Every person who has a substance use disorder has a unique experience and path that lead them to their addiction. Some people are dealing with unresolved mental health issues or trauma, while others have genetic and environmental factors that have lead them to drug use. Another interesting factor that can sometimes contribute to someone’s addiction is boredom. Boredom isn’t just for people who “have nothing to do”. Plenty of very busy people can also experience boredom from their everyday responsibilities. Often we think of teenagers being bored with school or being grounded, but adults with careers and families can experience boredom as well, which can lead some to seek out ways to entertain themselves with substance use.
It’s hard to think that anyone could get bored with all of the interactive apps, social media, and streaming content they can access online at the reach of their fingertips on smartphones, tablets, and smart TVs. Boredom isn’t so simple, however, it’s more than not having anything to do. Some may reach for drugs and alcohol due to peer pressure, but what about when they feel isolated or “stuck” in their home or family environment and are looking for ways to escape? The same goes for stay-at-home parents who spend their days at home, looking after their small children, often stretched thin with childcare and household responsibilities. Businessmen and women who spend long hours at the office, sometimes dealing with monotonous meetings and long commutes, can also experience everyday boredom that drives them towards substance use.
After people begin to use substances as a “mental escape” from boredom on a regular basis, it becomes difficult to face that boredom again sober. This is how easily an addiction can begin and also the reason why people in recovery often have to deal with the risk of boredom leading them to relapse. Once drugs have taken a person away from their boredom for so long, it can be difficult to return to “real life”, making addiction such a complex disease that requires a lot of strength and work to rehabilitate.
Boredom and Addiction
Doing drugs or drinking can provide somewhat of a mental vacation from people’s current situation. When someone feels trapped and doesn’t know what to do with themselves, getting high or drinking can provide the same kind of mental stimulation as doing a fun activity. Many of these people are also dealing with profound loneliness, anxiety, or are suffering from other situations that prevent them from being involved with hobbies or activities. People with anxiety and depression may feel that leaving their homes to engage in social activities is too stressful, and instead, prefer to stay home and numb themselves.
Most people who are in recovery report that their greatest fear is facing the boredom they once felt while they were still using. Unfortunately, boredom is reported as one of the biggest reasons many people who are in recovery experience relapse. For people who were using drugs regularly, the drugs eventually became the center of their world. Those who are trying to stay sober will avoid old friends they used to do drugs with, causing many people in recovery to feel like they have no friend, or need to take on the overwhelming task of creating an entirely new social circle. Since drugs used to take up so much of their time, former drug users need to find ways to fill their lives with activities and hobbies to avoid boredom at all costs in order to prevent the risk of relapse.
For people who think that their boredom is leading them to misuse substances more frequently than their previous “recreational” use and want to avoid the slippery slope of addiction, beating boredom is essential. The same advice can be applied to people who are in recovery and are finding their motivation and confidence in their sobriety starting to slip. The main issue that can lead to boredom is being stuck in a familiar environment where substance use has most frequently occurred in the past. For some people, it’s a recliner in the living room, and for others, it’s a familiar setting like a long train ride or sitting on a lawn chair on a hot summer’s day. Pinpointing these trigger environments that can evoke cravings due to boredom or monotony need to be avoided as much as possible.
Boredom can also be avoided with the start of new interests and hobbies. Many people in recovery discover their love for fitness and outdoor activities which are healthier ways to keep boredom at bay. Others may require a quieter, mentally stimulating activity like learning to play chess, painting, or knitting. The main goal is to stimulate the brain to be engaged instead of being left to find its way back to using drugs or alcohol.
When mindfully avoiding boredom, people have succeeded in creating entirely new lives for themselves. Something that starts off as a hobby while in recovery can be great for abstaining from drug use, but can also blossom into a new career or passion. When people discover how much of their time they had previously spent on drugs and getting high, they realize how much their time is worth and how it can be better spent. Recovery is a time for rediscovery. Avoiding boredom can lead to things beyond just staying sober. No matter a person’s age or experience with addiction, new hobbies and volunteer work are just some of the ways to begin avoiding the feeling of complacency in life.
Boredom should not be taken lightly. It’s a real issue that is leading people from all walks of life into potential substance use disorders. Making time for activities that stimulate the mind outside of life’s everyday activities is healthy for the body and mind, especially when avoiding addiction and relapse.