APR 21, 2022 3:00 AM PDT

An Emerging Need to Diagnose Maladaptive Daydreaming

WRITTEN BY: Katie Kokolus

Maladaptive daydreaming (MD), also called daydreaming disorder, occurs in people who experience intense daydreams on a regular basis. These daydreams can become so vivid that the individual cannot distinguish between reality and fantasy. While undergoing a daydream, an MDer can become extraordinarily distracted and unable to function normally or engage with others.  

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder characterized by difficulty paying attention and impaired impulse control. Typical symptoms of ADHD include forgetfulness, losing things, fidgeting, and making mistakes. An additional sign of ADHD is frequent daydreams.

The American Psychiatric Association does not recognize MD with formal diagnostic criteria, and MD is not included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Thus, the overlapping symptoms of MD and ADHD may complicate the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment planning. Individuals experiencing excessive daydreaming have indicated that unclear diagnoses hinder their inability to communicate their symptoms to doctors and manage their condition effectively. In turn, many MDers feel that available diagnoses are insufficient and unhelpful, and this has encouraged some experts to call for specific criteria for a distinct MD diagnosis.    

A recent paper published in Frontiers in Psychiatry addresses potential complications stemming from an inability to differentiate between MD and ADHD. The study assessed 83 adults diagnosed with ADHD for MD symptoms and signs of mental wellness such as depression, loneliness, and self-esteem. The researchers found that the cohort of patients exhibiting high MD tendencies experienced increased depression and loneliness as well as low self-esteem compared to the patients who did not experience MD symptoms.   

The study found that MD and ADHD are associated with unique and distinct clinical characteristics.  The findings indicate that some patients exhibiting ADHD symptoms would benefit if doctors considered MD as the underlying condition.  The authors suggest that considering MD separately from ADHD could help develop a clearer, more accurate clinical picture and enhance disease management and treatment options.


Sources: Conscious Cogn, Front Psychiatry, Front Psychiatry

About the Author
Doctorate (PhD)
I received a PhD in Tumor Immunology from SUNY Buffalo and BS and MS degrees from Duquesne University. I also completed a postdoc fellowship at the Penn State College of Medicine. I am interested in developing novel strategies to improve the efficacy of immunotherapies used to extend cancer survivorship.
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