Boredom as a Trigger

Dealing with Boredom

Though it sounds innocent enough, boredom is actually one of the leading triggers for return to alcohol use among people who have quit drinking alcohol. Think about it; boredom leads to idle time, idle thoughts, idle hands. Having to sit with ourselves, our thoughts and feelings, and just kind of twiddling our thumbs. One of the likely reasons we drank alcohol in the first place is because it yields a rapid shift in states. The flood of neurochemicals like dopamine, the numbing of our central nervous system, the buzz you feel -- all of these things change our physical and emotional experience in just a few sips. So if you’re feeling bored, and nothing seems to be shifting your mood, you might be at risk for reaching for a glass. Understanding boredom as a trigger, and knowing a few surefire ways to occupy your time, is an important part of our alcohol-free toolbox.

Boredom + Dopamine

To understand exactly why boredom is so triggering for alcohol use, we must harken back to our good old friend, the brain. We’ve talked about dopamine an awful lot over our time together, haven’t we? As you know, it’s because our dopamine reaction to consuming alcohol is massively important to the science of addiction. Pop back over to Dopamine + the Brain for a refresher if you need, or you can just remember that when we drink alcohol, it provides our brain with a massive rush of artificial dopamine. This eventually lowers our natural production of dopamine, while it simultaneously bumps up our hedonic setpoint—the threshold at which we experience pleasure.

And without alcohol, our brains are missing that dopamine surge. They don’t even produce normal levels of dopamine on their own anymore. (Yet!) And they’re searching—searching for that dopamine hit. Without it, we feel low, uninterested, numb, bored. Perhaps you feel more bored by your daily life than you would have before you began drinking alcohol habitually—this actually makes quite a bit of sense.