It can be anger-inducing, frustrating, distracting, and physically painful. It can make you do things – risky things, messed up things. And it affects both young and old: No one is immune.

At its worst boredom can drive people to desperation. To fight it they will commit crimes, abuse substances, turn to violence, gambling, compulsive shopping and overeating. It can also be a major factor in addiction and relapse.

It is by no means a trivial experience.

What Is Boredom?

It is both a mental process and an emotional one. As an emotion it may not be as sexy as anger or happiness but it is no less effective. Despite its relatively inconspicuous and quiet nature, boredom can significantly influence our health and well-being. Boredom requires a level of psychological energy or arousal –it is not the product of a relaxed mind but one in a state of high-arousal, one that wants to be engaged but can find nothing satisfactory to engage with. By contrast, a mind in a low state of arousal will often feel relaxed, not bored. This why we often find ourselves bored at work or in school: through tedium and fatigue, our mind – often abetted by caffeine and sugar – finds nothing to make us motivated or curious.

This can be even worse for those predisposed to being easily bored. They are more likely to find their environments unsatisfying. Especially vulnerable are those who have suffered traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Men tend to get more bored than women. As a result, men more often resort to more risk-taking behaviors. Those who find themselves highly bored also often lack the ability to entertain themselves, a condition that can lead to dangerous behaviors.

It Starts While We’re Young

Adolescence is a time when we may learn the skills needed to handle boredom in adulthood. Adolescents who develop a dependence on the sensory overload offered from TV, movies, the internet, video games, etc., may come to find rest of their lives under stimulating. They can lose the skills for self-entertainment and the resulting boredom can bring anxiety. Adolescence is also a time for disconnecting from the ways of childhood. Old comforts and supports, toys, hobbies, and interests are let go, sometimes painfully, to allow for the growth ahead. With this disconnection can come a greater dependence on all things digital. This creates a condition where the repetitive demands of home and school become discomforting and difficult to endure. The ability to deal with real world challenges and responsibilities diminishes.

Actually, Boredom Can Be Good

Boredom can teach and motivate. The dissatisfaction with the bored state can drive use to find something more stimulating and meaningful to do. It forces us to be creative and resourceful, to invest in ourselves – without boredom we might never be able to achieve our best creations. But self-entertainment is a skill, something we need to learn how to do. Because boredom is emotional, adolescents need to learn to handle those emotions as their brain’s neural networks are being developed. These habits will influence behavior patterns for the rest of their life.

Looking for a quick fix to boredom by plugging into digital devices can be counter-productive. By seeking out quicker and easier ways to refresh our curiosity, we may in fact it be making ourselves, in the longer term, more bored.

When Boredom Is Bad

Boredom, unmanaged, can be a dangerous and disruptive state of mind. It can damage health and even cut years off your lifespan. Those prone to boredom tend to smoke, drink too much, and take drugs. In one study, it was the single biggest predictor of alcohol, cigarette, and marijuana use1. Another study found that those most likely to get bored were 30% more likely to have died2. Some self-harming behavior may also be caused by boredom3.

From an evolutionary perspective, why does boredom even exist? If it doesn’t improve our ability to survive, why have it all?

The dread of boredom, and its benefit, is that it can push us into resetting the mind. Boredom spurs curiosity. Rather than revisiting overused patterns, boredom pushes us to seek new ways of thinking and seeing.

Boredom and Addiction

Young people that are frequently bored are 50% more likely than those who are not to smoke, drink, and use illegal drugs4. For those with $25 or more a week in spending money, they are twice as likely again to abuse substances, smoke, and get drunk. For teens, boredom and money form two parts of the evil trifecta that underlies most substance abuse – the other factor being stress. For stress, the pressures can include academics and social pressures, a category which also includes the pressure to have sex. Not surprisingly, girls have higher stress levels than boys5.

Substance abuse is a growing problem for the elderly as well. Estimates are that older adults who meet the criteria for alcohol abuse will more than double in the next four years. The number of those seeking treatment for substance abuse has also more than doubled6.

Parents Be Aware

Teens often complain of boredom and parents can just as often ignore it. But boredom can serve as a warning: Bored teens more likely to abuse substances. Parents would be wise to have ongoing and active conversations with their children on these issues. In addition, parents should be sensitive to their children’s levels of stress and boredom. Despite that parents may not always feel that their children are listening to them, they very often do (even if they pretend they’re not). Indeed, your teen may be very anxious to talk to you about themselves if only you’d ask them the right questions, and in return, genuinely listen to what they have to say. While it may not always seem apparent, most kids want to have a good relationship with their parents.

While boredom is universal, it’s adolescents and young adults who are most vulnerable.

If you or a loved one have an addiction to alcohol, contact BLVD Treatment Centers. At BLVD Treatment Centers we custom tailor our recovery programs within the safe and nurturing confines of our rehab treatment centers. Located throughout California, in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego and in Portland, OR, our mission is to assess the severity of your addiction to help you achieve true recovery within 30 days. Call us now at 1-866.582.9844.


Does Boredom Cause Substance Abuse?