21 Ways to Have Fun Without Drugs or Alcohol

No one ever said recovering from drug addiction had to be all work and no play.

The trend is undeniable. More and more people are becoming addicted to drugs each year in the United States. The National Estimates of Drug-Related Emergency Department Visits report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) found that, between 2004 and 2009:

  • Emergency room visits for nonmedical use of pharmaceuticals alone increased by 117%.
  • Emergency room visits for pharmaceuticals with illicit drugs increased by 97%.
  • Emergency room visits for pharmaceuticals with alcohol increased by 63%.
  • Emergency room visits for pharmaceuticals used with illicit drugs and alcohol increased by 76%.

things to do instead of drugs

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Meanwhile, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) says that about 88,000 individuals in the US, or nearly 62,000 males and 26,000 females, succumb from alcohol-related causes annually. This staggering statistic makes alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States—bested only by heart disease, cancer and chronic lower respiratory disease.

With respect to alcohol abuse disorder (AUD) among adults (ages 18+):

  • In 2014, 16.3 million people, or 6.8 % of all people older than 18 were known to have some form of an AUD. This translates to 9.2% and 4.6% of men and women, respectively.
  • Of this age population, just 8.9% people underwent treatment for their AUD at a specialized facility, including 1.1 million males (9.8% of men who meet specialized treatment criteria) and 431,000 females (7.4% of women who meet specialized treatment criteria).

 Digging deeper, the NIAAA found that in 2014, of adolescents between 12 and 17 years of age:

  • 2.7% (679,000 individuals) had some form of an alcohol use disorder (AUD). Broken down further, 3% of girls (367,000 individuals) and 2.5% of boys (311,000 individuals) in this age demographic had an AUD.
  • Approximately 18,000 boys and 37,000 girls received treatment in a specialized facility for AUD issues that year.

In a study conducted in 2009, SAMHSA found that 23.5 million people in the US suffered from any kind of substance abuse issue. Of that population, just 11.2%, or 2.1 million people, ended up seeking help from a specialized facility.

For those who do seek help and make it into recovery, many are tasked with rebuilding their entire lives after going through the detoxification process. This involves righting as many wrongs as possible, reestablishing connections with the meaningful people in their lives and, importantly, letting go of the relationships that were only significant because of drug use. An unfortunate part of the process is the inevitable boredom that accompanies a mostly empty schedule during the early stages of recovery.

A study published in Evaluation Review found that just 33% of people who are clean for less than a year will be able to remain sober. Meanwhile, among those who reach a year of sobriety, less than 50% will experience a relapse. Then, if you’ve make it to five years of sobriety, the likelihood that you will relapse is less than 15%. The National Institute on Drug Abuse similarly estimates that, following addiction recovery, the relapse rate for individuals suffering from drug addiction falls between 40-60%.

fun things to do instead of drugs
Boredom is frequently cited as a reason for why addicts relapse after a period away in recovery. Substance abuse and addiction are very time-consuming. Once people reach recovery, they have all of this time and not much to fill it with, at first. In the absence of engaging activities, recovering addicts may start to reminisce about the partying and excitement they associate with their time using drugs or alcohol. In fact, boredom may have been the intitial reason an addict turned to drugs in the first place.

Notably, avoiding boredom does not just help to improve chances of avoiding relapse — it can also help you live a longer life.  One large study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that people who report higher levels of boredom tend to die at an earlier age than their counterparts who aren’t bored at all.
A successful recovery does not just involve removing alcohol or drugs from the picture. New activities and sources of stimulation must be introduced so individuals can occupy and enjoy their time. This is the key factor in avoiding boredom. Failure to do this can put the individual at serious risk for relapse.

avoiding boredom in recovery

How to Avoid Boredom 

Boredom is characterized by experiencing feelings of emptiness, as well as a sense of frustration with that characteristic emptiness. John Eastwood, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto, Canada reviewed a host of scientific literature to try and identify the core characteristics of boredom. His analysis, published in Perspective on Psychological Science, ultimately identified three core characteristics of the emotion:

1.     You’re unable to engage your mind in a way that satisfies you.

2.     You’re aware of the boredom and consider it a problem.

3.     You blame the environment and other outside factors for your feelings of boredom.

On a macro-level, you’ll need to learn how to focus your mind on the things that interest you rather than on boredom. You can gain focus by: ·

Practicing mindfulness.

