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Music Is an ADHD Boredom Killer

People who don’t know much about ADHD sometimes accuse those who take ADHD meds of actually just wanting a “legal high.”

So let’s start out by putting that myth to rest right away: if you’re taking ADHD medication at a therapeutic dosage, the euphoric effects generally wear off after a few days, after which point there’s nothing very exhilarating about having to take a pill every day.

BUT… if you want an ADHD treatment that will reliably deliver intense feelings of peace, well-being and happiness, there’s another place you can look: music!

This guy is treating his ADHD.
This guy is treating his ADHD.

Music has been a huge part of my life for a long time. I write music, I play music and I listen to tons of music. I also work for a music education non-profit because I know from firsthand experience that for kids who aren’t having a good time in school, learning to play music can make a life-changing difference.

It wasn’t until I got diagnosed a few years ago, though, that I consciously related my interest in music to my ADHD. But once I made the connection, I started seeing that there’s a lot of musical ADHDers out there, probably many more than you would expect based on pure chance. Why is this?

I think it’s because music is an ADHD boredom killer.

Let me explain. Boredom spells trouble for ADHD. ADHD boredom is a somewhat uglier kind of animal than “regular” boredom.

If you don’t have ADHD and you get bored, maybe your thought process goes something like this: “I’m really not having fun. But I’ve got to finish this. I’ll just try to power through it quickly so I can move on to something more interesting.”

If you do have ADHD, however, your brain will essentially go on strike once you reach a certain boredom threshold. It’s like there’s a little mechanism in your brain operating entirely independent of your control that will not let you stay on task or decide how you’re going to use your brain but instead forces you to start scanning for something more stimulating once your boredom response gets activated.

Growing up, I learned to think about this brain-going-on-strike boredom-response in moralistic terms: I have poor self-discipline and I need to try harder. Once I got my diagnosis, I learned how to think of it in scientific terms: I have ADHD, people with ADHD have impaired executive functioning, and people with impaired executive functioning have a hard time controlling what their minds do.

So that’s the problem: boring tasks make almost any ADHD symptom you can name worse, which is unfortunate because doing well in school, in the workplace and even in relationships means putting up with a lot of boring tasks.

And here’s the solution – or at least a (partial) solution: music. Music can take the edge off boring tasks and put you back in control.

Turn on some background music, and suddenly you have a sort of buffer keeping your brain from reaching the boredom threshold where it goes into distraction freakout mode.

It’s simple, and people without ADHD use music to get through tedious tasks too, but for people with ADHD it can be the difference between doing the things you need to do vs. not doing the things you need to do.

I try not to play the “what if” game, but there’s a good chance I never would have finished school if I hadn’t made music a central part of my ADHD treatment strategy long before I knew I had ADHD.

So I can say in all seriousness that music is one of the most effective (and definitely the most enjoyable) ADHD treatments I’ve tried. And in case you think this is all BS, turns out there’s some scientific basis to this idea – e.g., here’s a study showing that for some children with ADHD, listening to music has comparable effects to taking medication.

Have you used music as an ADHD treatment? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Music Is an ADHD Boredom Killer

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. (2015). Music Is an ADHD Boredom Killer. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 28 Nov 2015
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