ADHD Linked to Social Media, Texting and Other Digital Media in Study

Researchers believe ADHD could be linked to digital media use in teenagers. Getty Images

Teenagers who frequently text and use social media could be at greater risk of developing attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study.

As digital media, from texting to video chatting and social networks, becomes more prevalent than ever before, researchers are seeking to understand whether it is linked to ADHD symptoms. The American Psychiatric Association states 5 percent of children have ADHD, however the figure could be higher according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The research team at the University of Southern California reached its conclusion by studying 2,587 high school students from Los Angeles County who did not have symptoms of ADHD. The participants were surveyed in September 2014 and once more in December 2016.

Researchers asked the participants whether they used various forms of digital media, including social media and texting apps. They also quizzed the teenagers on whether they experienced 18 symptoms of ADHD six months prior to each survey.

The results indicated using digital media frequently could be tied with the development of ADHD over a 24-month period. But further research is needed to confirm whether there was a causal link.

"Among adolescents followed up over two years, there was a statistically significant but modest association between higher frequency of digital media use and subsequent symptoms of ADHD," the authors noted.

The authors of the study, published in the journal JAMA,acknowledged their study was limited by the fact that the teenagers rated their ADHD symptoms and were not diagnosed with the condition. Some students may have had undiagnosed ADHD prior to joining the study.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental conditions of childhood. Those with the disorder may be overly active, find it hard to pay attention and may act without thinking of the consequences.

Other symptoms include daydreaming, being forgetful, fidgeting and talking excessively.

Related: Most American toddlers eat more than the recommended sugar intake for adults, study shows

Scientists aren't sure, however, what causes ADHD, but genetics are believed to play a role. Other possible risk factors could include exposure to harmful substances—such as lead, tobacco or alcohol—in the womb or in infancy; as well as brain injuries, premature birth and a low birth weight.

Because the symptoms of ADHD are shared with other disorders, such as anxiety and depression, diagnosing the condition can be a multistep process.

The research follows a study published in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society, which suggested signs of ADHD can be detected in the brain from an early age.

The team at the Kennedy Krieger Institute scanned the brains of 90 4- and 5-year-olds. They found reduced volume in the cerebral cortex in participants with ADHD.