Are you reading this right now because you got sober recently and feel so bored you might spontaneously combust… or worse…drink?
You are not alone, my friend.
Getting sober is like learning to walk again after a terrible accident. You should be able to go about living your life without drinking alcohol, but you feel utterly useless and have no idea what to do with yourself.
I mean, look at all this TIME you have!
The hours you used to devote to drinking and recovering from drinking have to be filled now with… well, who knows what?
The more you think about it, the more it annoys you, which is unfortunate because you already feel rather annoyed these days.
Let’s help you get started, shall we?
Have no fear! I’ve been where you are, as have thousands of other sober people who had to learn to have a life again after sobriety.
- Reasons You Might Feel Bored in Sobriety
- Sometimes being sober is boring because your life revolves around alcohol.
- Alcohol didn’t make life fun. It just made you not care.
- 10 Tips For Overcoming Boredom in Sobriety
- 1. Get counseling or therapy.
- 2. Accept that you are in a transitional phase, which will take time.
- 3. Communicate openly and honestly with others.
- 4. Build a strong support network.
- 5. Find a hobby and/or social activity to get involved in.
- 6. Take a fitness class or go to the gym.
- 7. Go on a field trip.
- 8. Get out in nature.
- 6. Start journaling.
- 9. Volunteer
- 10. Focus on eating nutritious food.
- Additional resources to fight boredom in sobriety:
- Final Note on Feeling Bored in Sobriety
Reasons You Might Feel Bored in Sobriety
It’s pretty normal to reduce the entire experience of boredom in sobriety to missing alcohol and believing that getting drunk is the primary way you (and everyone else) have fun.
In fact, when you first quit, it feels like everyone in the world is out getting drunk but you. The FOMO can be maddening.
But what if there is a physiological reason contributing to your feelings?
To unpack some of the underlying reasons you feel bored right now, it helps to understand what alcohol does to your brain.
Alcohol artificially boosts serotonin and dopamine in your brain.
This is important to remember when thinking about boredom. First, let’s revisit some terminology.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness, well-being, and pleasure. It’s also responsible for moderating moods and emotions. Serotonin depletion can cause major mood swings and feelings of sadness, anxiety, and irritability.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that is responsible for feelings of pleasure and happiness. It is also responsible for regulating movement and emotional response. Dopamine depletion can cause apathy, boredom, and lack of motivation.
That latter experience feeling like everything is gray and dull and lacks meaning? That’s called anhedonia. A lot of people experience anhedonia when they quit.
Let’s discuss why that is and what you do about it.
Serotonin and Dopamine Depletion in Early Sobriety
When you use alcohol (or any substance) to artificially boost serotonin and dopamine levels in your brain, you create an imbalance in the brain.
Our brains don’t like imbalance and will work very hard to correct it. That overcorrection is what you’re probably feeling right now.
Alcohol can produce 2 to 10 times more dopamine in the brain than natural rewards. So now, you’ve got two big problems on your hand:
- Your brain is going to produce less dopamine to balance out the artificial boost you give it every time you drink, and
- Natural rewards now pale compared to the artificial rewards that alcohol gives you.
So it’s not that sobriety is inherently boring; it’s that your serotonin and dopamine levels are now very low.
Additionally, when you drink heavily for a long period of time, your brain will actually start to shut down dopamine receptors in the brain’s reward center in response to the artificial boost of dopamine from alcohol.
When serotonin and dopamine levels are low, we become less motivated and less interested in our surroundings. This can lead to feelings of extreme boredom and apathy.
It’s why nothing seems fun or exciting, and you struggle to motivate yourself to have a good time.
For more on anhedonia and extreme boredom in sobriety, I recommend this video:
Your brain needs time to recover.
The good news is that your brain can adjust and restore balance to your internal world. The longer you stay away from alcohol and give your brain some much-needed TLC, the less you’ll feel like life is dull and uninteresting.
Alcohol robs you of the ability to feel naturally motivated and inspired. Those feelings don’t come back immediately when you quit.
It takes time.
How long? It honestly depends.
Acute anxiety and depression from the withdrawal process can ease within a few days to a week. But for many people, lingering feelings of anxiety, depression, and general malaise can last weeks, months, or even longer.
It largely depends on factors such as:
- How much and often you drank
- Pre-existing mental health conditions
- Whether you get treatment for co-occurring mental health conditions
But it is helpful to be able to say, “I know life feels boring now, but it’s because my brain is taking time to heal. It’s not always going to feel like this.”
Now that you know the chemical reason for your boredom, let’s explore additional factors that might be contributing to these feelings.
Then, we’ll talk about solutions and treatment!
