When someone is new to addiction recovery, they are continually being presented with the people, places and things related to past use. These triggers can create cravings for alcohol and other drugs, which may lead to relapse and continued addiction.
Although many may not think of it initially, boredom is a powerful trigger in substance use disorders. If a person is newly sober and feeling bored, they could look to substance use a way to cure boredom and increase excitement in their life.
Is It Boredom or Something Else?
Boredom is a common aspect of addiction recovery, especially in the earliest stages, because of the impact of alcohol and other drugs in the brain. A person using substances exposes their brain to tremendous amounts of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters.
The brain naturally releases neurotransmitters like dopamine as a way to reward a behavior and encourage you to repeat it. A person who eats a good meal, exercises or has sex will experience a release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters to reinforce the positive action.
Drugs, unlike the natural reinforcers in life, create a huge release of dopamine in the brain that promotes strong feelings of pleasure, happiness and satisfaction. Over time, the brain becomes accustomed to this artificially high dopamine level, and substance use must continue and escalate as a way to re-experience and maintain this desirable feeling.
When use ends, everyday actions seem much less rewarding and exciting due to the lower dopamine levels. Instead of the person feeling like they are jetting down a runway at 200 miles per hour, it feels like life is moving in slow motion.
With lower rewards, normal behaviors are less appealing, and people find themselves feeling bored. That unwanted feeling in addiction recovery is boredom, but it is fueled by the impact of substance use in the brain.
The Dangers of Boredom When in Addiction Recovery
Boredom can be problematic for anyone, but for people in addiction recovery, boredom can be dangerous. Being bored in addiction recovery can result in a number of regretful decisions as people search for entertainment, excitement and feelings of connection.
When bored, people may:
- Overspend money
- Stay inside and isolate
- Engage in hazardous or illegal behavior like gambling or theft
- Have risky sexual encounters with others
- Spend time with negative influences
With unwanted consequences like financial chaos, legal involvement, sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies, the impact of boredom can jeopardize the mental health, physical health and recovery of the individual.
Perhaps the most significant danger of boredom is addiction relapse. Relapse is always unsafe, but especially early in recovery. Without a steady supply of drugs, the brain begins to lose its tolerance to substances. If the person then consumes a high dose, an overdose is likely since the brain is not prepared for the effects.
Overdoses can also create a series of negative consequences. In some instances, an overdose can lead to coma or death, so anyone facing a relapse or overdose should always seek professional treatment from an addiction professional.
How to Overcome Boredom in Addiction Recovery
Overcoming boredom in addiction recovery is not an easy task. It is a skill that takes effort over a long period of time to act and react to the challenges of recovery.
To overcome the power of boredom, a person must become more active in their recovery. Boredom grows anytime there is a lack of action. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to overcome boredom in sobriety. Here are a few ideas.
Mindfulness is defined as the ability to be fully present and aware of yourself and surroundings, while not being reactive or overwhelmed by those things. Practicing mindfulness, a person gets in touch with their senses to feel, hear, smell, taste and see the world around them. They will also pay more attention to their thoughts and feelings to understand how people, places and things trigger boredom and the desire to use substances.
One way to practice mindfulness in recovery is through meditation. Meditation has been recommended for addiction recovery because of the way it contributes to creating new neural pathways in the brain. By sitting with one’s boredom and using these mindfulness skills, the boredom loses its power and control.
Join A Support Group
Other people are another great way to fight boredom. Fortunately, groups of people are frequently available to aid those in addiction recovery.
Addiction support groups, like AA meetings for those in recovery from alcohol use and NA meetings for those in recovery from other substances, can offer the benefit of social engagement and fellowship. These qualities may feel impossible to find elsewhere.
Joining a meeting will cure the boredom for that moment and forming connections with others outside of the group setting can help reduce boredom throughout the days. The group may also be able to assist with providing or finding healthy, sober activities.
Plenty of support groups are available in person and online for those interested in supplementing their professional addiction treatment. Those seeking a support group should consider:
- The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) self-help and peer support groups
- SAMHSA’s National Helpline
- SMART Recovery – for people not interested in the traditional 12-step support group model
You can also find support groups through a therapist, doctor or word of mouth from acquaintances with addiction recovery experience.
Try Something New
At any point during recovery, you may struggle with finding enjoyment or sober fun, which can lead to thinking that boredom is inescapable. Or, after attempting to recapture the excitement and interest of activities that were previously pleasurable only to find them no longer appealing, it’s natural to become disappointed. These experiences can be discouraging and threaten your recovery goals.
There is hope, though. Trying new things can help you find and explore new levels of enjoyment, delight or even purpose. These new activities can be very simple or require extensive commitment. They can be pursued alone or with a trusted, healthy partner or support network. Options include activities like:
- Taking a walk
- Joining a gym
- Registering for a class or school
- Creating a daily schedule to follow
- Exploring various hobbies that seem appealing
- Writing in a journal
- Reading a variety of books, magazines and newspapers
- Cooking healthy meals and focusing on nutrition
- Joining or coaching a sports team
- Creating art through painting, drawing or sculpting
- Playing or listening to music
Whatever the activity, consistency is key. The first try may be uncomfortable or unfulfilling, but with practice, the results will improve and it may become more enjoyable over time. Of course, not every new activity will spark a positive reaction, so it’s important to not give up and continue to experiment if the first attempt falls flat.
Someone people need the support of professional addiction treatment to combat boredom and avoid relapse. If this sounds like you or your loved one, call The Recovery Village today. Our caring representatives can help you explore treatment options to achieve long-lasting recovery if you’re struggling to get or remain sober.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” July 2014, Accessed June 12, 2019. National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is Relapse?” Accessed June 12, 2019. Stines, Sharies. “Battling Boredom in Early Recovery.” PsychCentral. March 19, 2016. Accessed June 12, 2019. Mindful. “What is Mindfulness?” Foundation for a Mindful Society. October 8, 2014. Accessed June 13, 2019. Alexander, Ronald. “Mindfulness Meditation & Addiction.” Psychology Today. April 16, 2010. Accessed June 13, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction.” July 2014, Accessed June 12, 2019.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. “What is Relapse?” Accessed June 12, 2019.
Stines, Sharies. “Battling Boredom in Early Recovery.” PsychCentral. March 19, 2016. Accessed June 12, 2019.
Mindful. “What is Mindfulness?” Foundation for a Mindful Society. October 8, 2014. Accessed June 13, 2019.
Alexander, Ronald. “Mindfulness Meditation & Addiction.” Psychology Today. April 16, 2010. Accessed June 13, 2019.