a state of complete concentration. The short bursts of action in these games make me able to fully concentrate when it is needed, recharge when it’s over and when I regain my hyperfocus powers I can start again. The concentration time needed to play these games simply matches the concentration my ADHD brain can give me, and this match it a rare one.

Rewards

The way to get things done with an ADHD devil, is to add rewards and challenges and gaming has both of these, in a very quick and clear way. Every fight, every needed burst of concentration is a challenge, mostly killing the opponent and be better than the person (or the script) we’re playing against. This challenge catches the interest of the devil and winning becomes all he, and you, can think about.

But more important than the challenge is the reward it comes with. Every enemy you kill, every mission you complete immediately rewards you. Every move you make in a game has a certain reward and this is what makes gaming addictive for ADHD brains. The devil lives for rewards, and determines his interest by the rewards he will get from a certain activity.

ADHD brains don’t do things because they are important, the things we do are mostly depending on what they will give us, the reward we get from them. For ADHD brains, gaming often makes more sense compared to doing homework or cleaning. Real life things often lack the immediate and specific rewards that games have and this is why we choose gaming instead of a pile of dishes.

Dopamine

Gaming releases dopamine, and dopamine is what causes difficulties inside ADHD brains. We have a problem with balancing the dopamine levels inside our brain, and most of the ADHD medication is based on increasing the amount of dopamine, meaning that gaming, in a way, is a kind of self-medication for ADHD.

ADHD brains search for stimulation that can increase dopamine quickly and intensely. We pursue pleasurable rewards and gaming is a tool to provide us with our needed rushes of dopamine. Especially when there is a lot of action in the game, our dopamine levels rise to a pleasurable amount and this is what we look for in everything we do.

Besides, gaming is an easily available source of dopamine, much safer than for example drugs or skydiving. It’s easy to start a game, it’s always within reach and this is what makes gaming a great source of dopamine for ADHD brains.

How does it feel?

Gaming makes me able to concentrate, it gives me the challenges and rewards I need to start it, and the dopamine that’s released in my brain while gaming makes me feel good. However, the reason gaming seems irresistible for me is not purely based on these facts, it is also about the way I feel when I’m gaming, what the facts result in.

When I game, a silence appears inside my mind. I no longer get distracted, I no longer have to fight to keep my attention. When I game, I just game and I feel normal. It is a blessing for me to do something I don’t have to fight for, it is so rare for me to do something that doesn’t require a fight before I can get started nor do I need to force myself to remain focussed. I can just start and enjoy.

Almost everything I do in a day requires me to motivate myself, mentally prepare for starting it, tricking my devil or building my motivational bridge. Doing something that seems to come natural almost never occurs, however something I do need.

Life doesn’t always need to be a fight, I don’t always have to struggle to do something. Me being able to game, able to do something for which I don’t need to fight, is what calms me down. Gaming relaxes me because the struggle stops and I can just do one thing that doesn’t require strength. I can give in and my fireworks of thoughts disappear, I create a peace inside me.

Addiction

No matter how good gaming makes me feel, how at peace I feel while playing, I have to be careful to limit the time I spend glued to a screen. Although gaming makes me feel good when I play 1 or 2 hours a day, more will make me feel worse, it will reverse the positive effect.

Gaming is like candy, some sweets a days are nice, but as soon as you start to replace other meals with it, they will become extremely bad for you. Not only will you enjoy the taste of the candy less, you will also start to get unhealthy from the sugar that is damaging your body.

The same goes for gaming. Too much will make you experience the dopamine reward less, soon you’ll need more and more hours, more and more wins, to feel the the same effect, like with any other kind of addiction actually. Besides, too much gaming time disconnects you from the real world, it makes you miss out in the things in life that seem less rewarding in the first place but are actually more important and even more beneficial on long term.

Balance

It is true that gaming has many benefits for ADHD brains, however, balance is import to remain experiencing these benefits. A limited amount of time can boost your concentration and calm down the chaos, but it is important to remember that these benefits will only be helpful when you limit the dose of gaming. It is ok to use gaming as a self-medication, however, it should never become an escape, a tool to procrastinate the things that are important in real life.

Previous week, I got caught up in my games too much, spending whole days glues to my screen and this made me feel terrible. I didn’t succeed in the things I needed to do, I didn’t eat, get dressed or anything else and I basically felt guilty and ashamed the whole time. Gaming this much didn’t provide me with the joy that comes from a dopamine rush, instead, I felt angry at myself, angry at my inability to stop and do something else, it made me feel really bad.

Now I got back to my normal gaming schedule and this makes me feel the benefits of gaming again. In a way, I use games as a reward for the things I get done in real life, the things I need to do and this way I am able to enjoy the dopamine rush as well as getting things done and feel proud about that. Balance is extremely important when it comes to gaming, or actually for everything in life. ADHD brains have to learn how to balance, but gaming is allowed to be part of this balance, it is allowed to be part of our self-treatment.

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