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How Does Winter Weather Affect Addiction and Recovery?

Lonely woman drinking cup of coffee by the window

As days become shorter and cloudy winter weather patterns take hold, many people feel the effects that weather has on mood. For some people, these “winter blues” become a more serious form of seasonal depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

Seasonal depression often co-exists with substance use disorders, and both are chronic, recurring conditions.1 Let’s discuss the symptoms of SAD, how to combat seasonal depression, and how a Los Angeles treatment center can help when addiction is a contributing factor.

What Causes Seasonal Depression?

The human body reacts to weather, day length, and light levels with chemical changes that affect mood. Some of these responses believed to be involved in SAD include:1

  • Circadian rhythm. This is the inner clock, which triggers hormones that affect sleep, waking, and appetite.
  • Serotonin levels. Serotonin is a brain chemical that at higher levels boosts your mood and at low levels leads to depression. Exposure to sunlight increases serotonin levels, so gloomy dark weather has a natural depressive effect.
  • Melatonin levels. This substance promotes healthy sleep patterns and stable moods. Levels of melatonin vary based on seasonal changes.

How to Beat Seasonal Depression in Recovery

Seasonal depression treatment often involves light therapy, medication, or lifestyle changes. For those in recovery, depression is often a co-occurring condition. Focusing on healing the whole person, rather than treating individual symptoms, is the focus of treatment for people with co-occurring mental health problems in Los Angeles and around the country.

If you know you are prone to drug or alcohol use during the winter months, you are not alone. Studies have shown many types of addiction are related to seasonal depression and that untreated depression is linked to substance use.1,2 With comprehensive treatment at a depression and anxiety treatment center that addresses both diseases, you can overcome the effects of the weather on your mood.

What Are the Symptoms of SAD?

Those with a family history of depression are more at risk for seasonal affective disorder. Living far from the equator or in areas with few days of sunlight each year also increases the risk. The symptoms may be intertwined with those of addiction, including:

  • Problems at work or school
  • Social withdrawal
  • Anxiety, overeating, weight gain
  • Low energy, fatigue, oversleeping
  • Restlessness, agitation, insomnia

How Does Seasonal Depression Complicate Recovery?

Perhaps you completed treatment in the summertime but find, as winter approaches, you are challenged with cravings or sensitivity to triggers related to lower sunlight levels and shorter days. If you know you are prone to seasonal depression, be sure to mention this to your recovery team.

Discussing these challenges with your sponsor or therapist will help you receive the additional treatment you need at this time of year and plan for lifestyle changes that can combat SAD. Exercising outside or using a lightbox to replace some of the sunshine you are missing is often recommended by depression recovery centers.

The Power of a Change in the Weather

young students biking together on bicycle lane

If possible, relocating to a location that offers more hours of winter sunlight can provide the right environment to work on recovery and combat depression more effectively. If a loved one or you are struggling with this combination of disorders, a rehab center in the Los Angeles area might be the answer.

With more sunny days each year and winter temperatures that encourage outside activity, Dedicato Treatment Center offers dual-diagnosis treatment in the most healing environment available. As a Joint-Commission-certified treatment center in California, we support our clients in finding long-term solutions to their challenges and promoting a healthy lifestyle as part of whole-body healing. You can break free from addiction and depression in one treatment center, by reaching out to us today.