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Hobbies and ADHD

Google tells us that a hobby is “an activity done in one’s leisure time for pleasure.”

This definition exudes moderation, relaxation. The key words here are “leisure” and “pleasure.” It makes me think of someone lazily puttering around the garden on a sunny weekend.

It’s also not a definition I find especially relateable. I’ve never really thought of myself as having “hobbies” although I guess I do, in a technical sense.

PhotographerInstead, I have two lists of activities. The first is a relatively short list of activities that I’m currently attached with a laser-like, almost addictive or obsessive, interest. These are the activities that can bring out hyperfocus.

The second, longer list includes all the activities that sound enjoyable in theory but that I haven’t gotten around to yet. Some items will stay on this second list indefinitely, forever in hobby limbo.

People with ADHD tend to constantly be seeking out reward and stimulation. The problem is that they aren’t able to derive the level of reward or stimulation their brains are hungry for from most activities. So when they find activities that do provide it, they tend to latch on to these activities and do them as much as possible. That’s why people with ADHD can be unable to make their brains engage with many things, but paradoxically highly engaged with other things.

These “areas of being highly engaged” are what I’m putting on my first list. It’s true that these are activities “done in one’s leisure time,” as the definition of “hobby” suggests. However, in many cases, these activities take over our leisure time entirely. All of our free time goes into our current obsession.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on a couple factors. One is what the activity is to begin with: if it’s playing basketball, then great, you’re going to get pretty good at basketball. If it’s going to the casino, potential trouble lies ahead.

It also depends on whether your “hobby” starts to interfere with other aspects of your life that are less exciting but necessary. Being able to sit down, hyperfocus on something you enjoy, and have no idea that five hours just passed is neat, but if it means you forego other activities that help you maintain a balanced and sustainable lifestyle, it’s not necessarily healthy.

That’s why I’m not sure the word “hobby” is always applicable to the activities people with ADHD engage in during their free time. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, “hobby” seems to me to have connotations of moderation, relaxation and balance. But for ADHDers, leisure-time activities can take on a compulsive, expansive quality where they monopolize our attention.

From this perspective, it’s also not hard to see why some people with ADHD tend toward workaholism. If people with ADHD often have an approach to hobbies that takes on addictive undertones, it makes sense that the same attitude could creep into their work if they have a job that can bring out the “hyperfocus.”

Of course, none of this is to say that people with ADHD can’t have hobbies in the more traditional sense. For example, I like to read – it’s a pleasant thing I do sometimes, but I don’t generally have a problem putting down a good book to do other stuff.

It also doesn’t mean that because someone with ADHD is obsessively interested in a particular hobby that they’ll always maintain that interest. In fact, people with ADHD commonly go through phases of intense interest in something that gradually turns to indifference.

But it does mean that having a relationship of immoderation with your “hobbies” is consistent with having ADHD. “Difficulty unwinding” during free time is one of the criteria sometimes used to spot ADHD, and if you look at how ADHDers often approach their hobbies, it’s not hard to see why!

Image: Flickr/Helana Eriksson

Hobbies and ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on psychology, ADHD and education. In addition to ADHD Millennial, he writes about psychology at Psych Central's AllPsych blog and about ADHD at He can be found on Twitter at @ADaptHD_blog

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2018). Hobbies and ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Mar 2018
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