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ADHD and “Hyperfixation”

Nearly everyone has been so involved, so enraptured and so fixated on one thing that time slips by unscathed. Hyperfocus and hyperfixation seem to be more common in those with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity disorder. Recently, I have been thinking about Addiction, Hyperfixating, and Hyperfocusing. These are the differences I see.

What is Hyperfixation?

  • You love video games.
  • It’s a time-consuming hobby.
  • Social media can take over our evenings and even days.
  • Watch a show that you love and binge-watch it.
  • Knitting. Crafts. You can search online for vintage Barbies.

These activities can be our go-to activity when we feel overwhelmed, sad, or anxious. I need a break. “I just need to relax. Relax. Do not think about it.”

We are happy to lose ourselves in The Crown or Minecraft, or designing our dream home. All very well.

  • This state is known as Hyperfocus in ADHD.
  • It is sometimes called being “in the zone” or “completely engaged”.

Hyperfixation is a different kind of obsession. Hyperfixation is not only present at the moment but is obsessed with something. It’s great if it’s healthy or at the very least harmless.

This could become a way to self-medicate ADHD. Running, which is a high-risk activity, hunting for bargains or hunting for sex can become addictive. There are many ways to get the ADHD brain working so that it can produce the neurotransmitters it needs. To generate adrenaline, we take risks. Our adrenal glands become overworked and we need to take bigger risks in order to generate adrenaline.

My brain is engaged when I am building a model. It requires precision, craftsmanship, care and creativity. It’s all about the moment. Hyperfocussed. All worries and cares of the day disappear. (Temporarily.)

Model railroading has been an enjoyable hobby for me most of my adult life. It can be a source of comfort, a way to escape from the daily grind, and a way to avoid doing what is necessary. Mindful Meditation is a form I use to meditate on model railroading. Numerous studies have demonstrated that it can rewire ADHD brains. Or any brain. The impact of ADHD on people can be dramatic and lasts for a surprising amount of time, as this Mindfulness & ADHD video explains.

It’s relaxing. It helps me to relax. Some of the other comedians I know are skilled in needlepoint, knitting and wood-working. They also collect sheet music and antique toys. They are hyper-focused at the moment. It’s something they return to over and over… Hyperfixation. A passion.

What is the Difference between Addiction and Hyperfixation?

It’s in one sense a matter of degree. Addiction is a persistent craving. Friends who have overcome an addiction to a substance are aware that they will continue to be tempted to use drugs and alcohol to get solace. Even if they haven’t had a drink for 15 years, they won’t admit to being an alcoholic. They simply say that they are an alcoholic.

It’s always there Hyperfocus is something else. It’s intense. It’s over. The spell is over if I am locked into something. My parents had a huge collection of murder mysteries that they kept on their book shelves. To pass the time, I pulled out an Agatha Christie mystery book to read on a rainy day. I was hooked. I read all 20 of her books in the bookcase and was hooked. Then, I decided to try a Nero Wolfe mystery. After reading all fifteen of her novels, I was ready to try the Ngaio Marsh mysteries. They were all read one after the other.

Then nothing. In the 20 years that followed, I have not read a murder mystery. Hyperfocus is different from addiction. Hyperfocus can help me in my career or develop skills. Hyperfocus can have a positive impact. It’s called “An Adaptive Strategy” by a doctor. While an Addiction may have a short-term upside (Ahhh… So Good ), long-term it’s “Maladaptive.” Unsustainable.

Recovering Workaholic, I discovered the costs of working hard to feel good. This included burnout, exhaustion, divorce, and having no close friends. Producing so many comedy shows had its benefits. It became exhausting when it was all I had in my daily life. Depressing. It was a sad sight.

Dependence or Addiction

The difference between Addiction and Hyperfixation is for me like the difference between Dependence and Addiction. I was told by a doctor that ADHD medication might cause dependency but were not addictive. So, I asked him, “What’s it?”

He said, “You might depend on a cup or four of coffee in the morning to feel focused. But, if you don’t have coffee, you won’t go out and steal corner shops to buy a large latte.

Addiction can be Extreme All-Consuming

If you don’t get your fix of your addiction, your emotions can go wild, your mood swings will become extreme, and you may develop physical symptoms. Gene Hackman, in French Connection 2, is the scene I think of. (Good film, BTW.)

  • Addiction can strike at any hour of the day. There is always a need.
  • Hyperfixation, however, is not something you need to do all the time.

Hyperfixation Habits

It could be a videogame, a hobby, TV show, or in my case, building my model railroad. This is an activity you can get involved in for a while. It is likely that you will find it relaxing, soothing, and comforting. Maybe even restorative or healing.

My model railroad allows me to lose myself in creative problem solving and crafting an imaginary world. I don’t crave trains all day. If I don’t go to my railroad for more than a week, I don’t feel like I’m shaking, shivering or exploding with anger.

Actually, I might find another thing to hyperfixate on and not touch railroads for months. I was introduced to the Diabolo a few years back and spent the majority of my summer learning how to use the spinning toy. I moved on to another thing just as quickly. I have a new interest.