Why Boredom May Trigger Relapse

Boredom is a common trigger for people in recovery from addiction. Being bored represents a significant relapse risk because people in addiction recovery may not know what to do with their free time, which was often previously spent obtaining, using, or recovering from using substances.

Why Boredom May Trigger Relapse

For people who have completed a drug or alcohol rehab program but are still in early recovery, boredom can represent a significant relapse trigger.

Boredom is defined as the state of being “wearied by dullness [and] tedious repetition.” For some people in recovery, it also represents the state that substance use formerly relieved.

Boredom In Addiction Recovery

It is natural for people to feel boredom in recovery from a substance use disorder (SUD). They have just stopped doing something that formerly took up a significant amount of their time.

Coming out of a structured rehab program, where much of their time is accounted for, they may have not yet discovered a way to spend their free time.

Identifying Boredom

We have all experienced boredom. However, it’s important to be able to identify the wide range of feelings and experiences that it can involve, because not all of them are obvious.

Feelings of boredom may include:

  • apathy
  • feeling jittery
  • nervousness
  • fatigue
  • an empty feeling
  • lack of interest
  • limited attention span
  • frustration

Being able to name an experience is a good first step in not automatically reacting to it.

Boredom As A Relapse Trigger

For a person in recovery from substance abuse, the negative feelings or uncomfortable sensations associated with boredom can trigger a relapse.

In the past, the person may have self-medicated using drugs or alcohol to avoid these difficult emotions.

As a result, when people in recovery experience boredom, it can lead to cravings and, eventually, addiction relapse.

Why Boredom May Be Difficult To Overcome

Boredom can be challenging to overcome because it may represent deeper, unresolved mental health issues.

For people in recovery, boredom may be a state of mind, a kind of emotional defense against childhood trauma, a dysfunctional family, or other difficult life experiences.

A Defense Against Emotional Pain

Traumatic experiences or neglectful parents can make children feel insecure and unsafe, which may cause them to disconnect from emotions that make them vulnerable to further disappointment and pain.

As adults, people may experience this lack of connection with their core emotions as boredom. Drug and alcohol use becomes a way to artificially reconnect with these core emotions.

Protection From Vulnerability

Boredom can also serve as a kind of protection from attempting to form close relationships with others, which requires vulnerability.

Boredom may be, for some, an unconscious way of cutting off those desires or the emotional pain of not having our needs met.

People in this state may engage in drug and alcohol use in order to have the courage to connect with people.


Boredom may simply be a sign that we need something to do, something new to pique our interest. But finding this new activity takes time and sometimes even several failed attempts.

People may not have the patience for this and may use drugs or alcohol to sidestep boredom related to a lack of stimulation.

Healthy Ways To Relieve Boredom

There are options for people to try when they experience boredom so that they are less likely to turn to drugs or alcohol.

Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness and meditation are commonly becoming part of addiction treatment programs as a way of giving clients a larger toolbox to help them deal with the issues that arise in recovery.

Simply put, mindfulness means being aware of something or being in a state of awareness. People may also describe mindfulness as being present.

The more aware and present a person is, the more likely they will be to recognize feelings related to boredom, giving them more freedom in choosing their response to it.

With practice, they may learn that boredom itself isn’t so bad, setting them up for a healthy relationship with a fuller range of emotions.

Start A New Hobby

This hobby could be something the person has dreamed of doing for a long time, such as learning a foreign language or playing a musical instrument.

It often happens that alcohol or drug abuse takes the place of activities people previously enjoyed, so returning to something they loved doing prior to experiencing addiction is another option.

Join A Support Group

Like everyone else, people in recovery need a healthy support system.

One way to establish a support system after completing treatment is by joining a support group. Being a part of a mutually beneficial support group can be a lifesaver when it comes to avoiding relapse.

Maintaining peer support relationships that were developed during treatment is another good starting point. Having the help and advice of someone who has gone through similar experiences can also be critical.

Finally, take advantage of the aftercare services provided by the treatment center. Some offer alumni associations that can help clients find sober activities and support groups in their area.

Behavioral Activation

In a therapeutic sense, behavioral activation has been proven to be helpful for people in recovery. Studies have shown that this treatment modality has helped people stay sober when they are on their own.

Behavioral activation is a short therapeutic program that gives people tools to increase their social network by setting goals and creating rewards when the goals are met.

Find Addiction Treatment

If you or a loved one are facing addiction, you can find treatment today. Call us to learn more about how to start your recovery journey.

This page does not provide medical advice. See more

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