Lately I have noticed a theme amongst teenagers as to one of the reasons they are using and abusing drugs and/or alcohol. They tell me they are “bored.” As someone growing up in the seventies, there were no video games, cell phones, texting, emailing, or computers and the internet. In other words, there wasn’t the instant gratification that there is with today’s youth. We walked to our friends house, we didn’t text, facebook, or twitter them. We had to wait until we got home to call a friend, not while we were driving or shopping. We went to the movies on the weekend. There were no renting or downloading movies. We played games in the streets outside where we enjoyed the sun and nature. We didn’t sit in our bedrooms with the doors closed for endless hours playing video games.
Is it any wonder our adolescents are so bored? Everything is instant and the pleasure centers of their brains are being over stimulated. They are needing more and more stimulation to just feel normal that in my day a bike ride could have provided. When the activities die down, boredom sets in and lack of coping skills takes over. Dopamine activates neurons involved in attention and learning and works with the pleasure system of the brain to create feelings of motivation, happiness, euphoria, appetite control and controlled motor movements. This neurotransmitter is central to the creation of reward systems such as food, sex, positive social interactions, even laughter. Nearly all drug abuse and forms of addiction involve dopamine systems. As a result, elevating dopamine levels can improve mood, alertness, libido, yet too much or an imbalance can lead to a tendency towards addictive behaviors.
Adolescents ages 12 to 17 who are bored are 50 percent likelier than those not bored to smoke, drink, get drunk and use illegal drugs, according to a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. Boredom is also known to cause eating disorders, compulsive gambling, anger, low school and work performance.
The solution to counter attack boredom is to feel fulfilled. Teenagers need to be involved in activities that make them feel productive with something they know they can master, it should bring them joy, and it should provide personal growth and well-being. Another solution is to give to others. Take your teenager to a soup kitchen and feed the homeless for the holidays. A study of 1500 volunteers found that participating in activities that made them feel they were contributing to someone else’s well-being caused them to feel a greater sense of fulfillment, euphoria, serenity, and energy.
Adolescents need to be kept busy with activities that nourish them such as sports, music, drama, and positive support systems. As a single mother, I was concerned with the statistics that my daughter could be prone to drug abuse. Dance was my daughter’s saving grace. It increased her self-esteem on so many levels. She felt fulfilled and it kept her busy in a positive way.
When adolescents feel gratified and engaged in healthy activities, let’s hope alcohol and drugs suddenly become the “boring” solution.
Sherry Gaba, LCSW is a Psychotherapist and Life Coach in private practice and author of “The Law of Sobriety: Attracting Positive Energy for a Powerful Recovery”. Sherry is a frequent contributor to anthologies, blogs, and newsletters and is a sought-after speaker. Visit Sherry at www.sgabatherapy.com for information about psychotherapy, life coaching programs, teleseminars, and webinars, and read her blogs at BeliefNet.com and her Law of Sobriety Blog at HCI.