For many people who are new to recovery, they may have not felt bored in quite some time — possibly even years. Using alcohol or drugs often fills in all the gaps of a person’s life, until the addiction takes over completely. So when individuals begin to adjust to life without substances, and the desired effects they would bring, boredom can feel overwhelming and bring with it the risk of relapse.
Of course, all people feel bored from time to time, so a major goal of the recovery period is to learn to manage boredom in healthy ways so that periods of boredom will not lead a person back into addiction. As individuals learn to handle greater degrees of boredom, resistance to the temptation to use builds simultaneously.
Why Recovery Feels Boring
The nature of addiction feeds the problem of boredom when one reaches recovery. These substances are addictive because of the pleasurable effects of the drug. If you take the drug, you feel relaxed, excited or even in another realm entirely. It’s an automatic — and sometimes nearly instantaneous — reward, and over time, your brain rewires itself to need the substance and need the effect, too.
However, a more even-keel lifestyle is more healthy. Rewards come from the natural rhythms of life, such as the following:
- A good meal
- A hot bath or shower
- A long walk
- Catching up with an old friend
- Accomplishing a goal
All of these experiences require the same thing: time. The natural rewards of life are often marked by patience and personal investment. Addiction, on the other hand, is marked by instant gratification and personal indulgence. Retraining your habits and mindset in recovery usually comes with resistance.
Ways to Fight Recovery Boredom
Boredom is both a cognitive and emotional state, so when it comes time to combat it and the poor decisions it can lead to, its replacement must also engage both aspects of a person.1
To help yourself continue to heal from addiction and learn to manage boredom, you need to attack the issue from two sides. You have to find ways to substitute the time you formerly gave to addiction as well as develop a greater tolerance to boredom itself.
Replacing unhealthy activities with life-giving ones may sound simple, but for some people — especially those in recovery who may be experiencing anhedonia or difficulty feeling pleasure — it can be a little more complicated.2 It may take some trial and error to discover what you enjoy and what you want to fill your life with, but it is worth the effort to try. We have a few ideas to help you get started.
- Exercising – Many people in recovery find that exercise is a great substitute for using drugs or alcohol. Exercise gives off natural feel-good chemicals, called endorphins, as well as helps your body to grow stronger and healthier. Some modes of exercise, like group exercise classes, running clubs and sports teams also help you meet other like-minded people to strengthen your sober network.
- Reading – Picking up a good book is a great way to engage your mind for a long period of time. It strengthens your mental wherewithal and stamina, too. The benefits of reading are almost endless. Nonfiction work can teach you all kinds of new things and open your mind to aspects of life you didn’t know you would love, and novels can transport you to a whole new world full of exploration and entertainment.
- Writing – Exploring your creative drive through the written word can have a powerful cathartic effect. Writing can help you continue to process your addiction as well as your reentry into a healthy lifestyle. It is a craft that you can continue to grow and improve over time.
- Hobbies – The list of potential hobbies, beyond reading and writing, is nearly endless. People find ways to love life in using their hands create through hobbies like painting, drawing, sewing, knitting and even graphic design. Others may take up a new instrument or learn to bake. Hobbies serve you best when you look forward to it and it simultaneously engages your mind and your body.
- Learning – For some people, a step in their recovery will be getting more education. Oftentimes, people quit their education endeavors as addiction takes over their lives, so one way to continue to beat addiction is to get a GED or finish a higher degree. Others may have discovered a new interest in education while in treatment and want to begin a new career that will require some education. Either way, education teaches you to work toward a goal over time.
- Giving back – One of the greatest joys of life for many is the opportunity to serve others. It is invigorating in a way that other endeavors cannot rival. Finding ways to serve your neighborhood and even the addiction recovery community can be a great way to fill your time.3
Whatever you choose to fill your time with, it’s important to remember that habits matter. If you simply try several things one time, you will be unlikely to see the value in any of them. But building healthy habits over time helps you see the value and helps you love it more.
Retrain Your Brain
The other aspect of learning to manage boredom is finding ways to increase your tolerance to boredom itself. Boredom is inevitable, and it can also be healthy. It fosters creativity, and it helps people see the need to be still — to refuse to live life over-extended, which may have been what led to substance abuse to begin with. The great news is that with some forethought and strategy, boredom can be managed.
- Know your limits – When practicing handling boredom, it’s unwise to start with hours of unplanned activities and expect yourself to handle it well. Start small, like waiting at a doctor’s office without a smartphone. Over time, you will be able to handle longer periods of time without constant entertainment.
- Have a plan – Boredom often hits at unexpected times, like traffic on the way home from work or a long line at the grocery store. If you can plan ahead for what you will do — or think about — when boredom strikes, it can keep you from feeling overwhelmed and tempted to use again. Think through common places you may feel bored, and develop a plan for each setting.
- Speak truth to yourself – When boredom comes, it’s easy to forget truth and reality very quickly. Write on some notecards, or even in an app on your phone, why recovery and sobriety are important to you. During times of boredom, say out loud what you know to be true even when it may not feel true, like “my kids matter more to me than feeling high,” or “I will not feel bored forever. I can handle being in traffic for one hour.” When you hear yourself speak the truth, it will help bring you back to reality.
By Becca Owens
1Todman, McWelling, "Recovery from Boredom." Psychology Today, July 5, 2012.
2"3 Invigorating Tips for Kicking Boredom if You’re in Recovery." Goodnewsnetwork.org, March 1, 2018.
3Stines, Sharie, "Battling Boredom in Early Recovery." PsychCentral.com, Accessed December 17, 2018.