Dealing With Boredom in Recovery: Tips From a Coach

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Boredom can be challenging in early recovery. But truthfully, it’s something we all experience—and struggle with—throughout our lives.

As a kid, whenever I was bored I would read a book, look for friends to play with, go for a walk, or make up my own games such as kicking rocks on the ground to see how far they could go. Today as an adult, I still find myself feeling bored sometimes, but I have a different approach to boredom, and a different philosophy on what boredom is.

Drinking For Entertainment?

man sitting on trunk of a car on city street looking bored
Photo by Julian Myles on Unsplash

From my perspective, boredom means being dissatisfied with the current task I am doing, or having an empty schedule without anything planned. I know this is a big definition for such a simple word. But from this angle, I have decided to be mindful whenever I use the word bored for myself: It isn’t really that I am bored, it’s that I would rather be entertained by something else to pass my time.

And, if we are honest, this is when alcohol use can develop into a problem.

Think back to your college years, for example: Didn’t it often seem that parties were not interesting or fun if alcohol was missing? Having alcohol or other substances has become synonymous with “fun.” In fact, many of us in our youth would attend parties solely for the fact that alcohol was available. If the party didn’t have any booze, we would say that it wasn’t a party. The word partying came to imply the use of substances.

The Culture of Drinking

As someone born and raised in the Midwest, the presence of alcohol at gatherings always seemed to be a given. Particularly in my adoptive state of Wisconsin, at everything from church events to high school graduations and baby showers it is expected that there will be alcohol available.

Why is this? It is simple: We want to be entertained, or be entertaining to those we are in the company of. Despite knowing that some of the people we may be entertaining (or even we, ourselves) may have issues with alcohol, we feel it must be present for those who want it.

Those who seek to have alcohol at any interval, if they are honest, would say that even when alone alcohol has been a source of entertainment. It is used to combat not only boredom, but also sadness, stress, or the pressures of work.

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Why am I So Bored After Giving Up Alcohol?

In coaching Ria Health members through the early stages of recovery, many have shared that they feel a sense of boredom—as in having nothing to do—which has led them to drink to pass the time.

There are many reasons for this, from previous patterns of alcohol use to brain chemistry. There is a sense in which dopamine and serotonin—two essential brain chemicals that influence our sense of pleasure—are on hiatus from their normal function when one is drinking excessively.1 It can take time for both our personal habits and our physical bodies to adapt to not using alcohol.

When discussing boredom in recovery, I often suggest that my clients look at some of the activities they are willing to do to help pass the time when feeling bored. For members who report drinking out of boredom, I often remind them that there are probably a lot of other things to do within their busy lives, if they take a moment to reflect.

The Discomfort of Change

woman lying on couch looking bored
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

Often, it really comes down to being willing to do something that doesn’t entertain you or make you feel good immediately. In other words, it’s about suspending the need for instant gratification.

This can be a huge hurdle to overcome for many, as it is honestly quite uncomfortable to do something outside of our norm to make a change. Change can be hard, as habits are ingrained in our psyche. And one has to be willing to feel uncomfortable to make those changes happen for oneself. I would like to invite anyone reading this to be patient with themselves, and to find ways to adjust to their boredom and discomfort with doing something different.

Tips For Addressing Boredom in Early Recovery

So, with all that being said, what can be done to cope with the feeling of boredom in recovery from alcohol misuse?

Below are some suggestions and tips to help you evaluate your reasons for boredom, and avoid drinking to manage that feeling:

  • When feeling bored, ask yourself if there is something—any task or activity—that needs to be completed.
  • Ask yourself: Am I seeking to be entertained?
  • Investigate how you are really feeling: Are you scared, depressed, angry, lonely, etc.?
  • Ask yourself: Am I looking for a reason to use? And if so, why?
  • Take a moment to reflect: Do you really want to use? And if so, why?
  • Make a list of things you enjoy doing other than drinking or using substances.
  • List the things you’ve previously thought of to keep busy when feeling bored that you are not willing to do, and ask yourself why. These might include exercise, calling family and friends, cleaning the house, etc.
  • List some possible activities that might be conducive to your recovery goals, e.g., bowling, playing golf, hanging out with a friend who won’t pressure you to drink, and so on.
  • Attend a SMART Recovery meeting or a similar support group.

The Takeaway: How To Deal With Being Sober and Bored

Though boredom in early recovery can be challenging, remember that many before you have figured out how to sustain the changes they want for themselves. Each person who succeeds at modifying, ending, or improving their relationship with alcohol must find ways to handle boredom, and any other unpleasant feelings connected with new habits.

I encourage anyone in recovery to be open, honest, and willing to do the work. Besides, it is all up to you to be the person you would like to become. If you need support in your journey, our team at Ria Health is always here to help you, and we’re only a call away.

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Written By:
Jeffery D. Whitfield, CSAC
Certified clinical supervisor and substance abuse counselor with over a decade of experience.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
NYC-based content strategist with over 3 years editing and writing in the recovery space. Strong believer in accessible, empathic, and fact-based communication.
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