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Psychological Effects of the Seasons on Your Recovery

Psychological Effects of the Seasons on Your Recovery

The meteorological seasons—winter, spring, summer and fall—each bring different weather patterns, holidays and associations. Depending on the individual the seasonal changes can depress mood, increase stress and trigger memories of past substance abuse. Certain types of weather can also increase health risks for substance abusers, which further complicate recovery lapses. Though surprising for some, seasons and weather can affect people in adverse ways, and recovering addicts need to take extra precautions and respond to any problems that might arise.

Seasonal Affective Disorder

For people genetically predisposed, cold weather seasons can bring about a form of depression called seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Falling temperatures and reduced sunlight hours can potentially disrupt serotonin and melatonin levels and circadian rhythms, and the possible effects include lethargy, oversleeping, difficulties concentrating and symptoms of depression and anxiety. SAD potentially affects recoveries in several ways including the following:

  • The mood shifts and behavioral changes can disrupt mental health and trigger cravings.
  • Related risks include social withdrawal, suicidal thoughts and substance abuse.
  • The depression and anxiety coincide with other risk factors associated with the holidays.

The Mayo Clinic notes that SAD is more common with females, people living in the far south or north and individuals with a family history of the disorder. Though relatively rare, a handful of people suffer the disorder in the warmer spring and summer months.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) in 2007 stated that about 60% of substance abusers have co-occurring mental health disorders, and the American Journal of Psychiatry in 2005 suggested that addiction and mental health disorders might share genetic vulnerabilities. Consequently people with SAD or addiction have higher risk of suffering both, and the emergence of symptoms can strain a recovery.

Fall and Winter for Recovering Addicts

While the darker months increase mental health risks, several environmental and situational risk factors also grow worse during the fall and winter. Parents who take their children to school might feel increased stress when classes resume, and bad weather might motivate adverse behavior in various ways including the following:

  • Increased boredom when snow, rain and cold limit outside activity
  • Memories of drinking warm alcoholic beverages in the colder months
  • Desire to boost sagging energy or reduce pain caused by extreme weather

The fall and winter also feature major holidays like Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, among others. The holiday season can affect recoveries in several possible ways including the following:

  • Holidays like Halloween and New Year’s Eve traditionally involve partying.
  • Work and social events during the holidays often involve bars or alcohol consumption.
  • Family interactions at Christmas and Thanksgiving can create stress and tension.
  • Psychology Today says bad family history can trigger negative emotions and cravings.
  • Many people drink during family holidays especially when watching sports.
  • Prescription drugs might be accessible in family members’ luggage or medicine cabinets.
  • Recovering addicts who spend the holidays alone might feel lonely, bored or depressed.

Moreover some parents are more permissive with alcohol during the winter holidays. A report published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) in 2012 found that December rivals June and July as the months in which most 12- to 17-year-olds drink alcohol for the first time. If permissive attitudes pervade a holiday gathering, it might trigger memories of past holiday substance use and desires to join loved ones in drinking.

Recovery Risks in the Spring and Summer

As the seasonal weather heats up, a different set of environmental and situational issues arise that can affect recoveries including the following:

  • Stress produced by family vacations or children on summer break
  • Independence Day, Labor Day, Memorial Day and spring break parties
  • Increased drug and alcohol availability as good weather improves transport
  • Collegiate and high school athletes are often not drug tested in the summer
  • Fond memories of drinking cold alcohol on warm summer days
  • Psych Central in 2011 said heatwaves also appear to increase drug use rates

Many people associate the summer months with partying, and individuals without school or work in the summer have more opportunities to use. In fact the 2012 SAMHSA report added that first-time marijuana, inhalant and hallucinogen use occurs most often in June and July.

Prepare for Seasonal Risks

Recovering addicts should be ready for any eventuality including increased risk during certain seasons. They can prepare and respond to such risks in various ways including the following:

  • Simply be aware that holidays and seasonal changes can involve increased risk.
  • Recruit help for the holidays by asking someone to provide support and accountability.
  • Plan alternative holiday events that are free of drugs and alcohol.
  • Speak with your recovery sponsor or partners when feeling down or stressed.
  • Get professional help if any mental health disorder symptoms emerge.
  • Ask family members to secure medications and possibly refrain from drinking.
  • Avoid family holiday gatherings if not prepared for the potential stress.
  • Create a plan that details immediate responses to cravings, conflict or boredom.
  • Double-up on support meetings or seek additional treatment during problematic holidays.

You should always respond to unhealthy mood swings and prepare for seasonal situations in which emotions, encounters, memories, arguments and known risks might occur and threaten the recovery.

Addiction Help Center

Call our toll-free helpline if you struggle with addiction or a shaky recovery. Our admissions coordinators are available 24 hours a day to provide support, information and recommendations. If you possibly need additional treatment, we can check health insurance plans for benefits. Even if it is the middle of the holidays, do not delay. Please call now.