Tips to stop drinking out of boredom

Think of times or places where alcohol is normally found and parties, seasonal events, family meals or work gatherings might spring to mind.  Drinking alcohol is often seen as a very social activity, but in truth for millions of people it’s the total opposite.  Many people claim that they drink for the totally opposite reason - they drink because they are bored. Here are some tips to stop drinking out of boredom:

Why do we drink when we are bored? 

Here are 3 reasons that many people give for boredom causing them to drink too much :

I drink absent-mindedly,  whilst doing other things

drinking while watching TV is a very common way for intake to spiral

If you want to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink, it make sense to avoid  busy bars, and thirsty friends.   But you expect to avoid your own sofa?   Probably not. But many of us should, because millions of us drink too much whilst relaxing at home.  This is because home is where we feel safe, unjudged - it’s where we can relax.  But at home, it’s  easy to get a bit too comfortable… you can get  a long way down a bottle when you are sitting in front of the TV half-watching some series to pass the time.  Boredom is a key reason  people give for  drinking too much and drinking like this can become almost a subconscious activity, something  that you do whilst doing something else.  

If you always have a bottle open when watching TV, then it quickly becomes a very hard habit to break.  This is particularly true if you’ve had a hard day at work or with the kids, you are tired or stressed out.  Soon it  can seem weird NOT to have a glass in your hand, even if the rest of you is thinking about something else (or not thinking about very much at all).   

I drink because I’m anxious and I want to numb the feeling

drinking alcohol can numb anxiety for a short period, but makes it worse in the long run

For other people, drinking is a much more active choice - they drink to cope with negative feelings like anxiety or loneliness.  Many people say that they drink alcohol to manage anxiety - to numb it or take the edge off difficult feelings.  But self-medicating like this is not just bad for your body, but it is also likely to make your mental health worse.  Drinking because you feel anxious is likely to make you feel worse because alcohol is a depressant, so if you are already feeling low, it makes those feelings more extreme.

 I drink because I feel lonely 

loneliness affects millions and can be a big reason why many people drink

As with anxiety, COVID has seen rates of loneliness soar, as people have been forced apart for months, or have lost connections to friends or social groups.  Many people say that they drink because they feel lonely.  When you don’t feel you have anyone to talk to or anywhere  to go, drink can feel like a constant, a friend. Unfortunately, drinking makes you feel worse which in turn, makes you feel even less confident about going out and making new connections.  

Whatever the reason for your boredom, drinking can create a negative cycle around it.   So whether you are an absent-minded drinker or a lonely or anxious one, what can you do to reduce your drinking out of boredom?  Here are 5  tips to help you make changes to your drinking habits that could help you feel better, for good. 

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Tip 1:  Get conscious about what’s driving your drinking

Much of the time, we go around on auto-pilot, especially when it comes to repeated behaviours or patterns.  Make a conscious choice to think about your drinking routines.  Are there particular days when it’s worse or better?  Is it the same time every night? If you want to change something, you first need to understand what it is. This might be a bit uncomfortable, as we often drink to reduce the noise of our own thoughts.  But if you can spend time with those thoughts, you will be better prepared to make changes that can positively affect them.  

Tip 2: Look for ways to change your routines 

Once you have really looked at your habits, consider alternative solutions.  If you like gin and tonic when you’re vegging on the sofa, swap it for fizzy water with lemon.  If you know your willpower weakens after 9pm, get up before then and go and have a warm shower instead.  Or ring a friend. Anything to change up that routine and make it harder for drink to find a place to get comfortable. 

If you know you will feel lonely or down, try and plan in some interactions to reduce those feelings and your reliance on alcohol. Be realistic for you - you don't need to sign up to demanding evening class or learn a language - just a short chat with a neighbour or a call to a family member can help you feel more connected. 

 Try and find ways to build other people into your daily patterns.  Different activities will in turn create different thoughts and even the smallest change can start to make a big difference.  If you are filling voids in your life with alcohol, then you need to decide what else can fill you up instead.  

Tip 3: Get active, ideally outside 

I don’t mean marathon running or sky-diving.  If you are feeling bored, flat or low, then moderate exercise in the fresh air is a game changer.  Fresh air is good for brain and body function and moving your body helps stimulate endorphins, which lift your mood.  Consider swimming or a group exercise class with other people-  even sharing the same space and activity with strangers will help you feel more connected, as well as reducing the time when you are alone with a bottle. 

Tip 4:  Reach out to others

Boredom is totally natural and we all feel it, but it can be hard to find a way out of your rut. So seek the help of other, non-judgy supportive people.  Whether it's your partner, friends or colleagues, ask those who know you for ideas of things you can experiment with to fill your time differently. Don't assume people are too busy to see you, all they need is to know that you would like to meet up. Let people know you want to see more of them.

 If you have someone you trust, let them know if you are feeling down or lonely - so they know you won’t mind if they check in with you more often.  See if there are organisations around you where you could help out, that would love to use your skills and talents. 

Tip 5:  Seek help for underlying problems 

Mental health needs as much attention as physical health, so if you are suffering, go and talk to your doctor.  Talk to them about your drinking too.

All these tips are here to help you prevent drinking out of boredom. They give you alternatives to drinking to fill gaps in your life.  If you want to get better control of your drinking, you need to think about what your future drink-free life will look like.  Swapping our routines and habits that are damaging you for ones that can strengthen  your body and soul will give you a really clear reason why you want to change your drinking.

The horrible irony to all of this, is that alcohol amplifies loneliness. It robs us of our confidence, energy and self worth.

By making small changes, you break the cycle of loneliness -> addiction -> more loneliness. Don't you deserve a life full of laughter, joy and connection? Of course you do - you are just feeling a bit stuck. Take control of the aspects of your life that you have some influence over and watch the world change around you. The Freedom Programme places your happiness at the centre of this journey. As you feel happier, and more connected, this journey starts to feel much easier.

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Author of Sober In Seven and wellness and sobriety coach in the UK, here to use my own experience of overcoming alcohol addiction to support you on your journey to a better healthier life.

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