By being fully aware of your feelings and experience in the exact moments they are occurring, you can feel more engaged in your activities. You are able to notice sensations, thoughts and feelings without negatively judging or resisting them.

Powering off your electrical devices.

Constant use of your TV, phone, computer and personal tablets can ultimately destroy your ability to focus on anything. The constant stimulation of texts, memes and social posts can ultimately overload your capacity to pay attention. Just turn them off for a while.

learning to focus on what is important

However, the unfortunate reality is that sometimes we have to do mundane things in life, such as vacuuming or mowing the lawn. If you make an effort to put a positive spin on these things, though, you should be able to keep the feelings of boredom in check.

Try your best to make every task meaningful. It may be helpful to remind yourself of the value in what you’re doing. For example, while cleaning your home, try and remember any fun memories of social gatherings that occurred there. Also, try to frame the task as an opportunity rather than a chore. While doing these somewhat monotonous tasks, you are actually taking a break from having to make any tough decisions.

Most importantly, you need to understand that boredom is merely a state of mind that normally starts from within yourself. Using the tools above can help you to manage your boredom.

boredom in recovery

What Activities Might Be Appropriate to Help Avoid Boredom?

 There’s no shortage of fun things to do instead of drugs. On a micro level, you’ll have to decide what specific activities are best for you. To prevent relapse, you should try and develop new interests during recovery or rekindle your interest in old hobbies that fell by the wayside when substance abuse began. Much of your social life and free time were likely consumed by the drug lifestyle. Now that you’ve reclaimed that time, you can start thinking about the fun things you’ll do instead of drugs. Here are a few ideas of things you can try:

If you feel like going outdoors…

Go for a hike.

Going for a hike is a great way to exert energy and get out any frustration you may have pent up inside. Making it to the top of a climb can provide a sense of empowerment and accomplishment. It can also serve as an activity where you can rebuild connections that were damaged or lost with friends or family during your time of addiction.

Go to the dog park.

It is well known that animals have therapeutic benefits. If you do own a dog, spending time with them can boost your mood, help you stay active and be more social. In fact, researchers from Britain’s Warwick Universityfound that 40% of people believe making friends has been much easier as a result of owning a dog.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter whether or not you have a dog. Spending time with animals in any capacity is both fun and good for your well-being.

spending time with animals

Go camping.

Getting a bunch of your friends and loved ones together for a camping trip is a surefire recipe for fun. Depending on your camping destination, you may be able to fit in some canoeing, hiking or fishing. If you don’t exactly live in the great outdoors, you could even camp in your own backyard. Camping is a state of mind —it’s more about the change of scenery than the actual destination.

Play Pokémon Go.

Pokémon Go has completely swept the globe and, before you laugh, just know it has built itself a reputation promoting the gamification of health and movement. There’s also a sense of community when people gather together at Pokéstops or gyms to train their Pokémon.

Go for a morning jog.

Getting exercise in the morning has proven benefits of reducing anxiety and promoting higher levels of energy during the day. You don’t have to run the same old trails, though. Find a wooded trail, run along the beach or just drive to a new town to get some different sights in.

getting exercise

If it’s a rainy day…

Binge on a Netflix series.

Completely vegging out and getting lost in a new TV show can serve as the perfect distraction from boredom and other negative feelings that can sometimes accompany recovery. According to Digital Trends, the best shows to catch on Netflix right now are:

  • Mad Men
  • Better Call Saul
  • The West Wing
  • House of Cards
  • Bloodline
  • Stranger Things
  • Todd Margaret

Work a jigsaw puzzle.

Jigsaw puzzles have many health benefits. When working on a puzzle, you are using both sides of the brain. The analytical “left brain” sees the pieces and tries to sort them out logically, while the creative “right side” sees the bigger picture and works intuitively to build it. Both of these connections promote learning ability and successfully placing pieces together even encourages the production of dopamine — which increase learning and memory and can naturally induce focused meditation.


Many people consider sewing to be both a stress reliever and a prudent life skill. If you can sew your own clothes, then you can save money for the other things you want and need. That’s always fun, and you’ll still have something that’s useful and uniquely you.

Pick a popular book and read it.

Through books, you can have experiences without actually having to go anywhere. Reading also helps you to develop your imagination and creativity. According to The New York Times, the top 5 combined print & e-book fiction novels currently available are:

  1. Insidious by Catherine Coulter
  2. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
  3. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  4. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
  5. Bullseye by James Patterson and Michael Lewedge

reading to avoid boredom

Build a house of cards.

