Why the “Winter Blues” are Dangerous for Addicts in Recovery

The changing of the seasons brings with it crisper air, flurries of snow, and the smell of fireplaces.  For some, it also brings “Winter Blues.”  This situation can cause problems for addicts in recovery.

When that occurs can vary.  For some, just the first cold spell in fall may signal a downturn in mood.  For others, it’s after the passing of the holidays, and the winter drear drags on: the days may be getting slightly longer, but they are still shorter than in spring in summer.

(In more rare cases, the onset of summer triggers feelings of depression).

Whatever the season, it may be more than just a case of “winter blues,” it may be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression that comes and goes with the seasons.

But just because it “goes” doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous: particularly for addicts in recovery.

What It Looks Like

Depression doesn’t look the same from one person to another.  In fact, an individual struggling with depression may not even recognize it in himself/herself.  Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling hopeless or worthless
  • Having persistent low energy
  • Loss of interest in activities that were once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Frequent thoughts of death or suicide
  • Not keeping up with things that were once easy, may even include basic hygiene like showering

These symptoms, if brought on by the changing of the seasons, may be Seasonal Affective Disorder.  An individual may have a pattern of this behavior, which “miraculously” resolves when the next season arrives, but over time returns year-after-year at the same season.

Why It’s So Dangerous for Addicts in Recovery

Depression and addiction are a combination considered a co-occurring disorder.  Co-occurring disorders, such as substance abuse and insomnia or substance abuse and mood disorders like depression, can make treatment itself more complicated: the disorder and addiction may both require treatment, or treatment may need to be extended or repeated to more adequately address both conditions.

Seasonal Affective Disorder could be insidious, in that it may not have even been noticed during treatment if it was not at the time of year for the onset of SAD.  After treatment, an addict in recovery may be affected by SAD.

Self-care, persistence, and productivity are essential components of long-term recovery from addiction.  All three can be severely adversely impacted by SAD.

What to Do for SAD

Since feelings of depression may not be easily noticed in oneself, it’s important for the entire “team” around an addict in recovery to be familiar with symptoms and what to do about it: care providers and loved ones can play a significant role in assisting recovery.

Step 1: Look for signs that a friend or loved one has taken a turn for the worse, regarding mood.  Common characteristics include the list in the article above, but also if you notice:

  • Attitude changes, such as being more contentious
  • Appearance changes that may indicate a lack of self-care
  • Unusual calls, social media posts, or other pleas for help or sympathy

Any of these signs could be an indication of a potentially dangerous change in mood and recovery.

Step 2: If you notice any of the above, start with an open, friendly conversation.

Step 3: If in doing the first two steps, your concerns persist, reach out for help.  Speak to a center with treatment programs addressing an individual holistically.

Some surprising tools or techniques may help an addict in recovery experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder: light therapy, outdoor activity, but even art therapy or dietary changes may assist. Expert help is advised.

If you or a loved one are addicts in recovery and are feeling the “winter blues,” address it—waiting may only make it worse!

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