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Why Substance Abuse Increases in Colder Months and How a 12-Step Program Can Help

What’s the connection between colder weather and substance abuse? Unfortunately, the latter tends to increase when the former happens. That’s not to say that cold weather causes substance abuse. However, there is an uptick in depression during the shorter, darker, winter days. Because many instances of substance abuse are triggered by depression, the correlation between winter and substance use is legitimate.

For this reason, it is important to become familiar with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and learn new ways that you can best cope with it.

How Cold Weather Influences Substance Abuse

Colder weather, falling leaves, and snowfall can signify the excitement of the holiday season for some. For others, it’s a seasonal change that puts a damper on many activities. You may be forced to stay home when the roads are too slick to drive on safely. There may not be much to do inside a small space, and you’re disconnected from friends and loved ones. Sometimes people are driven to drink or do drugs due to boredom. Others turn to these substances as an escape when feeling lonely or isolated.

The cold weather and shorter, darker days, combined with increased drug use, create an adverse biological effect. Depending on the type of substances used, breathing can become labored and difficult. It’s already harder to breathe when the air is cold, and more challenging for the body to regulate its temperature normally. Combined with drug use, such as opioids, which are known to cause breathing issues, this further increases the possibility of a dangerous overdose.

If people live alone, the chances of not being able to get help in time also increase. This isn’t the fault of winter necessarily, but it’s safe to say that more people go out partying, bar hopping, or doing drugs and drinking with friends when the weather is more favorable. Under those circumstances, medical help is more easily found. With less sunlight and shorter days, many people experience a vitamin D deficiency (the vitamin found in natural sunlight). This deficiency can worsen or cause depression, which also plays a role in substance abuse.

Using the 12-Step Model During Winter and Beyond

The 12-Step model is not a medical treatment but a framework to help people understand their experience of addiction and create better habits in place of using substances. The model can be followed any time of year but can be especially helpful during the winter season.

The Twelve Steps involve:

  • Helping people recognize and admit to having a problem with addiction
  • Surrendering control over the addiction, acknowledging that a higher power is needed to overcome it
  • Developing an awareness of the problematic behaviors that are either part of, or caused by addiction, and learning a healthy sense of restraint
  • Creating and embracing opportunities to practice that restraint and develop a healthier self-image
  • Developing healthy self-acceptance to change certain behaviors
  • Compassion for people who have been affected by and still struggle with addiction (including ourselves)
  • Cultivating tools to practice all of the above throughout daily life

These steps have a long track record of success in helping people conquer substance abuse addiction and achieve sobriety.

12-Step Programs Help Promote Sobriety Year-Round

All of the information above may sound bleak. However, the winter season doesn’t have to be depressing when you’re prepared in advance for the challenges it presents. One way to equip yourself with healthy coping mechanisms for worsened depression symptoms is to participate in a 12-Step program.

The basis for national recovery programs, like Alcoholics Anonymous, 12-Step programs break down recovery steps into small, manageable bites. The goal is to help people who struggle with substance abuse overcome their addictions, as well as the compulsions that drive those addictions.

The 12-Step model is intended to be worked out in a community, such as the people who regularly attend weekly recovery meetings. Spirituality is an essential component of the 12-Step process, but it doesn’t have to be a religious-oriented spirituality if you don’t want it to be. The 12-Step liturgy emphasizes an ecumenical “higher power” that is not specific to any one religion.

Ultimately, the 12-Step model works best when people are committed to helping others in addition to helping themselves. Those who have moved further down the list of the Twelve Steps can be a source of encouragement to those who are starting it for the first time. Different people will also have unique ways of implementing each of the steps, which are written somewhat vaguely on purpose so they can be adapted in unique ways. Through these steps and regular communal support, many people find that their mental health improves, leading them to flourish in other aspects of life. This is one of the most sustainable ways to contribute to long-term recovery.

How Enlightened Solutions Can Help

Our holistic, “whole-person” approach to substance abuse treatment aims to promote physical as well as mental, emotional, and spiritual health. The 12-Step model is just one of the ways we do this with our clients, helping them to identify any destructive thought or behavior patterns, improve life management, and learn healthy coping skills. Together, these qualities help to promote not only sobriety but also an improved understanding of the self. This allows our clients to discover renewed spiritual understanding, purpose, and fulfillment to improve their lives.

Conquering substance abuse is hard at any time of year, but winter presents some unique challenges to certain people. The days are shorter and darker; the cold can make even the happiest people miserable. Bad weather can keep us isolated and separated from friends. All of these factors can contribute to the possibility of relapse or overdose. But you can prepare in advance for this challenging season by participating in 12-Step programs. At Enlightened Solutions, we strive to help people cultivate healthy coping mechanisms for life’s challenges and become healthy not just physically but also mentally and spiritually. If you struggle with substance abuse and are concerned about your sobriety this winter, call us today at (833) 801-LIVE.

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