Sometimes being sober is boring because your life revolves around alcohol.
Let’s address another reason life without alcohol feels boring. If you’ve created an entire social life around drinking, it is natural to be afraid of life without it.
When I was a heavy drinker, everything involved alcohol. If I was sad, I drank alcohol to feel better. If I was hanging out with friends, we were getting drunk. Did I have a stressful day at work? I drank alcohol.
My friends and I got together for happy hours after work. On the weekend, we went to bars and clubs. During the day, there were all-inclusive brunches. It all felt normal, even the terrible parts like awful hangovers and hangxiety.
When you remove alcohol from your life, you free up all the time you spent drinking and recovering from drinking. If you ever sit down to do that math, you will shock yourself with how much time went towards drinking.
It’s hard to fill that time, especially when dealing with alcohol cravings and triggers.
Alcohol didn’t make life fun. It just made you not care.
When I drank alcohol, I could (and did) sit and do nothing for hours.
My husband and I would plop down on our balcony drinking Jack and Sprite, chain-smoking cigarettes, and scrolling on our phones. Fun, right?
Sometimes we would watch a show, but even that become untenable for me after a couple of drinks because I did not have the attention span for it.
I used to love going to bars for hours. I’d sit around a table with friends, ordering rounds, and gossiping. It was fun!
Or was it?
I have gone to bars with people I genuinely like as a sober person, and I don’t stay for longer than an hour or two if nothing is happening.
Why? Because it is boring!
Getting drunk did not magically change the dynamics of that situation. It made me not care. We were all just sitting around and getting drunk, perfectly content to not really do anything together.
Sobriety pulls back the veil on your social life.
I realized that sobriety was not fundamentally boring. Alcohol merely blurred my perception of social situations.
I can go to a party where people play games while drinking and enjoy myself. Why? Because the games are fun!
Sobriety forces you to re-examine your social life in ways that are uncomfortable. In the absence of alcohol, do you even like talking to your “friends”?
My social circle changed when I got sober because I realized that many of my relationships were based on getting drunk together, and that was it.
Once I realized that I had to rediscover what fun meant to me.
10 Tips For Overcoming Boredom in Sobriety
Once you understand that your brain needs to recover and regain balance, it’s time to start inserting some joy back into your world.
This can be a daunting task.
It’s not as simple as “getting out there” and “trying something new.” It’s hard to do that when you suffer from extreme depression and anhedonia. The very things you should be doing to feel better require a level of motivation you might not be able to fathom.
And that’s okay.
But I’m going to explore solutions for people who sit at various points along the “sobriety is so boring” spectrum. Take what applies to you and leave whatever doesn’t.
1. Get counseling or therapy.
If you quit drinking and experience any new or worsening mental health symptoms, please consider therapy.
So many people quit drinking and end up walking around in a dopamine deficit state, struggling to find joy in anything.
That’s not a sign that life is boring without alcohol. It just means you need additional support.
Depending on the severity of the symptoms, your doctor may even recommend medication to help treat depression and anxiety.
And while these things might sound serious and scary, it’s important to note that it’s one piece of a larger puzzle. Recovery and sobriety are often complicated.
But it’s comforting to know that you don’t have figure it out on your own. There are people out there who can help.
2. Accept that you are in a transitional phase, which will take time.
Sobriety is a major lifestyle change. There is an initial learning curve. It’s important to have the right mindset about sobriety.
Don’t get down on yourself because you can’t get wasted at the bar with your friends anymore. You don’t want to fall down that rabbit hole.
Remember, it’s not that sobriety is terrible, but that your brain is trying to grapple with the sudden loss of dopamine.
Think of it as an injury.
Just like you would be patient and gentle with a broken leg, you gotta give your brain the same tenderness.
That being said, drinking FOMO is real and must be dealt with. Sometimes admitting the truth to yourself is the first step.
Related Post: Why Quitting Alcohol Can Feel Like Grief
3. Communicate openly and honestly with others.
It’s perfectly okay to say, “Hey, I’m in a weird spot right now.”
On the one hand, you have no idea what you’re supposed to do with yourself. A lot of people don’t feel good when they first get sober, so it’s totally understandable if your feelings are all over the place.
And on top of all of that?
Your friends are out getting drunk, the same as they always do. Meanwhile, you’re at home wondering how many days it would take someone to find your body after you’ve choked on those peanut M&M’s you’ve been knocking back during your latest Netflix binge.
When I quit drinking, I was lucky to have a spouse that supported my decision. And yet, he still had no idea how to support me.
I didn’t know either.
This is probably new for your friends and family, too. Don’t be afraid to communicate how you’re feeling.
