Maladaptive Daydreaming

There’s nothing wrong with a little daydreaming. In fact, as I wrote about last year, certain kinds of daydreaming are associated with having a greater sense of purpose in life.

But there can be something wrong with too much daydreaming. As I’ve also written about, some people lose control over their daydreams – their daydreams become distressing and start to interfere with daily life. Psychologists refer to this as maladaptive daydreaming or sometimes even daydreaming disorder.

And now, a new study has provided some of the clearest evidence yet that maladaptive daydreaming is more than just too much of a good thing. Rather, maladaptive daydreaming appears to come hand-in-hand with real implications for mental health and to be highly associated with several mental health conditions.

In the study, researchers surveyed 39 people who showed symptoms of maladaptive daydreaming. The researchers were especially interested in whether the participants showed symptoms of any “comorbid” conditions – that is, psychiatric disorders other than maladaptive daydreaming.

And did they ever. As it turned out, three-quarters of the participants met diagnostic criteria for at least three additional disorders, and over forty percent met criteria for at least four.

The most common comorbid condition was ADHD, which 77 percent of participants met the diagnostic threshold for. In a way, it makes sense that people who lose control over their daydreams would also tend to have clinical levels of inattention.

Seventy two percent of the participants also met criteria for anxiety disorders, and two-thirds had depression. Fifty four percent had OCD or an OCD-like disorder. Finally, twenty eight percent of the people with maladaptive daydreaming had attempted suicide at least once.

These results paint a pretty stark picture: maladaptive daydreaming correlates with a range of serious mental health problems. But knowing this also provides hope. Clinicians can use this information to better spot people at risk for a variety of mental health conditions, and ultimately to provide more effective treatment for people who suffer from distressing levels of daydreaming, often along with other disorders.

Image: Public Domain