Seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, is a real condition that affects people all around the world. It can cause depression, malaise and a general sense of sadness. For alcoholics, the seasons can affect them in the same way. Many people experience an upswing in their drinking cravings during certain seasons, or when the seasons change. Why does this happen?
The Winter Blues
SAD happens during the winter and in the fall and is due to the lack of sunlight, colder weather and overall feeling of being “closed in”, as many people describe it, because of dropping temperatures. It is also thought that the decrease in sunlight disrupts melatonin, serotonin and even circadian rhythms. SAD is characterized by depression, fatigue, anxiety and trouble sleeping, which can all trigger relapses in drug or alcohol use or cause alcoholics to crave more and more alcohol.
Feeling shut in and confined with nothing to do can be a big trigger for many alcoholics, as can the holiday season. SAD is more common in months where there is colder weather and less sunlight. Many feel confined at home due to weather related shut-ins like snow or blizzards that can cause them to want to drink. Those who feel isolated can find that the alone time triggers the desire to drink more.
Because the holidays can be triggers, causing stress and alcohol-related get togethers, winter is sometimes known to be a time for an increase in substance abuse. Not only that, but just the cold weather can get to people. Those with body temperature differences can feel really cold during the winter months, which can increase aches and pains, joint pain and chills. This can zap energy levels and lead to an increase in alcohol abuse of the craving for warm alcoholic drinks like whiskey, hard liquors or mulled wines. This kind of self-medicating can lead to binges or relapses.
To avoid falling prey to the stress of seasonal changes, try increasing exposure to bright lights and get as much sunlight as possible during the day. Light therapy can also help curb seasonal mood swings. Vacationing during the winter to sunnier, warmer locations is also an option for more light exposure. Because of less sunlight, most people get lower levels of Vitamin D. The sun is a main source of Vitamin D, so taking supplements or getting more sun can promote overall health, wellness and mental well-being that can combat alcohol cravings or weaknesses.
Finding Warmth the Healthy Way
We can’t change the weather or our locations as easily as we can change our moods and spirits. For some, even changing our attitudes and mood can be tough, and because alcoholism is a disease, the loss of control over the changing seasons can be extremely challenging. Being aware that self-medicating during seasonal changes is common in many alcoholics can help you prepare ahead of time for the winter months better. Finding more activities and groups, getting extra therapy and creating healthy habits can all go a long way in helping you combat drinking cravings. Many people who have seasonal cravings say that they are simply bored. Finding plenty of indoor hobbies and things to do until better weather comes around can help immensely. Gyms, exercise and outdoor winter activities are just a few of the things that can help keep cravings at bay.
If you are still struggling with heavy alcohol cravings during the season, therapy, medical care or group therapies may be needed in order to better address healthy alternatives to drinking. Talking to friends and family and socializing rather than isolating is also key to staying sober during the seasons.