Staying sober is a day-to-day struggle for anyone in alcohol or drug addiction recovery. For some, getting through the winter months offers even greater challenges. Colder temperatures lead to more time spent inside. It isn’t unusual for anyone to feel a little “down in the dumps” during the winter. When those feelings become intense, it could be a sign of seasonal affective disorder (SAD.)

staying sober in winter

What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder and How Does It Impact Addiction?

Seasonal affective disorder is a type of depression that occurs when the seasons change. It can begin right before winter and usually ends once the weather turns warmer. Doctors often treat SAD with light therapy, medications, and psychotherapy. As anyone who has suffered from depression knows, it’s more than a feeling of sadness. Symptoms of SAD include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness or guilt
  • Sleep problems
  • Loss of interest in favorite activities
  • Changes in appetite and/or weight
  • Problems concentrating
  • Loss of energy
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Feeling depressed almost all the time

Where you live can also determine whether you suffer from SAD. People who live farther from the equator develop the condition more often than those who live closer. Some scientists believe this is due to the decreased sunlight during the winter in the most impacted areas.

Other known risk factors include having existing depression or bipolar disorder or a family history of SAD or other forms of depression. Anyone familiar with the challenges of staying sober from any type of addiction already knows the relationship between depression and addiction. People with SAD who ignore their symptoms only get worse. Exacerbated symptoms lead to mental health disorders, feelings of suicide, social withdrawal, and substance abuse. These are many of the same demons you’re already dealing with. That’s why it’s so important not to dismiss your symptoms of depression and get help.

What You Can Do

All researchers don’t agree, but there seems to be a distinct connection between SAD and the lack of exposure to sunlight during the winter. Shorter days with less daylight can affect the activity of serotonin in your brain. People who are most vulnerable to the disorder sometimes produce too much melatonin, causing them to feel sleepy. These two factors combined might affect the body’s circadian rhythms.

Getting a little more sunlight might help you combat the changes in serotonin activity and melatonin. That means opening up the curtains and getting outside and into the sunlight as much as you can.

Exercise is an important part of your rehab. You might have to push yourself to get up and get moving. Once you do, it helps improve your mood. To get the most benefit from exercise, bundle up and go outside. Even if it’s just a brisk walk around the block, outdoor exercise can help you control your SAD symptoms.

Light Therapy

There are lots of light boxes and other gadgets out there to provide you with artificial light. Normally, you sit in front of the light box for between 20 minutes and 1 hour each day. These boxes filter out the dangerous ultraviolet rays while providing you with 10,000 lux of fluorescent light. This is 20 times brighter than the lighting you use inside your home.

If you have bipolar disorder or are at a higher-than-average risk of it, light boxes aren’t recommended. Since they can cause manic episodes, your doctor might recommend a different approach. You don’t need a prescription for a light box. You should still get your doctor’s or therapy team’s suggestions for the best course of treatment.

The Role of Vitamin D

You might know that vitamin D helps build stronger bones by helping the body absorb calcium. But scientists continue to find new ways that this essential vitamin helps keep you healthy. Failing to get enough vitamin D is linked to colon, prostate, and breast cancer. It also increases your risk of heart disease, weight gain, and depression.

People with drug addiction and alcoholism often have vitamin deficiencies, including that of vitamin D. Many rehab centers provide vitamin supplements to help improve the addict’s health. Another way that you get vitamin D is from exposure to sunlight. Keep in mind, people who live the farthest from the equator are least likely to get enough sun exposure to help their bodies produce enough vitamin D. Also, people with darker skin tones don’t get as much sun exposure as those with lighter skin. If either of those factors impacts you, you may want to talk to your doctor about other ways to include more vitamin D in your diet.

During the winter months, everyone is likely to get far less sunlight than they need. Experts recommend getting 30 minutes of exposure without wearing sunscreen. This means exposing your skin to ultraviolet light that can lead to skin cancer.

Another option is to take a supplement during the winter. You may want to have your doctor test your levels and prescribe the right supplements for you. More doctors are paying attention to their patient’s vitamin D levels due to the growing list of benefits linked to the vitamin.

You can also add more vitamin D-rich foods to your diet like salmon, egg yolks, and orange juice. There are also vitamin D fortified foods like breakfast cereal and milk. If your goal is to stay sober through the winter, taking vitamin D will help reduce your risk of depression and improve your overall health.

Staying Sober

Stay With Your After-Care Program

One of the hardest things for anyone to do is admit they feel depressed. It’s easier to just stay in bed and not put any energy into getting better. Your recovery isn’t complete as soon as you leave the recovery center. An aftercare program ensures your success at staying sober, even after problems arise.

Some people who develop SAD benefit from certain types of antidepressants. Those patients with bipolar disorder can experience manic episodes that also require treatment. No one has the right knowledge of addiction and can help you more than the therapeutic team who has helped get you this far through your recovery.

