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Dispelling The Myth That Recovery Is Boring

Dr. Gerardo Sison

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gerardo Sison

March 29, 2019

Recovery from drug or alcohol addiction can be tremendously challenging both physically and mentally and may even be painful. This can also be a rewarding process for self-discovery and, for some, it’s the start of a new phase in life, far beyond anything they could have imagined prior to treatment. And rarely is it boring.

Dopamine And Perception Of Boredom

However, without professional support and guidance, recovery may feel boring for the formerly drug or alcohol addicted individual. When addicted to drugs and alcohol, the body grows accustomed to a built-in incentive or reward system with the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is pretty great. When released, it’s that warm, euphoric feeling you get after a delicious meal or that first sip of coffee in the morning. For a person addicted to drugs or alcohol, it’s that feeling just after using, amplified several times over.

When someone stops using, their bodies still seek the drug, and the physical compulsion toward drug-seeking can cause other activities to feel dull. Fortunately, boredom is largely a matter of perception. Part of having successful drug and alcohol treatment involves addressing and changing these perceptions to allow an individual to reassess their environment based on reality, not on false perceptions fueled by drug or alcohol use.

How can you change perceptions? Sometimes it takes using those activities that formerly brought you joy, like writing, swimming, biking, going to movies, etc. as a positive way to cope with stresses and drug-triggers that arise day to day. Over time, the dopamine reward system will adjust and these things that once brought you joy will once again make you feel better. Moreover, they may become effective tools in maintaining your recovery.

Wait, When Did I Become Boring?

Have you ever had that one friend who was so fixated on one subject or activity that they rarely spoke of anything else? Not super fun to be around. Alcohol and drug use can rob individuals of their interests, hobbies, even careers, and frankly, it makes us a bit one-dimensional and, er, dare we say, boring?

The person newly emerging from the veiled world of addiction may actually be suffering from a total void of any other outside interests, but the boredom isn’t in the recovery; it’s an after effect of the addiction. In some cases, a co-occurring mental disorder such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or depression, may make finding that thing that makes you tick a bit harder.

Treatment of these co-occurring disorders is as important as treating the addiction. For others, especially youth, boredom is cited as a reason for drug or alcohol use. In these cases, actively looking at ways to relieve boredom is critical for a healthy recovery. In either case, seeking a comprehensive and stimulating treatment plan is essential for a successful long-term recovery.

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Coping With Boredom In Recovery

Approximately 25% of relapse is blamed on boredom or a person’s inability to re-focus their attention away from cravings and on to something that invites a new challenge or sense of well-being. The first step to addressing boredom in recovery is to understand that it’s a state of mind, not a state of reality. If the four walls of your room are leaving you feeling drab, it’s time for a change of scenery. Take a walk, write in a journal, invite a friend to a movie; your recovery may depend on these choices.

Notice whether there are certain times of the day when you experience boredom, then think about ways to combat these feelings in advance of the onset. This is great advice for any negative feelings or cravings you experience during your recovery. Think about things you can do that make you feel better. For some, it’s as simple as taking a step outside and practicing mindfulness, for others, it might involve a specific hobby that helps elevate their mood. Taking note of these patterns can also help you determine whether there is a specific trigger that causes you to experience the doldrums, or if it’s related to diet, vitamin or sleep deficiencies, or other adjustable issues.

If you go into recovery with the attitude it will never compare with using, then it probably won’t. The fact is, recovery is only as interesting as you make it. If you approach recovery as a journey of discovery, it will be a far more meaningful and adventurous experience for you.

Challenge yourself. Everyone gets bored if they fail to uncover a sense of purpose or identity for themselves. If you find that your old hobbies aren’t serving you well, explore new ideas, seek new adventures, and challenge yourself to try something that you might not ordinarily try. This might mean taking that class you’ve been thinking about, trying out a new sport, joining a group, or other activity.

Find purpose and meaning in who you are and everything you do. This may seem obvious, but so often we are controlled by our sense of what we’re supposed to be or do, heading down paths that really aren’t right for us. Recovery is your opportunity to rebuild your life and gain some control over your path. Now maybe the time to go back to school for the career you’ve always imagined for yourself. Or maybe you find meaning in volunteering and helping others. Finding purpose and meaning is a process of discovery in and of itself, and can certainly help refocus your attention away from the cravings, daily stress, depression, and boredom to the better things in life.

Ways Of Coping With Boredom:

  • Change of scenery
  • Notice patterns of boredom
  • Altering the perception of recovery
  • Challenge yourself
  • Find your purpose

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