Recovery from substance use disorders (SUDs) is an intensive journey, presenting challenges to many on their way toward better health. Sure, the physical and financial hurdles exist, but another, less expected adversary is boredom in recovery. While boredom may not be the first challenge most think of when recovering from substance use, this mental endeavor can pose significant risks of relapse.
At GateHouse Treatment, we acknowledge all challenges associated with recovery. As part of our efforts to provide individualized treatment plans for our patients, boredom in recovery is an aspect we very much address. While many interventions we offer tackle this jeopardizing aspect, individuals looking for long-lasting recovery can benefit from additional tips to champion their boredom. Let’s explore some techniques to keep you engaged and focused without giving in to relapse.
What Causes Boredom in Recovery?
Living with an addiction appears far from dull. The quest for drugs becomes an adrenaline-pumping mission and constantly pursuing that next high consumes every waking moment. Many instances of substance use occur in a social setting, whether alongside other users, at gatherings, or around close companions.
But for someone stepping onto the path of recovery, things change. Suddenly, there’s newfound free time and a vacuum in their life. The people and places that once fueled their addiction now lurk in the shadows growing increasingly enticing the longer one goes without them. In these moments of vulnerability, the risk of relapse is at its peak.
For many on the recovery journey, boredom is a surprisingly common companion, especially in the early stages. This period is when the physical grip of addiction still lingers, making the battle all the more challenging. Finding something positive to occupy the mind is a burden, and getting through the day free from substances feels like a mountain to climb. In many instances of boredom in recovery, those overcoming SUDs may feel inclined to indulge a little to eliminate the monotony. Next thing they know, they’re right back where they started.
How Does Addiction Affect the Brain’s Reward System?
For many individuals on their recovery journey, activities that once seemed engaging and fun often become dull and stale. This change in excitement comes from damage caused to the dopamine reward system. The National Institute on Drug Abuse classifies addiction as a disease, which puts many of its effects into context.
Severe drug and alcohol use causes a change in brain structure and function. As a result, these changes take a long time to reverse, even after someone abstains from substance use. This notion explains why addiction is so difficult to overcome. A person can have the willpower and strong desire to quit, yet the physiological changes experienced during their substance use are beyond their control, contributing to intense cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
As Yale Medicine explains, addiction also affects the brain’s reward pathways by altering dopamine levels, the chemical strongly associated with feelings of pleasure or contentment. Individuals’ dopamine levels increase when they use drugs, much like they would from an exercise routine, a delicious meal, or other engaging activity. The difference, however, is that substances tend to increase dopamine levels much more than these other activities; individuals experience overwhelming levels of pleasure while high, and the brain soon adapts to these abnormal levels. In turn, drug users may require higher dosages to feel those same initial effects, even though the brain has already reduced the number of available dopamine receptors.
What Challenges Arise From Boredom in Recovery?
Addiction’s influence on brain function is responsible for many challenges stemming from boredom in recovery. A disheartening side effect of this increase in dopamine levels is that, due to the intensity of euphoria and pleasure while under the influence, other non-drug-related activities that would’ve customarily boosted dopamine levels no longer provide that same effect. For individuals in recovery, their brain has grown accustomed to an artificially high dopamine level. Now, the only thing that can bring them back to that intensity is further drug use.
Actions also seem less rewarding when recovering from addiction. It becomes less personally fulfilling to help someone out, spend time with loved ones, call a close relative, or even play with children as a parent. This shift in excitement tends to cause frustration, angst, and depression as everything appears uninteresting. While finding something to fill the gap is certainly worth exploring, many individuals venture down dangerous paths when trying to spark intrigue in their lives.
How Can Boredom in Recovery Lead to Dangerous Circumstances?
Some individuals experiencing boredom in recovery may react to their situation by engaging in nefarious or dangerous activities to spark excitement. While these actions aim to quell their boredom, they can cause many issues. These jeopardizing activities may include:
- Engaging in illegal or unsafe behaviors
- Overspending on non-helpful endeavors
- Reverting to things that triggered or fueled original substance use
- Seeking out risky relationships or engaging in unprotected sexual encounters
- Substituting another addictive habit that doesn’t involve substance use, such as gambling
- Living vicariously through someone using substances
- Codependency due to a lack of self-esteem or motivation
While many of these activities present unique dangers for someone in recovery, they can all contribute to relapse. Therefore, finding ways to prevent these behaviors is necessary for anyone experiencing boredom as they recover.
How to Champion Boredom During Recovery
Below are some beneficial strategies to consider if boredom becomes challenging to manage:
- Join a Support Group – Sharing your experiences with others in recovery can provide a sense of community and purpose. Support groups offer a safe space to discuss challenges and successes, helping combat the isolation often accompanying boredom in recovery. Connecting with peers who understand your journey can be incredibly motivating and reassuring.
- Practice Meditation and Mindfulness – These techniques can help you stay present and calm in moments of restlessness. Meditation and mindfulness can reduce common triggers for relapse, such as stress and anxiety. By incorporating these practices into your daily routine, you’ll build resilience against boredom-induced cravings.
- Rekindle a Hobby – Think back to activities you used to enjoy before addiction took hold. Revisiting old hobbies can reignite your passion and provide a positive way to spend your time. Whether painting, playing a musical instrument, or gardening, rediscovering these interests can be a source of joy and fulfillment.
- Try Something New – Sometimes, the best way to combat boredom is to step out of your comfort zone. Trying a new hobby, taking a class, or exploring a new interest can invigorate your daily routine and offer fresh perspectives. It’s an opportunity for personal growth and self-discovery.
- Re-enter Rehab – If boredom pushes you dangerously close to relapse, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Re-entering a rehabilitation program can provide the structure, support, and guidance to reinforce your recovery journey. Remember, reaching out for assistance is a sign of strength, not weakness. It’s a proactive step towards safeguarding your sobriety.
Take Control of Your Life with GateHouse Treatment
We understand recovery is a journey filled with unexpected challenges, including the pervasive boredom that can lead to relapse. GateHouse offers individualized and comprehensive addiction treatment services tailored to your unique needs and circumstances. Our experienced team is here to support you every step of the way, helping you overcome the hurdles of recovery, including the daunting prospect of relapse.
Don’t let boredom derail your progress. Contact GateHouse Treatment today and reclaim your life from addiction.
Call (855) 448-3588 or fill out our contact form for a free consultation.