Don’t Give in to Feelings of Isolation

A lot of the tips your rehab team gives you for rehab are difficult once you experience the symptoms of SAD. They demand that you take control and get into the thick of things. Allowing yourself to give in to feelings of isolation can cause cravings that, in turn, lead to relapse. Put yourself out there and spend time with the people that matter to you. The more activities you perform with people whose company you enjoy, the easier it is to ignore cravings. It doesn’t matter if it’s your bff, your kids, or other people in group therapy.

About 5% of all people in the U.S. population have seasonal depression. Of that number, 4 out of 5 are women. The percentage varies among different geographic regions. Initially, that doesn’t sound like a big number. Considering there are an estimated 328,953,020 adults in the country, that means about 16,447,651 will develop seasonal depression.

Diagnosis of SAD occurs after two episodes of depression at the same time of the year. Ask your doctor about treatment and also about any preventive measures you can take. If you’ve already experienced symptoms or signs of SAD in the past, you may be able to stop them from returning.

Other Reasons You’re Having Trouble Staying Sober

Rehab isn’t easy. The physical and emotional impact it has on your body and mind is the reason so many people relapse. The symptoms associated with addiction, side effects, and symptoms of SAD are intertwined. But as hard as it might be to get through the winter due to depression, there are many other reasons that people give for relapse.

– Fear of Missing Out

Regardless of the impact they’ve had on you, you’ve chosen your friends, the parties, and the lifestyle that goes with addiction. Many users worry that missing just one occasion will mean missing out on something life-changing. The reality is that it’s really just more of the same. The fear of missing out has led many alcoholics and drug abusers to never take that first step towards sobriety.

– You Can’t Distinguish Between Slowing Down and Stopping

Some people look for the happy medium between addiction and rehab. They believe they can continue their drug or alcohol use in moderation. It’s like being on a diet and finally giving in to a piece of chocolate cake. Except when it’s an addictive substance, there isn’t any getting back on track the next day. There isn’t a happy medium between using and sobriety. There’s only a choice between one and the other.

– The Idea of Sobriety Scares You

For some addicts, the idea of staying sober is terrifying. Thinking about no longer having a crutch when things go bad is more than they can accept. That’s one reason some recovering addicts will tell you they became and stayed sober one day at a time. Sometimes the idea that “I’m not going to have a drink today” is a lot easier to live with than, “I’m never going to drink again.”

– Facing Your Demons

Sometimes the reason that people start using addictive substances is to cover the pain they have inside. They may have mental issues that they can’t deal with. With sobriety comes the return of the demons that led to addiction in the first place. If you’re ready to face your demons, it’s time to find a recovery center that takes your physical and psychological health into consideration.

– Previous Relapses

Many people believe they will either become sober or they will fail. When they relapse, they consider it a failure. An estimated 70% to 90% have at least one minor slip-up, while about half return to heavy use. Often, returning to the same settings and friends where they used before serves as a ‘trigger’ for drug use. Relapse occurs most often during the first ninety days in recovery. A slip doesn’t mean you’re at the end of the road.

Underlying conditions, including depression and anxiety, also contribute to the person’s potential to relapse. But staying with the program and learning to deal with issues before a relapse occurs can lead to lifelong sobriety. After a year of not using, the odds of your staying sober become a lot better.

If you’ve already made a previous attempt at staying sober only to end up relapsing, it doesn’t mean it’s the end. Think about what you’ve accomplished during your recovery. More people experience at least a minor relapse than those who don’t. Gather information from your experience and learn how to keep it from happening again. Sobriety is worth it, no matter how many attempts it takes. Learn your triggers and what causes you to start craving drugs or alcohol again. Get help dealing with mental issues, including the symptoms of SAD.

What to Do If You Have Symptoms of Depression

Seasonal affective depression is a very real threat to anyone’s health and happiness. For anyone who is newly sober, it can also put you at a greater risk of relapse. As we’ve explained here, there are many reasons that people relapse. But there are also many types of depression in addition to SAD. Any person can develop depression at any stage of their life. They can also experience it during any season of the year.

We all feel a little down sometimes. But when you’re sad most of the time, it isn’t normal. Once feelings of sadness begin to interfere with your life, it’s time to seek treatment. Most importantly, you should never ignore symptoms of depression. Whether they are caused by cold weather or something else, they can put your sobriety and your life at risk when they get worse. If you aren’t sure where to go for help, talk to your medical doctor. They can either provide you with the appropriate treatment or give you a referral to a specialist who can help.

It doesn’t have to be your first attempt at staying sober. Getting sober is worth every effort you put into it. Contact Riverside Recovery Center to learn more. We offer drug addiction treatment you can depend on in Spokane, Washington. See why people often call us “Spokane’s best drug rehab center.”