When you are trying to get sober from drugs and/or alcohol, there are a number of things that can cause a relapse. For those of you who live in colder states, one big cause of relapse or continued addiction can be the switch to cold weather. Seasonal depression and addiction have a direct link. It is important to understand how seasonal depression works in order to avoid it causing a relapse or worsening your addiction.

How Seasonal Depression and Addiction Affects People

As an example, here is the story of one young man who lived in New Jersey as an active heroin addict. When he decided to sober up, he sought treatment in Florida for a couple of reasons. It was far from home, and he hated the cold. After successful treatment, he decided to relocate to Florida permanently, and was able to stay sober for a number of years.

One day, he had to return to New Jersey in the dead of winter to attend some family functions and stay in the area for about a month. He knew he hated the cold and didn’t know how to deal with it. Within one day of being back, he was already thinking about ways to get heroin even though he had been clean for over two years. Within a week, he was using.

In this circumstance, it is true that a number of factors played a role and his seasonal depression and addiction were exacerbated. He was under stress, around many old triggers – people, places, and things – that reminded him of using, and he didn’t have the strong support system he had in Florida. However, it is no doubt that the cold weather played a huge role in his relapse.

What is Seasonal Depression?

Seasonal depression is often referred to as Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. It is a mood disorder similar to anxiety and depression that occurs at the same time each year. For most people, it occurs as the weather gets cooler and the daylight gets shorter. It often begins in the fall and continues through the winter months. It can include symptoms like tiredness, sadness, lack of social interaction, depression, and an increased use of drugs and/or alcohol.

Seasonal depression and addiction is an especially dangerous combination because people who are affected by SAD may not feel that they have another way to cope with their depression other than getting high or drunk. For some people, it can be as simple as a dislike for feeling cold. Many substances, from alcohol to heroin, are fast ways to get warm. If the temptation is there, it would be difficult for an addict to turn it down.

Another big problem with seasonal depression and addiction is the boredom that comes with the colder winter months. If you think about it, Summer, Spring, and even most of Fall there is plenty to do outside. The weather is pleasant and uplifting, and there is an abundance of activities to take part in. When things turn gray and cold, it is easier to hide away, spend time in your room, or at your local bar to stay warm. While many people who don’t have depression or addiction may be able to take this in stride, it can lead for a huge downfall for those who are suffering from substance abuse.

Boredom is one of the biggest triggers for using and relapsing, so it is essential that an addict finds different outlets during the winter instead of turning to drugs and alcohol.

If you have seasonal depression and addiction, it is important to get help. Getting treatment for substance abuse is key to setting to ground work to living a sober life, free from the grips of drugs and alcohol. During treatment, mood disorders like anxiety and depression can be diagnosed and managed so that you have a strong chance of staying sober.

Reviewed for Medical & Clinical Accuracy by Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MD

Dr. Jeffrey Berman, MDDr. Jeffrey Berman is a psychiatrist in Teaneck, New Jersey and is affiliated with Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital. He received his medical degree from State University of New York Upstate Medical University and has been in practice for more than 20 years. He also speaks multiple languages, including French and Hebrew.

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