Is it going to cure your boredom? Not on its own, but maybe it starts a conversation and a friend comes over just to sit with you and make sure you’re good.
Some days, you’ll want that.
4. Build a strong support network.
Sometimes boredom in sobriety looks like not wanting to be around anyone. We want to isolate and sit with our feelings.
But we actually need the opposite of that.
Early sobriety is a critical period when community and support networks are critical. This can be hard if your social life previously revolved around drinking. It’s even harder if your loved ones don’t support your sobriety.
Right now, you’re doing a very hard thing, and sometimes hard things feel lonely. Fortunately, there are more ways than ever to connect with like-minded people who are fellow travelers on this path.
Join in-person groups or online communities like our Soberish Facebook group to get started.
But also, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and get involved in activities around your community.
Is there a cause you care about with volunteer opportunities? Are you religious? Can you get involved at your place of worship? What about groups that center around exercise like running clubs or boot camps?
Forming healthy connections with other people is an important of this process. It’s one of the many ways you will relearn how to enjoy life again without alcohol.
5. Find a hobby and/or social activity to get involved in.
Staying busy is a great way to stave off boredom and create space for healing the parts of your brain that took a walloping from drinking. It’s particularly therapeutic to find something to do with your hands.
Here are all things working with your hands can do for you:
How to Choose a Hobby
Choosing a new hobby to occupy your time is not always easy. It may require a bit of soul-searching, especially when your motivation is at historically low levels.
What did you enjoy doing before drinking came around and took over your social life? If you must dig WAY back into childhood for this answer, then do that.
Before I started drinking too much, I loved to write. It was my passion. I kept a notebook and pen beside my bed in case I woke up in the middle of the night with a brilliant song lyric or poem.
That is the activity I’ve buried my energy into since quitting.
I would totally love to learn to knit or DIY refurbish a chair like they do on Flea Market Flip, but for now, I mostly stick to writing and playing with my very active (and talkative) five-year-old daughter.
What did you like to do? Don’t worry if it’s cool or age-appropriate. If the internet has shown us anything, it’s that neither matters.
It doesn’t even have to be crafty.
Have you always wanted to learn to dance salsa? Get on Google, find a class, and make it happen. Plus, you might meet some cool people, and that’s always a double win.
6. Take a fitness class or go to the gym.
Exercise is critically important in early sobriety and for ongoing mental health and wellness. It’s a great way to boost dopamine and endorphin levels naturally.
So much of this list is not just about finding things to do, but treating the underlying causes of extreme boredom in sobriety.
Exercise is something that can attack the problem on two fronts.
Depending on where you live, various options are available to you. Spin class, yoga, pilates, CrossFit, Zumba, Bootcamp.
Pick something and try it. If you don’t love it, try something else.
I’m a fan of Class Pass because it allows you to try out several different gyms and classes without having to make a commitment to any of them.
A word of caution: to the greatest extent possible, get out of the house for this part. Check out community centers or any yoga-by-donation events if money is an issue. Join a fitness club like a local running or walking group.
It will help you get out of the house and moving which will make you feel better.
But if you can’t or aren’t able to do a group class, at the very least, take a tech-free 30-minute walk every day. I promise it will do wonders for your mental health, which, in turn, will help you feel motivated to do more things.
7. Go on a field trip.
If you have a willing friend or family member, take them along. If not, that’s cool too.
I found myself planning little outings when I got sober because I needed to figure out what it meant to have fun again.
So I went to shows at the local performing arts center. I dragged my husband to the zoo and aquarium. Is a new museum opening up within driving distance? We were there.
When you get sober, you realize there is an entire daytime pulse in your city or town that you never really felt before. Things that people do during that day that don’t involve recovering or boozy brunch.
Do you know the vibe you get when you travel to a new place? There is nothing like experiencing a brand-new city or country. Try to tap into that energy for your local area.
8. Get out in nature.
Whether going for a walk in your neighborhood, visiting a park, or tackling a nature trail on foot or bike, find something to do to get fresh air.
We are stressed-out, overstimulated, tech-obsessed creatures. Pile on some sobriety struggle, and it’s a recipe for madness.
Getting outside and communing with nature is scientifically proven to reduce stress and improve mental health and cognitive function in both kids and adults.
Start with going for walks for 10-15 minutes every day. Pursue outdoor activities like kayaking or fishing. Go camping.
You will feel better. If nothing else, it will give you a much-needed reset.
6. Start journaling.
I’ve included this separate from hobbies because I don’t believe that journaling is a hobby. I’d classify it more as a tool.
It’s something I do in addition to my own creative writing.
Unloading some thoughts onto the page can help you figure out your feelings. Are you bored? Or are you lonely? Depressed? A combination of all three?
