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Triggers and Cravings

Why Do I Crave Alcohol When I'm Bored

August 11, 2023
12 min read
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Written by
Reframe Content Team
A team of researchers and psychologists who specialize in behavioral health and neuroscience. This group collaborates to produce insightful and evidence-based content.
August 11, 2023
12 min read
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Certified recovery coach specialized in helping everyone redefine their relationship with alcohol. His approach in coaching focuses on habit formation and addressing the stress in our lives.
August 11, 2023
12 min read
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Recognized by Fortune and Fast Company as a top innovator shaping the future of health and known for his pivotal role in helping individuals change their relationship with alcohol.
August 11, 2023
12 min read
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Reframe Content Team
August 11, 2023
12 min read

We've all felt it — that nagging sensation of boredom. Contrary to popular belief, it's not just a result of having nothing to do. In fact, boredom is a genuine emotion, akin to happiness or sadness. When this emotion surfaces, it reveals our disconnection or lack of interest in our surroundings or activities. And how does our brain react? It searches for a spark, something to stimulate and captivate us. This might explain why, in such moments, we impulsively reach for distractions, like the remote or a social media scroll. 

But why do some of us reach for alcohol? If you’ve found yourself noticing, “It seems that I drink because I’m bored and lonely,” the answer lies in our brain's reward system. Understanding this relationship between boredom and alcohol is crucial for breaking an unhealthy cycle of drinking out of boredom and finding more fulfilling ways to spend our time.

The Boredom Dilemma

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Boredom, a state we’ve all experienced, can be a tricky beast. But remember that, scientifically, boredom is an emotion — just like appiness or sadness. It typically occurs when we find ourselves disengaged from what's going on around us or when there's a lack of interest or enjoyment in our activities.

In such scenarios, our brain searches for something exciting or rewarding, leading us towards behaviors that can stimulate and intrigue us. It's why we might suddenly find ourselves reaching for that remote, a candy bar, or for some, a bottle of alcohol.

The Dopamine Connection

Consuming alcohol stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that plays a significant role in our brain's reward system. Dopamine is like a pat on the back from our brain. It signals a feeling of satisfaction, pleasure, or reward, encouraging us to repeat the behavior that led to this good feeling.

So, when we're bored and our brain is looking for that dopamine hit, it can often recall that alcohol was a past source of reward. That's why we might find ourselves reaching for a drink when we're simply sitting and not doing much.

Alcohol and Adaptation

Over time, with regular alcohol consumption, our brain starts to adapt. Our reward system gets recalibrated to account for the frequent dopamine hits coming from the alcohol. Our brain starts needing more and more alcohol to experience the same level of reward or pleasure, resulting in increased alcohol consumption.

But it's not just about seeking pleasure. Our brain also becomes accustomed to the presence of alcohol and starts to see it as the “new normal.” So when there's no alcohol, things seem a bit off. The brain starts to signal the craving for alcohol, not just to seek pleasure but also to restore what it perceives as normalcy.

The Boredom Drinking Loop

Now that we've discussed how our brain processes boredom and alcohol, we can see how the two are linked. When we're bored, our brain seeks stimulation. Drinking when bored provides that in the form of dopamine release. Over time, as our brain adapts to the frequent presence of alcohol, it starts to associate alcohol not just as a source of pleasure but also as a means to escape boredom. This is how we enter (and get caught in) the boredom-alcohol loop.

Reframing Boredom To Stop “Bored Drinking”

Understanding this connection is the first step towards breaking the cycle. The next is learning to see it differently.

Instead of seeing boredom as an absence that needs to be filled, we can instead see it as an exciting opportunity for something new to arise. After all, some of the greatest discoveries happened as a result of boredom! Here are a few famous examples:

  • Sir Isaac Newton's law of gravity. The story goes that during a period of isolation (and probably boredom) during the Great Plague of London, Sir Isaac Newton observed an apple falling from a tree. This observation led him to contemplate the forces at work, eventually formulating the Law of Universal Gravitation.
  • The discovery of the structure of benzene by Friedrich August Kekulé. The German chemist famously came up with the ring structure of benzene during a daydream. Bored with his work, he stared into a fire and envisioned the snake-like structure of the benzene molecule, a groundbreaking discovery that greatly contributed to organic chemistry.
  • The creation of Post-it Notes by Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry. Post-it Notes were invented at 3M by scientists Spencer Silver and Arthur Fry. While trying to develop a super-strong adhesive, Silver accidentally created a weaker one instead. It was Fry who later, perhaps in a moment of boredom or frustration, realized that this "failed" adhesive could be used to create repositionable bookmarks, leading to the invention of Post-it Notes.

