Boredom is a common feeling which everyone experiences from time to time. Boredom may arise when we are not fully engaged in what we are doing or what we are doing feels unfulfilling and does not provide us with a sense of meaning. Boredom can manifest itself in many different ways, with some of the most common experiences including a feeling of emptiness, a lack of interest in what is happening around us, feeling restless and unable to relax, lacking excitement and a sense of purpose, feeling fatigued, and difficulty staying motivated. People who are prone to feeling bored may also find themselves being bored with themselves, their jobs, and their life. 

What causes boredom? 

Boredom is very often a state that arises just before the appearance of difficult and painful thoughts and feelings that we may have forced out of our awareness. It may also arise just before having to face a challenging experience that we would rather avoid. In other words, boredom can be thought of as the consequence of not being in touch with and able to tolerate basic emotions such as sadness, fear, disgust, or anger. 

How may boredom be linked to addiction? 

There are many possible reasons why an individual might develop an addiction; however, while the experience of boredom may not be seen as being harmful, individuals who are prone to feeling bored are likely to be more vulnerable to addiction. At the end of the day, ‘an idle mind is the devil’s playground’! 

When we feel bored, we are not really challenging and developing ourselves by doing those things that we genuinely feel interested and passionate about. As a result, we may end up feeling detached from ourselves, which may in turn cause us to feel stuck, alienated and without a sense of purpose, fulfilment, and joy. When we experience boredom, we are likely to seek things that are able to distract us from and quickly push away our emotional discomfort and pain. For instance, substances like drugs and alcohol can easily liberate us from the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings associated with boredom. 

The addictive cycle

However, while such substances may provide us with a rapid sense of relief and enable us to experience pleasurable feelings without us having to put much effort into it, the more frequently we use these substances, or engage in any other potentially addictive behaviour such as gambling, gaming, sex, and overeating, the more likely we are to develop a serious dependence. Unfortunately, however, one’s engagement in addictive behaviour only functions as a temporary fix that ultimately causes serious long-term consequences in one’s life, while also decreasing the individual’s threshold for how much boredom one feels able to tolerate.

Is boredom the gateway to addiction? 

When we are trying to make sense of what may be contributing to addiction, it can be helpful to look at whether or not we feel fulfilled in our lives, how we are spending our time, and what we are channelling our energy into. While boredom can be a gateway to addiction, it can also be an opportunity for us to redirect our attention towards what is going on within ourselves, and utilise this time for thought, reflection, and creativity. If addressed properly, boredom will not have an opportunity to lead us down the dangerous path of potentially addictive behaviours, so do not hesitate to talk to trusted others, like family and close friends, or consider seeking therapy, so that you can be supported in determining other paths to fulfilment in your life.  

If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.

Dr. Ronald Zammit holds a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from the University of Southampton, has completed Master’s level psychotherapy training in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy at the New Buckinghamshire University in the UK, as well as received training in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). He has a special interest in mood and anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related difficulties, personality disorders, and compassion-based approaches to treating difficulties related to high self-criticism and shame.