You have to understand what you’re feeling and WHY you’re feeling this way in order to change it. Journaling helps you do that.
It also opens up space to approach your internal world differently. One of the biggest impediments to my sobriety during my relapse days was my inability to avoid getting consumed by emotions.
I over-identified with every negative feeling in my body.
I’m sad. I’m miserable. I don’t see how any of this gets better.
These feelings were paralyzing. But I didn’t know what to do with them besides feel them. And the more I felt them, the more intense and blinding they would get.
How journaling helps beyond boredom.
Journaling allowed me to step outside of my emotions. I could pour my heart out and every irrational thought onto the pages.
When I was finished, it was like someone had hit the refresh button on my brain. The intensity dimmed. I could go back and re-read what I wrote and approach it from the perspective of an outside observer.
Oh, okay. I keep going on and on about Friend X who didn’t invite me to this event. And I’m really mad about Event Y. There’s clearly something going on there. What can I do to fix this? If nothing, how can I move past it?
When you begin to view your negative thoughts and feelings as problems to be solved rather than the embodiment of who you actually are, you liberate yourself.
It’s like figuring out how to play the guitar. It’s awkward, slow-going, and hurts like hell, but you’re committed to figuring it out.
So you deal with the unglamorous parts until you’re able to sweetly serenade the masses with your rendition of Wonderwall.
You might even consider working through some shadow work prompts to do some deep work.
One of the best things you can do for yourself when you’re feeling bored in sobriety is to find a way to serve others.
Volunteer at your local shelter or thrift store. Sign up to do some work in your community garden.
Are humans not your thing?
Volunteer at the local Humane Society to walk dogs or pet cats.
Volunteering is a great way to reconnect with your community. Helping others actually boosts our own mental health and feelings of self-worth. Plus, it helps us with our emotional sobriety and wellness.
If you have the time, sign on to a longer-term project like helping with this year’s charity bake sale or the big 5K race your city holds yearly. You’ll get to meet new people and be a part of something positive.
If nothing else, it starts to chip away at any notion you might have that you’re unworthy.
10. Focus on eating nutritious food.
It is very common for people to replace alcohol with sugar in the beginning, which is detrimental not only to your waistline and physical health but your mental well-being as well.
Remember that one of the things we’re attempting to do is not only get out there and experience fun activities that don’t involve alcohol but also heal the underlying damage in our brain from drinking.
Part of that equation is eating better food.
Fried and overly sugary foods will also artificially spike your dopamine levels and cause your brain to overcorrect, leaving you feeling irritable, depressed, and cranky. These are all things you’re trying to overcome from drinking.
By focusing on eating healthy, nourishing foods, you are actively working on reversing those symptoms.
It’s especially important to eat foods that are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins. Heavy drinkers are notoriously deficient in thiamine.
Your doctor may even prescribe you supplements to correct vitamin deficiencies, which is why I always encourage them to visit their doctors and have an honest conversation about their alcohol consumption.
It’s likely your doctor will order some bloodwork, which can be the start of your path to physical recovery.
Will eating salads and drinking water make your boredom go away? Not exactly, but it can make you feel better, which has a ripple effect on whether or not you enjoy your life.
By removing the alcohol and making those necessary lifestyle changes, we increase the chances of becoming people who can enjoy the simple pleasure of life once again.
Additional resources to fight boredom in sobriety:
If you’re interested in this topic, there are a few books I highly recommend that will help you understand what’s going on and how to get past it:
- Dopamine Nation by Dr. Anna Lembke
- The Comfort Crisis by Michael Easter
- The Biology of Desire by Dr. Marc Lewis
- The Molecule of More by Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long
I also recommend watching this very lengthy but enlightening interview on the Huberman Lab with Dr. Anna Lembke.
Final Note on Feeling Bored in Sobriety
Whether your sobriety has you wallowing in boredom or self-pity, please know that it will get better. Even if you have no idea HOW things can change, trust the process and keep working on it.
Feeling bored, sad, lonely, or anxious about something are all very human things to feel. You’ll never entirely escape them.
Sure, you tried to do that with drinking, but look where that got you!
So now comes the arduous task of learning how to manage the tough stuff without a chemical crutch like alcohol.
This is the part where you figure out how to enjoy life without a little something extra to help loosen you up.
And you know what?
Even if you don’t see it now. Maybe you think I’m full of shit. I certainly would have if I’d read this article five years ago.
But I PROMISE you, if you keep moving forward, things in your brain will start to click. Dark clouds will go away. And one day, it will occur to you that you’re actually happy and enjoying your life.
In the meantime, the Soberish community is here to support you and help you get there.