Recovery from addiction presents many challenges. There may be health issues as well as financial ones. One challenge that people face, believe it or not, is boredom.
Having an addiction often includes many people and activities that, at least on the surface, seem to be exciting. There are parties where alcohol or drugs are a social lubricant. There are challenges to be overcome in procuring illegal substances that may be stimulating. Also, the search for drugs is often constant and all-consuming for an someone with a substance use disorder.
Someone newly on the path to recovery might feel isolated and unsure. They may wonder what to do with all of this new free time. People and places from the past may seem like an attractive way to fill the vacuum. Unfortunately, these can be triggers that only increase the addict’s craving for alcohol and drugs, which can lead to relapse.
Many people in recovery have discovered that boredom is actually a common facet of their healing process, particularly in the early stages. This is the time when alcohol and drugs exert their strongest physical influence on the addict.
Addiction and the Brain
Addiction is, above all, a neurological disease. Drugs and alcohol cause a change in the structure and functioning of the brain. These changes are significant, and they do not immediately vanish just because someone stops taking toxic substances.
The changes in brain chemistry and function explain why people recovering from addiction often so strongly crave their drug of choice. A person can have a deep desire to quit and have a strong will, yet because of physiological changes that are beyond their control, they may find their cravings to be overwhelming.
One symptom of the changes in a person’s brain chemistry is boredom with a normal, healthy life. That is because drugs and alcohol can expose the brain to overwhelming amounts of substances called neurotransmitters. These are substances that the brain normally releases in a controlled way in response to external stimuli via brain reward pathways.
For example, one chemical that contributes to the experience of pleasure is dopamine, which is strongly associated with feelings of pleasure and reward. When a person eats a good meal, enjoys exercising outdoors, or experiences sexual pleasure, there will be a release of dopamine and other neurotransmitters—this helps to reinforce these behaviors.
Many drugs mimic these natural functions. Instead of releasing a normal amount of dopamine, however, drugs will flood the brain with neurotransmitters that fill the user with overwhelming feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. Unfortunately, the first high is often the strongest one that a user will ever experience. That is because the brain quickly adapts to these artificially high dopamine levels. Repeated drug use leads to changes in brain structure including potential long-lasting or permanent neurotransmission abnormalities. This is because the brain is trying to compensate for abnormally high levels of substances such as dopamine.
One way the brain responds to repeatedly being flooded by dopamine via drug use is to reduce the number of dopamine receptors that are available. This is a protective mechanism meant to prevent overstimulation of the dopamine system, but it creates a vicious cycle for the addict. They feel that increasingly larger doses are needed to get the same feeling of pleasure.
The other sad side effect is that, because there are fewer dopamine receptors available, everyday activities that would normally provide pleasure just seem… ‘blah’. Whereas the person might have, at one time, found a particular activity, such as eating a favorite meal, a source of great pleasure, thanks to the damage to the dopamine centers, they will not get the same level of enjoyment any more from this normal activity. The brain has become accustomed to an artificially high dopamine level, and the only way to provide this is to escalate drug use.
The Challenges of Boredom for the Recovering Addict
This experience can be frustrating for the recovering addict. They long to return to a normal life, but the things that used to bring so much pleasure now seem boring.
Perhaps a patient once found great joy in playing with their children. Thanks to the damage done to their dopamine reward system due to the addiction, they now find this far less rewarding. Doing things that used to delight them now just results in boredom. The patient wonders what is wrong. Why does life feel so uninteresting? It’s as though their life was once moving at 100 miles an hour, but after they started on the road to recovery from addiction, life has slowed down to a crawl.
Recovering addicts may feel frustrated and blame themselves because they no longer find normal human connections and activities rewarding. But they need to understand that it is not their fault, and what they are dealing with is normal for anyone trying to recover from an addiction. It is due to the impact of substance abuse on the brain and the harm that these substances do.
Boredom Can Be Dangerous During Recovery
While boredom is a normal part of the human condition, it is potentially dangerous for recovering addicts. When someone in addiction recovery experiences boredom, they may react by indulging in potentially harmful activities. While these activities may, indeed, serve to alleviate boredom, the consequences of doing so can be disastrous.
