The Weather & Sobriety
The saying goes, “As the seasons change, so do we,” and this proverb may have added meaning when it comes to addiction recovery. Although the determination to stay sober is your own, the changing of the seasons and weather can have an impact on your sobriety.
As we in the United States transition into spring and Daylight Saving Time, we should take the time to examine the effects that these changes may have on recovery.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Typically, we associate sustained low mood and/or depression with winter weather. This condition is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and is caused by your body’s reaction to a decrease in natural light.
However, those who live in warmer, sunnier regions may also experience “Summer SAD,” a condition that results in feelings of depression, oppression and agitation possibly brought on by too much sun, which can also affect melatonin production and cause disruption to the body’s circadian rhythms. Reduced levels of melatonin and poor sleep can become triggers for stress and ultimately substance use.
SAD can affect addiction and addiction recovery just as clinical depression and other mental health disorders do. A Finnish study of alcohol use disorder (AUD) showed a significant correlation between SAD and an increase in alcohol consumption among the 4,554 individuals surveyed (Morales-Muñoz, Koskinen, & Partonen, 2017).
Spring & Daylight Saving Time
Right now, spring and Daylight Saving Time are literally and figuratively bringing more light to our lives. As the days lengthen, notice whether your moods change. If you’re feeling unusually anxious, sad, or manic, consider talking with your doctor about whether you might have seasonal affective disorder.
If the extra sun and heat are driving you indoors, take advantage of supplements like Vitamin D and SAD lamps, which can simulate the effects of natural light on your mind and body. Socialization, exercise, medication, and other mood-boosters that can reduce the effects of depression are also effective in treating SAD.
Social Drug & Alcohol Use
Social influences of the warmer months can also impact substance use habits. Upcoming spring and summer holidays in the United States, such as St. Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July, culturally encourage binge drinking.
Bloch, Shin, and Labin’s (2004) study of drinking habits in California shows a significant increase in alcohol-involved car accidents during certain holidays. Among the holidays most associated with alcohol-related accidents were the Fourth of July (#3), Super Bowl Sunday (#4), Memorial Day (#6), and Cinco de Mayo (#7).
While the warm month holidays do not pose as great a threat to sobriety as the winter holidays (e.g., New Year’s and Christmas), they are nevertheless responsible for statistically significant spikes in substance abuse. For instance, in underage males, drinking-related hospitalizations double over the Fourth of July. Similarly, Cho, Johnson, and Fendrich (2000) found that, of 57,758 American adults surveyed about their alcohol consumption in the previous month, participants were more likely to report episodic binge drinking in the month of July than in any other month.
Knowing and avoiding your triggers is a necessary part of staying on the path to recovery during these times of year. And remember that the strategies you used to keep sober over the winter holidays still apply.
By Emily Fogel Conway