As shown in a recent report, several people with ADHD, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, may benefit from a diagnosis of 'maladaptive daydreaming.'
Daydreaming is a common occurrence in which the mind becomes engrossed in a fictitious situation. For most people, daydreaming is a fun, brief diversion from reality, but for others, it can become severe, lasting hours or even days.
Indeed, several other people can fritter away half of their waking moments in their own mental world, finding it challenging to engage in daily life.
Maladaptive daydreaming (MD) is not presently recognized as a distinct mental condition in and of itself; instead, due to its ability to affect attention, it is commonly classified as a symptom of disorders such as ADHD.
According to studies, approximately 77 percent of people who suffer from MD are also medicated with ADHD. However, just because these conditions correlate does not imply that they are the same thing. Recently, psychologists discovered evidence that MD is a distinct disorder in and of itself.
ADHD is defined by a "disregulated attention system," which can result in moments of hyperfocus and apparent lack of attention. Maladaptive daydreaming, on the other hand, is more akin to an addictive behaviour that draws the mind back into elaborate and immersive states of imagination.
Study revealed that just over 20% of a tiny minority of 83 people with ADHD also screened positive for MD; this is significantly lower than the percentage of individuals with MD who also met the criteria for ADHD.
This indicates that the two disorders are indeed distinct.
"If we would have found symmetrically high rates of MD among ADHD adults, it would have been fair to claim that the newer concept of MD is superfluous, as it is almost equivalent to the already-existing diagnosis of ADHD," the authors explain.
"However, the asymmetry found in this study agrees with our theoretical claim that MD is an independent mental phenomenon, which often creates a deficit in attention as a side-effect."
More study is warranted to confirm the notion of MD as a different psychiatric disorder, but proof from this small study indicates that MD is fundamentally distinct from typical ADHD.
Respondents who match the requirements for maladaptive daydreaming reported struggles having to give their full attention to tasks until it was completed in survey questions, not quite in the same case that ADHD tests describe.
Instead, participants claimed that they self-directed their own daydreams, immersing themselves in lucid and surreal scenarios that made it difficult to fixate on external responsibilities.
Their inability to pay attention appeared to be secondary to their proclivity for daydreaming.
"We maintain that the diagnosis of ADHD does not adequately describe the problem in such cases," the authors conclude.
The concept is proposed further by the fact that respondents who fulfilled both the MD and ADHD characteristics observed radically higher levels of psychological disorder than others who only met the ADHD criteria.
This shows that increased daydreaming may be motivated by an eagerness to liberate from depressive thoughts, low self-esteem, or loneliness, per the authors.
This research is valuable because, if MD and ADHD have varying underlying factors, they may not respond to the same treatments.
"If your ADHD stems from general mind-wandering with ever-changing distractions (which is characteristic of typical ADHD), you may need different treatment than if you find yourself compulsively drawn to engage in elaborate, narrative, vivid, and highly emotional fantasies (characteristic of MD)," psychologist Nirit Soffer-Dudek explained to PsyPost.
"If it is the latter, we suggest seeking psychological help, and introducing to the clinician the concept of MD, which has been researched extensively in the past years, but is still quite unknown."
It's difficult to say how many people have MD without a thorough understanding of the condition.