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ADHD and Social Media

Studies show that social media can damage young people’s mental well-being. Some researchers and parents allege that social media use may worsen certain mental health issues, such as ADHD. Below, we explore the links between ADHD and social media use.

What is the relationship between social media and ADHD?

The exact link between social media and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is being researched. But some research shows that social media has a negative impact on attention and may even contribute to attention disorders like ADHD.

One report found emergency room visits for kids ages 5 –17 with attention disorder concerns increased by 40% between 2007 and 2016.  In this same period, social media use has grown substantially. Platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook had hundreds of millions of users each by 2016. 

For now, scientific studies are investigating how social media specifically impacts attention. One study of Lebanese adults found that problematic social media use was linked to both ADHD and anxiety symptoms. 

It is possible that the effects may be worse in younger people, as the brains of children and adolescents are still developing.  Another study of American high school students found that frequent social media use was associated with ADHD symptoms. 

Symptoms of ADHD

Symptoms of ADHD fall into two categories: hyperactivity/impulsivity and inattention. 

  • Hyperactivity and impulsivity: Hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms may include fidgeting, running or climbing at inappropriate times, excessive talking, trouble waiting turns and frequently interrupting others. This subtype of ADHD is called ADHD-Hyperactive or ADHD-H.
  • Inattention: Inattentive symptoms may include trouble holding attention on tasks or organizing tasks, frequently losing materials for tasks and becoming easily distracted. This subtype of ADHD is called ADHD-Inattentive or ADHD-I.

People who exhibit behaviors from both subtypes may be termed ADHD-C or ADHD-Combined.

Diagnosis of ADHD requires evaluation by a medical professional. If you believe your child may be struggling with an attention disorder, a doctor or mental health professional can provide a diagnosis and treatment plan to help.

Speak with your doctor if you feel your child’s ADHD symptoms have worsened from social media use. Your doctor’s evaluation may be helpful if you decide to pursue a social media harm lawsuit.

Contact a social media mental health attorney 

Motley Rice is reviewing allegations that multiple social media platforms intentionally and deliberately designed their social media apps without regard for the safety of children.

Our thoughts go out to those affected by attention disorders, suicide, self-harm and eating disorders worsened by social media. 

Call attorney Jonathan Orent at 1.800.768.4026 or complete this form to explore your options.

Why might ADHD worsen because of social media use?

ADHD, like many other mental health issues, may worsen because of how social media apps are designed.  Like slot machines, social media apps manipulate psychology to maximize a person’s time and attention.  This can be especially harmful for children with existing attention disorders, like ADHD.

Social media apps capture attention through: 

  • Flow states triggered by endless feeds. These feeds continue to provide content as long as users keep the social media platform open. 
  • Intermittent variable rewards, such as delayed notifications of likes and shares of content, that maximize dopamine release. This can be especially impactful on children, whose developing brains are substantially affected by dopamine rushes. 
  • Notifications that frequently may draw a person’s attention back to a social media app they’ve closed.

These elements of social media platforms may worsen attention capacity for people with conditions like ADHD. 

For example, people with ADHD may experience scrolling paralysis because of the endless content in their feed. ADHD scrolling paralysis can occur when a person with ADHD is overloaded with information, causing them to become transfixed and stop functioning effectively. 

How specific social media platforms may worsen ADHD

While each major social media platform may offer different experiences to users, they also come with different features that can worsen ADHD. For example:

  • Facebook and Instagram: Facebook and Instagram both offer short-form video features. Instagram’s feature is called “Reels,” which automatically plays videos as a user encounters them on their feed.  These videos, which can’t be longer than 90 seconds and can’t be paused, continue automatically when the previous one ends.  Comments will pop up at times determined by Meta’s algorithms to retain a user’s attention. 
  • Snapchat: Snap Streaks are a tally of how often two users have sent a Snap to each other over consecutive days, starting from when the users have done this for three days.  This feature is designed to be addictive and may be especially problematic for teens. ,  Snapchat will also send users notifications with hourglass emojis when they risk breaking a Streak, creating a sense of urgency to pay attention to the app. 
  • TikTok: TikTok’s algorithm may make ADHD worse. The app’s algorithm measures every interaction and hesitation with its content to refine the endless stream of content it provides users.  It is so effective at maintaining attention that a TikTok-sponsored study found it was about twice as effective as other platforms at keeping people’s attention. 

Additional harms alleged to be caused by social media use

In addition to the risk of worsening ADHD, the design of social media platforms may also lead to: 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Self-harm
  • Social media addiction
  • Suicide

Learn more about the dangers of social media here.

Our experience helping families stand against tech companies

Motley Rice attorneys have worked for decades fighting for families and people. Our experience includes representing people suing tech companies over harm they’ve suffered. 

You may be eligible to file a lawsuit for social media harm if you or your child experienced the following harms you believe were caused by social media:

  • Attempted or died by suicide
  • Received treatment for self-harm
  • Received a diagnosis of a mental health disorder from a healthcare professional

If you believe these conditions were caused or worsened by social media and you need help filing a lawsuit for social media harm, please contact us. Your well-being is important to our team.

Read more about filing a social media lawsuit.

  1. ABC News. Experts warn parents how Snapchat can hook in teens with streaks.
  2. American Psychological Association. Why young brains are especially vulnerable to social media.
  3. Attention Deficit Disorder Association (ADDA). ADHD Paralysis Is Real: Here Are 8 Ways To Overcome It.
  4. CDC. Symptoms and Diagnosis of ADHD.
  5. Farchakh Y, Dagher M, Barbar S, Haddad C, Akel M, Hallit S, et al. Association between problematic social media use and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder in a sample of lebanese adults. Prim Care Companion CNS Disord. 2022 Feb 24;24(2):39795.
  6. Gugushvili N, Täht K, Ruiter RAC, Verduyn P. Facebook use intensity and depressive symptoms: a moderated mediation model of problematic Facebook use, age, neuroticism, and extraversion. BMC Psychology. 2022 Nov 28;10(1):279.
  7. Lo, B., Bridge, J., Shi, J., Ludwig, L., Stanley, R. Children’s Mental Health Emergency Department Visits: 2007–2016. Pediatrics. 2020 June;145(6):e20191536.
  8. Núñez-Jaramillo L, Herrera-Solís A, Herrera-Morales WV. ADHD: reviewing the causes and evaluating solutions. J Pers Med. 2021 Mar 1;11(3):166.
  9. American Psychological Association. Speaking of Psychology: Why our attention spans are shrinking, with Gloria Mark, PhD
  10. Ra CK, Cho J, Stone MD, Cerda JDL, Goldenson NI, Moroney E, et al. Association of digital media use with subsequent symptoms of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder among adolescents. JAMA. 2018 Jul 17;320(3):255–63.
  11. TechCrunch. Instagram hits 1 billion monthly users, up from 800M in September.
  12. TikTok. TikTok Ads Break Through Better Than TV And Drive Greater Audience Engagement.

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