Is Boredom A Leading Cause of Addiction?
Boredom may seem harmless, if unenjoyable, but for many people, the experience of boredom makes them vulnerable to substance use, and can ultimately be a cause of addiction. A recent survey from Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse found that young people between the ages of 12 and 17 who are frequently bored are 50% more likely to drink and take drugs. The study also found that if, in addition to being frequently bored, a teenager has at least $25 of spending money per week or is under stress, their chances of using substances is 300% higher than teenagers without these risk factors.
This article will take a closer look at what causes boredom, how it is linked to addiction, and how to overcome boredom and addiction for a successful recovery.
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What Causes Boredom?
In the modern United States, most people are used to having a wide range of entertainment and stimulation at their fingertips at all times. You might assume that people are less bored these days than they used to be, but on the contrary, boredom and the drug use and addiction that can be caused by it are on the rise. This is partly because boredom isn’t just about your surroundings; it’s really a state of mind.
Boredom occurs when you aren’t able to interest your mind in what you’re currently experiencing externally or internally. Most often, you will view your current environment, activity, or company as the problem, believing that if you could go somewhere else, do something else, or be with someone else, you wouldn’t be bored anymore. Teenagers, who often feel trapped by their surroundings and powerless to change their own lives in significant ways, are likely to turn to drugs or alcohol to relieve boredom because it is the easiest and most obvious way to change their state of mind without having to change their lives.
Even adults with more power to change their lives than teenagers can be made vulnerable to substance use by boredom. They may be bored with their jobs, their social life, or themselves. The constant stimulation that comes with modern technology, especially smart phones, can actually exacerbate boredom by causing sensory overload, and having so many choices at hand can lead to a hard to satisfy restlessness. With a good wifi connection, it’s easy to skate along the surface of the internet from a headline to an article to a show to a song to a social media platform to a video clip and so on, without ever going deep enough into any one thing to fully engage your mind and keep it engaged.
Is Boredom a Leading Cause of Addiction?
Drugs and alcohol can easily, artificially, and temporarily free a person from the restless state of mind of boredom because addictive substances hijack your brain and force it to experience pleasurable distraction without you having to put any work into it. The more often you take this chemical shortcut to relieving boredom, the more likely you are to develop a serious addiction.
For many people, the experience of boredom is incredibly uncomfortable, and can even be frightening on a subconscious level. Some experts believe that boredom shows up just before an unpleasant thought or memory is about to arise in your mind, or before you will have to face a challenging experience that you would rather avoid. In these cases, drug and alcohol use becomes even more tempting, because you aren’t just trying to relieve boredom, you are also subconsciously avoiding conflict, negative emotions, and/or painful thoughts. The problem is that substance use is a temporary fix that ultimately burdens you with more negative experiences and conflicts, while also lowering your individual threshold for how much boredom you can stand.
How Does Boredom Affect Addiction Recovery?
For many people with substance use disorder, one of the biggest fears about getting treatment is that a sober life will be a boring one. If you are accustomed to drugs or alcohol being your primary, or even only source of distraction and pleasure, it’s natural to assume this. In addition, recovery often results in a person having a lot more time and energy on their hands than they are accustomed to. A life that was once frantically centered on getting, using, and dealing with the aftermath of substance use is now wide open and empty. Without new activities, passions, and goals to replace addiction behavior, an intense and dangerous boredom can set in during recovery.
For addiction recovery treatment to be successful, you have to learn how to react in healthier ways to the experience of boredom, and to seek out new ways of taking pleasure in life so that you are bored less often. You can even incorporate this into your recovery progress by regularly rewarding yourself for recovery milestones, such as two months of sobriety, or your first sober Christmas. It is also crucial to fully participate in the counseling aspects of addiction treatment. If you have worked through most of your emotional and psychological issues, and have built up enough experience with confronting negative thoughts and feelings, then boredom will no longer be a frightening experience for you.
Tips for Combating Boredom
1. Practice being fully present in the moment.
Some people are never bored, no matter the situation they’re in. That’s because they’ve learned how to fully engage with the present moment in a way that can be fulfilling no matter what they are experiencing. Prepare for this by practicing. When you’re doing something dull like washing dishes, try to focus all of your senses on the activity, putting as much awareness into what you’re doing as possible. You probably won’t become magically thrilled by the chore, but you will enjoy it more, with the bonus of feeling more relaxed and energetic. You will also avoid the inevitable boredom and frustration that comes from physically doing one thing while mentally wishing you were doing something else.