These stories remind us that boredom isn't merely a state of inactivity or idleness — it can also be a time for reflection, creativity, and unexpected discovery.

Break the Boredom Drinking Loop

  • Recognize your triggers. Understanding when and why you're reaching for alcohol is crucial. The next time you feel the urge, note down what you were doing, feeling, and thinking. This can help you identify patterns and triggers.
  • Find healthy alternatives. Swap out alcohol for healthier options that also stimulate dopamine release. This could include exercise, hobbies, or spending time with loved ones.
  • Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us stay present and engaged with what's happening around us. This can reduce feelings of boredom and help manage cravings.
  • Create a "boredom jar." Fill a jar with slips of paper, each containing an engaging activity that you enjoy — maybe painting, reading a new book, learning a magic trick, or trying a new recipe. Whenever boredom hits, reach for this jar instead of a drink.
  • Start a creative project. Always wanted to build a treehouse or make your own furniture? Now might be the perfect time to start! It will keep you occupied and provide a sense of accomplishment once finished. Art is another great way to express feelings and combat boredom. You could try your hand at painting, sculpture, digital art, or pottery.
  • Explore the great outdoors. Nature can provide a refreshing change of scenery and a break from routine. Try hiking, bird watching, or just a leisurely stroll in the park.
  • Try "micro-adventures." Micro-adventures are short, simple, local adventures that require very little planning or resources. It could be as simple as exploring a part of your city you've never been to, camping in your backyard, or even trying a new cuisine at a local restaurant.
  • Start learning clubs. Start or join a club dedicated to learning new things — a new language, astronomy, cooking techniques, etc. This will keep you engaged in a non-alcohol-related social group and give you something to look forward to.
  • Redecorate your living space. Changing your surroundings can make things feel fresh and new. Try moving furniture around, painting a wall with a new color, or DIY-ing some decor.
  • Volunteer. Volunteering not only takes up free time, but it also allows you to give back to your community, meet new people, and learn new skills.
  • Grow your own food. Start a small vegetable or herb garden. This can be therapeutic, rewarding, and it's a gift that keeps on giving.
  • Try virtual reality (VR) experiences. VR technology can transport you to a whole new world, making you forget about boredom. From VR games to virtual tours of museums or even space, the options are endless.
  • Use supportive apps. Apps like Reframe are designed to help you understand and manage your cravings, providing science-backed strategies right at your fingertips.

Adventure Awaits

Boredom can indeed lead to cravings for alcohol, but it doesn't have to be this way. With understanding and a few targeted strategies, you can retrain your brain to seek healthier, more fulfilling ways to escape boredom. 

Remember, the journey to managing alcohol cravings is unique for each person. It's about finding what works best for you, so feel free to modify these actions to suit your lifestyle, interests, and resources. You're not just cutting back on alcohol; you're creating a more engaging, fulfilling life!

Ditch Boredom and Explore New Possibilities With Reframe!

Although it isn’t a treatment for alcohol use disorder (AUD), the Reframe app can help you cut back on drinking gradually, with the science-backed knowledge to empower you 100% of the way. Our proven program has helped millions of people around the world drink less and live more. And we want to help you get there, too!

The Reframe app equips you with the knowledge and skills you need to not only survive drinking less, but to thrive while you navigate the journey. Our daily research-backed readings teach you the neuroscience of alcohol, and our in-app Toolkit provides the resources and activities you need to navigate each challenge.

You’ll meet millions of fellow Reframers in our 24/7 Forum chat and daily Zoom check-in meetings. Receive encouragement from people worldwide who know exactly what you’re going through! You’ll also have the opportunity to connect with our licensed Reframe coaches for more personalized guidance.

Plus, we’re always introducing new features to optimize your in-app experience. We recently launched our in-app chatbot, Melody, powered by the world’s most powerful AI technology. Melody is here to help as you adjust to a life with less (or no) alcohol.

And that’s not all! Every month, we launch fun challenges, like Dry/Damp January, Mental Health May, and Outdoorsy June. You won’t want to miss out on the chance to participate alongside fellow Reframers (or solo if that’s more your thing!).

The Reframe app is free for 7 days, so you don’t have anything to lose by trying it. Are you ready to feel empowered and discover life beyond alcohol? Then download our app through the App Store or Google Play today!

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At Reframe, we do science, not stigma. We base our articles on the latest peer-reviewed research in psychology, neuroscience, and behavioral science. We follow the Reframe Content Creation Guidelines, to ensure that we share accurate and actionable information with our readers. This aids them in making informed decisions on their wellness journey.
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