In early recovery clients have reported feeling bored. When asked to elaborate they go on to share that they have nothing going on, everything to them seems mundane. Without even realizing it they have filled so much of their day with substance use. Since they have discontinued use, it seems there are hours of idle time.
For those in recovery, boredom means “normalcy”. This “normal” is one without the chaos that substances have previously caused. When someone is in active addiction the substances cause the brain to flood with dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical released that increases pleasure.
At normal levels, dopamine acts as a reinforcement to encourage us to do simple tasks such as eating. When the brain is hijacked by substances, dopamine is released and with prolonged use the brain becomes attuned to the substance and desensitized to natural effects that stimulate dopamine release.
Tolerance is built and more of the drug is needed to continue feeling that same effect. Without the substance, normal behaviors seem boring. This is caused by the lack of dopamine release. The longer abstinence is achieved, the more the body has time to heal and recover from the effects of substances. While in recovery it is important to understand that it takes time. The risks of boredom in early recovery can lead to other risky behaviors such as cross addiction, gambling, overspending, promiscuousness and even relapse. It is important to understand these risks can create health risks, financial burdens, sexually transmitted diseases, unplanned pregnancies, and added relationship issues.
A substantial risk is cross addiction and relapse due to prolonged abstinence and healing, the body's substance tolerance is reduced causing an increase in the potential for an overdose. Creating a schedule to keep busy in early recovery will encourage formation of new healthy lifestyle choices. Having free time is a chance to try something new. For example:
Get back into an old hobby
Connect with supportive family and friends
Join a new group (fitness, church, AA)
These are just a few suggestions of activities someone can do to fill idle time. Change the mindset: this new found boredom is an opportunity. Take the time to explore and develop a new lifestyle driven by changes you truly enjoy. Recovery is a personal journey of growth and exploration. Always remember you do not have to recover alone filling your time with like-minded individuals can create feelings of hope and contentment.