2. Discover a new passion.
Start looking at unoccupied free time as an opportunity to discover new interests and activities to enjoy. Keep your mind open to new experiences and pay attention to what excites you. When you find something new that peaks your interest, pursue it. Maybe you already have interests or hobbies that were neglected during your active addiction, or perhaps there were things you always wanted to try but never did. Now is the time to get moving and explore those potential passions. Sooner or later you’ll find something captivating that will ensure you rarely ever get the chance to feel bored in your leisure time.
3. Get social.
Getting social in real life and not just online is a great way to beat boredom. You can make new social connections in treatment, while pursuing new interests and hobbies, or by joining a club or taking a class. Not only can friendships give you more to do so you don’t have the chance to get bored, the company of someone you really like can make doing something boring feel enjoyable. Talking to a friend on Bluetooth while you rake leaves, for example, will make the time pass and keep you from wishing you were somewhere else doing something else.
4. Start some home improvements.
Home improvement or organizational projects may not be your idea of a good time, but they are a great way to avoid boredom while also making a difference in your life. Painting your living room or cleaning out and organizing your bedroom closet can be extremely absorbing, and when completed, the project will provide daily rewards and a sense of accomplishment that can help you feel more satisfied with your life.
5. Get active.
Physical exercise is a good distraction, and something that can continue to engage you over time, as you get in better shape and find new ways to challenge your improving fitness level. You may even find out that you’re passionate about running, or yoga, or kickboxing. But even if you never come around to really enjoying exercise, physical activity releases dopamine, which will make you happier overall, while also reducing drug and alcohol cravings. In early recovery, exercise is one of the key ways you can help your brain repair the chemical imbalances that result from chronic substance use.
6. Follow your curiosity.
Learning about a new idea or culture, or getting informed about current events or the latest scientific discoveries, can not only be very stimulating, it can help you become a more interesting and confident person. Understanding more about the world around you can also help you recognize your own place in the world, while motivating you to make changes and expand your horizons.
7. Go somewhere new.
Going somewhere new, either on your own or with a sober friend, is a great way to keep life interesting. If you don’t have the time or money to go overseas for a week, try a long weekend in a neighboring state, or a day trip someplace interesting. Simply visiting a big city or small town that’s just an hour or two away by car or bus can shake up the monotony of life in a very invigorating way.
8. Soak up some nature.
The natural world is very interesting, and will also lift your mood and feed your soul. If you live in the country, or near a state or national park, get outside and absorb some beauty. Talk to park rangers or go to the library to learn more about what there is to see and experience, as well as what goes on “behind the scenes” in this habitat. If you live in a large urban area, there are still green spaces and wildlife nearby if you’re willing to look. Visit a park or zoo, a botanical garden or arboretum, or take a neighborhood garden tour. Even taking the time to go outside and watch the clouds in the sky or close your eyes and listen to the breeze can be a gratifying experience.
9. Volunteer and give back.
As you get stronger in your recovery, give back to the world around you by volunteering with a nonprofit, or helping out someone in need, like an elderly relative, or a friend who just had a baby. Helping other people will keep you from dwelling on negativity, and will prove that you can be a part of making your part of the world a better place.
10. Challenge yourself.
Don’t let yourself get complacent in your recovery. Make sure that you always have goals that you are working towards. There are so many accomplishments and experiences that are now possible for you in sobriety. You can also challenge yourself by doing things that intimidate or even scare you. There is a big rush and great sense of satisfaction that comes from pushing yourself outside of your own comfort zone to surprise yourself and others.
Overcoming Addiction and Boredom with Addiction Treatment
The first step to freeing yourself from your addiction is detoxification. You need to stop drinking and using and allow your body to flush out all the toxic chemicals. The best way to do this is by getting a medical detox supervised by professionals. It will protect your health, while keeping you as comfortable as possible, so that you can start your recovery off on a good note. Even people who may be able to safely handle a DIY detox are better off seeking professional help because going it alone makes you extremely vulnerable to relapsing before you’ve even finished the withdrawal process.
After detox, a quality addiction treatment program will provide you with counseling and therapy to address the motivations behind your substance use and what causes addiction, while also teaching you how to overcome boredom and other negative mental states. The skills you learn in treatment will not only strengthen your recovery and prevent relapse, they will also help you to create a happier, more fulfilling life.