Some of the activities that a bored person in recovery might indulge in include:
- Overspending money
- Engage in risky or illegal behavior
- Having unprotected sexual encounters
- Seeking out friends or situations that trigger feelings of excitement
The addict’s purpose is to find pleasure again. Since normal activities no longer provide enough of a dopamine surge, they’ll look for entertainment and excitement, as well as a feeling of connection, through other pathways. In a way, this is the addict’s desperate way of seeking help.
The disastrous consequences of these risky behaviors may include:
- Financial ruin
- Arrests and jail time
- STDs and unplanned pregnancies
- Severe physical and mental consequences such as a complete breakdown
While all of these consequences are severe, the worst one is that the recovering addict will be so bored that they will relapse. An addiction relapse occurs when a person who is in recovery starts to drink or use drugs again. While the person in recovery may feel bad, it is actually common for people to have one or more relapses. Patients need to understand that it takes time to learn new habits.
The changes in brain chemistry resulting from drug or alcohol use make it even harder for those in recovery. Instead of blaming themselves, recovering addicts need to realize that this is often a normal part of the path to sobriety. Many people who initially struggle with drug addictions before getting sober may slip up several times. The important thing is not to give up but to immediately get help. Sometimes, the reason someone is struggling is that they are trying to recover on their own instead of reaching out to facilities that can give them the support and help they need.
Why a Relapse Can Be Dangerous or Even Deadly for a Recovering Addict
Depending on the substance, a relapse can be incredibly dangerous. When a person stops taking drugs, their body adjusts to no longer having access to that substance. If they then take a dose that is similar in size to ones that their body used to be accustomed to, it can lead to an overdose as their body is no longer used to having that amount in their system. Overdoses can lead to severe medical complications, or even death.
For this reason, entering into a treatment facility makes even more sense. By availing themselves of the resources available through a treatment facility, a recovering addict maximizes their chances of success. They also ensure that there is always someone available to help should they have a medical emergency during the recovery process.
Ways to Overcome Boredom During Recovery
It takes active effort to ensure that boredom does not damage the recovery process. Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help.
One strategy is to practice mindfulness, which is a type of meditation in which the practitioner focuses on being intensely aware of their feelings and senses in the moment. The individual does so without trying to interpret or judge these feelings or sensations. Mindfulness exercises often involve breathing techniques and guided imagery as well as other methods to coax the practitioner to relax both mind and body. When someone in recovery practices mindfulness, it helps them to pay better attention to their thoughts and feelings, and this can help to avoid things that can trigger boredom or the desire to relapse.
Another strategy that many in recovery find helpful is to join a support group. Not only can this help alleviate boredom, but it also provides the recovering addict with a community that can support their commitment to sobriety.
A third strategy to help combat boredom is very simple – the recovering addict should do something new, something they have always wanted to try but never had a chance to before. Such an activity can be as simple as scheduling a hike on a trail that they always wanted to try. It can also be something more ambitious and challenging.
For example, the recovering addict might try a new creative hobby such as pottery or painting. They could attempt a group activity such as taking part in a sports team or trying out for a play. Or they could take classes in topics that have always appealed to them but that they never made time for.
The reason trying something new is a great idea is that it provides novelty. Even if the recovering addict no longer finds pleasure in prior wholesome activities, they may attain new levels of pleasure by indulging in a new activity.
Learning a new skill also forces an enhanced concentration and commitment. This also helps to alleviate boredom.
Some people are able to follow these strategies on their own. Others might turn to one or two trusted friends. Still, others need the resources that can be provided by a treatment center.
Granite Recovery Centers
For those who decide that a treatment center can maximize their chances for success, Granite Recovery Center is a wonderful place full of hope and compassion.
Located in New Hampshire, these addiction treatment centers have transformed the lives of those dependent on alcohol and drugs for over 10 years.
The professionals at the Granite Recovery Center realize that while anyone can overcome addiction, it is not an easy road to follow. Thanks to the effects of drugs on the natural pleasure centers of the brain, there are physiological reasons that addicts experience cravings. It’s not because the patient is a bad person or lacks willpower. Rather, it is because the brain has been rewired.
By offering a wide variety of therapies, including ones targeted specifically for helping the recovering patient to alleviate feelings of boredom, these treatment centers can design programs that are uniquely targeted to each individual.
The staff at the Granite Recovery Centers are dedicated to successfully helping patients overcome their addictions. To learn more about the offered programs, contact us today. Let this be the first day in the rest of your new, sober life.