Every year, the world goes through cycles and changes in weather and temperature as the seasons change. These changes can affect us more than we realize, affecting our activity levels, moods, comfort levels, and the general flow of daily life. During the gloomy periods of the cold winter months, the weather can actually be a major overarching factor in contributing to a recovering addict relapsing.

How the Season can Contribute to a Relapse

Many people are familiar with Seasonal Affective Disorder or S.A.D., which is considered a mental disorder by the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual V. During cold winter months where temperature drops and the weather gets cloudier and grayer, people with S.A.D. experience a sharp decline in mood and the onset of depression. There is a fair degree of scientific research that affirms the validity of this condition, and explains how it develops and affects the body.

  • A study by Sanus-Q links S.A.D. related depression with a deficiency in Vitamin D. In the winter, days are shorter, skies are cloudier, and people tend to spend less time outside, all resulting in a decrease in exposure to the sun. Lack of sunlight and Vitamin D are connected to feelings of depression, apathy and discontent. People who are affected by this can partially offset the effects through a Vitamin D supplement or a special lamp they can use indoors that provides UV light. Unfortunately, some people may turn to drugs or alcohol to deal with it.
  • The publication Psychology Today has published articles about how colder temperatures can affect people. Individual human bodies have a narrow tolerance for a comfortable temperature range. Our bodies and minds need to maintain a certain temperature to function properly. Most people address this through cozy clothes, a cup of tea, a fireplace, or turning up the heat, but some people may choose to fight the cold with drugs or alcohol.
  • A study published in Business Wire looked at the effects of cold temperatures on college campuses. The study cites a statistic from the National Institute of Mental Health, which states that 20% of college student who have S.A.D. also have a substance abuse issue. This is compared to about 8% of college students without S.A.D.

Staying Sober in Winter Months

Recovery is a lifelong journey that requires constant work and vigilance. It can be a roller coaster, with many highs and lows, peaks and valleys, and potential pitfalls. Stress can come from relationships, finances, career, health issues, and just the rigors of daily life. The weather is just another factor that recovering addicts may have to contend with. It cannot become a convenient excuse to take a drink or use a drug.

Lasting recovery takes great commitment. It means actively choosing to stay sober no matter what circumstances come about. Dealing with S.A.D. or just seasonal blues just means a person needs to work harder and be more vigilant to maintain their recovery. It requires being proactive. We can take Vitamin D supplements or get a light table for the home. We can make an effort to engage in winter sports or just remain active. We can schedule vacations to warm and sunny locales. The lull of winter months is a great time to focus on recovery specific activities, such as going to an extra recovery group meeting, reading a book about recovery, or spending more time with our friend and family support network.

Although the winter can sometimes be a downer, it is possible for recovering addicts to gracefully retain their sobriety. Take steps to address lack of sunlight, cold weather, and inactivity and find positive and healthy activities to occupy time. Bundle up and take your recovery to the next level.