College Student Boredom: A Prevention Science Intervention Target for Substance Use?

Primary author: Erica Doering
Co-author(s): Elizabeth Weybright; Linda Caldwell; Sammy Perone
Faculty sponsor: Elizabeth Weybright

Primary college/unit: Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences
Campus: Pullman


Boredom is conceptualized as an unpleasant state of “wanting, but being unable, to engage in satisfying activity” (Eastwood et al., 2012, p. 482). Although boredom is a normative part of emerging adulthood, it is associated with substance use in college students – a group at risk for substance misuse. Despite researchers call for “development of methods to target and alleviate state boredom” (Vogel-Walcutt et al., 2012, p. 90), there are few behavioral interventions addressing boredom as a motive for engaging in substance use. The purpose of this study is to understand how college students experience boredom and its association with risk behavior to inform substance use prevention approaches.

A sample of undergraduate students (N=480, Mage=19.5, 85% female) completed an online survey of quantitative and qualitative measures related to boredom. Quantitative data was descriptively analyzed to identify the association between substance use and boredom measures.

Descriptive analyses resulted in significant, moderate correlations between boredom sensation seeking and substance use (tobacco, 0.22; alcohol, 0.26; marijuana, 0.27) for annual and monthly use but not daily use. Boredom proneness is positively correlated with annual marijuana use. Findings suggest daily users are not using for boredom sensation seeking (boredom susceptibility; disinhibition; experience, thrill, and adventure seeking) reasons compared to annual and monthly users. Therefore, motives differ for more intense substance use. Findings build on prior research and theory to inform associations between experiences of boredom and substance misuse. This may hold implications for future research on intervention components addressing boredom for substance use prevention.