You might be surprised at how cathartic it is to build a house of cards. You can continually challenge yourself by making the base bigger and developing more complicated designs.

Listen to your favorite album from start to finish.

Listening to a full album of songs in order can give you a closer look into the artist’s emotional intentions and help you connect more deeply with the music. Plus, you may find new favorites you didn’t realize you liked.

If you want to learn something…

Try learning a new language.

According to Gallup, about 25% of people in the US can hold a conversation in more than one language. The majority of that population (55%) speak Spanish, while 17% speak French and 10% speak German. There are several benefits to learning another language, including improved job prospects and having the ability to comfortably travel to other countries.

Take a photography class.

Taking a photography class can help you develop a new way to look at the world. The vision of what you want to create comes from within, but a class can help provide you with direction. You can also receive feedback and encouragement to nurture your own photography style.

Learn an instrument.

There is a myriad of personal benefits associated with learning a new instrument. Beyond the fact that music is widely considered to be one of the best natural therapies out there, playing music can also expose you to cultural history as well as increase your sense of achievement and foster self-expression to relieve stress.

Start a journal.

A journal can help you learn more about yourself and promote expressing your feelings in a healthy way. Writing down your feelings and thoughts in real time can also help you keep track of any emerging trends that may accompany your ups and downs. You can even choose to write a story if you’re feeling creative.

keep a journal

If you want to earn a pat on the back…


Giving back to the community around you is cathartic. You can volunteer at an animal shelter, tutor at an after school program or even just clean up litter in your community park. Giving back to your community helps make you feel like you’re more a part of it.

Plant a tree.

Planting a tree is fun because you can go back and check on its progress any time you’d like to. Before you know it, your tree could be taller than you and maybe even bear some fruit.

If you want to eat well…

Try a cuisine you’ve never tried.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re a foodie. Trying new cuisines is about expanding your horizons—which is both good for you and delicious. Thai, Moroccan, Ethiopian, Peruvian and Greek foods are all great options if you are looking to begin to expand your culinary horizons.

Bake a cake.

Baking has long been considered a refuge for people looking to ease their stress. As a bonus, cake is delicious and you can whip up one of your old favorites or try something completely new.

Make a pizza from scratch.

This is a great opportunity for creativity. Making a pizza from scratch, and in particular the dough, can be a bit challenging. The fun part is at the end when you get to put only your favorite toppings on the finished product.

Have lemonade from a boardwalk.

Fewer things in life are more delicious or refreshing than a tall lemonade from the boardwalk. If you don’t live close to the coast, you can try to have whatever food or drink is considered traditional for your part of the country. For example, if you live in the Midwest or Texas you can try to find some good old fashioned barbecue, or if you live in California you could opt for some Cali-style Mexican food.

Still Looking for Things to Do Instead of Drugs?

Boredom is especially dangerous during treatment because it can kill the motivation you absolutely need to make it through recovery. Many treatment facilities understand this and have a variety of different activities available to discourage boredom.  The importance of finding new interests to occupy your free time and keep yourself feeling motivated and happy can’t be emphasized enough. You can either take the opportunity to rediscover something you used to love doing, or you can take up a completely new hobby and learn a new skill. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much pleasure even the smallest activities can bring you each day. In fact, you may find that there aren’t enough hours in the day to take advantage of everything life has to offer once you are free from addiction. 

enjoy being free from addiction

Why 12 Keys?  

At 12 Keys, we understand that rehabilitation involves a lot more than just talking. Additionally, counseling sessions, one-on-one therapy sessions and 12 step meetings can be physically and emotionally exhausting. That’s why we allow for time to focus on healing the body, mind and soul with engaging activities, nourishing food and plenty of fresh air and sunshine.

Our sunny Florida location makes 12 Keys a perfect spot for outdoor activities. You are welcome to enjoy a walk on the beach, a cooling swim in the outdoor pool or comradery on the deck while you take in beautiful waterfront views.  Kayaking, fishing and horseback riding are only a few of the wholesome, interactive activities available.

If you need more ideas about things to do other than drugs, support groups are a fantastic resource because they offer the chance to socialize with people going through the same things as you. You can learn from others about what to do with your free time. Contact 12 Keys Rehab today to take advantage of all the fun activities we provide. We are dedicated to helping you discover fun things to do instead of drugs.

There’s a lot more to life besides your addiction. We’ll help you find it.

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