No matter where you’re spending the winter, the season can be a difficult one for anyone. With less sunlight, no leaves, cold weather, and often some amount of isolation because fewer people go out and do things, many of us are prone to depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder known as S.A.D.
If you’re recovering from alcohol dependence or addiction, feelings of depression and loneliness are triggers for cravings that can send you sliding into relapse. You also have to expect that more people will be drinking, because with less to do, many people do very little but drink at winter parties and events.
However, while it is more difficult to maintain your sobriety during the winter, you can stay sober and maintain your recovery. Planning how to approach triggers and cope with cravings, taking care of yourself, and taking steps to avoid feelings and events that trigger your addiction will help you stay sober.
1. Take Care of Your Health
Staying fit and eating right over the winter can be a lot more difficult than you’d think. Most of us don’t go out walking, don’t play outdoor sports, and eat significantly fewer fruits and vegetables in the winter months. But all of these things contribute to feeling lethargic, tired, and depressed, all of which are triggers for addiction. For example, Vitamin D, A, and E deficiencies mimic symptoms of depression and cause stress, which makes it more difficult to avoid relapse. Exercise and good food will naturally produce dopamine and other neurotransmitters in your body, helping you to feel better, giving you more energy, and working to reduce cravings by giving you a natural dose of the chemicals you’re craving.
2. Spend Time with Friends and Family
HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), is an acronym that’s often used to describe emotional states that make recovering addicts more prone to relapse. If you’re lonely, you will have a more difficult time resisting cravings, you will have less motivation, and you will be sad.
To combat loneliness, spend time with friends and family where possible. You do have to ensure that it’s an alcohol-free environment and that your friends and family are supportive of your need to stay sober, but you should spend time with them whenever possible. Great ideas include going to active events such as hiking, ice skating, or hockey, playing board and video games together, going shopping together, and so on. You can also host sober parties and invite sober friends and family.
If you’re mostly on your own, you can still spend time with people from your sobriety group.
3. Avoid SAD
Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD is a common mental disorder where people exhibit depressive symptoms for part of the year, typically in the winter. This has been linked to decreased vitamin D intake through sunlight, decreased light exposure, and typically decreased activity and time spent in social groups. By watching your vitamin D intake, going outside to get more light, and ensuring that you spend time in social activities, you can avoid SAD and the depression that will likely trigger a relapse.
4. Attend Group Therapy
Attending group therapy, whether AA, SMART, or any other self-help group in your area, will give you the motivation and accountability to keep yourself sober. Self-help groups like AA work because they provide accountability, consistently remind you that you cannot slip up, and give you inspiration and motivation to keep going. In fact, AA attendees who continue to attend have an abstinence rate of about twice that of people who do not attend.
5. Participate in Events and Activities
Getting outside and doing things is a great way to boost your mood, get you to spend time around people, and provide motivation for staying sober. Getting out and doing things makes your life better, and that is the best motivation and reason to stay away from alcohol. You can choose to do nearly anything you want, from volunteering to skiing to winter festivals. Just make sure that alcohol isn’t available on location and if it is, you have a friend or partner there to back you up in case cravings hit.
6. Go to Sober Parties
A sober party might not sound like a lot of fun, but they can be more fun and more memorable than events with alcohol. Many sober groups host sober parties, but you can also host one yourself or find others hosting them. The idea is that you bring friends together, meet new people, and have fun without alcohol. Instead of drinking, you play games, talk together, share food, and otherwise get to know each better without intoxication. If you’re not hosting, it’s also a great way to meet new sober friends, whom you can trust that you can do things with without being pressured to drink alcohol.
7. Recognize Your Triggers and Plan to Cope with Them
Every person in recovery has triggers, and it’s important that you recognize yours and learn to avoid or cope with them. For example, common triggers include alcohol, people you used to drink with, places you used to drink in, things you used to watch, say, or do while drinking, stress, certain emotions, and people.
If you can sit down and recognize which elements and items make you want to drink, you can decide what to do about them when they come up. For example, most people are accustomed to drinking and staying up very late on New Year’s Eve. You may experience very strong cravings and a feeling of missing out on the day. How will you cope with it? What will you do instead? If you used to drink with a family member, how will you cope with seeing them over the holidays? How will you say no? How will you explain your sobriety without hurting their feelings? And if you have trouble dealing with stress such as winter traffic jams, how will you deal it with it and cope with the stress?
Writing out things that cause cravings can help you to give it a place, decide how to cope with it, and to prepare yourself so that when it comes up, you can react well.
Winter is often long, cold, and it can be lonely. But, by taking steps to fill yours with fun activities, friends, and social events, you can make it fun and completely sober. Just remember to take care of yourself, your health, and your mental health, and you’re already on the right track.
If you or your loved one is struggling with addiction, contact us today and speak with one of our experienced and professional intake advisors, we’re here to help. Beginnings Treatment Centers is located in beautiful and sunny Southern California in Orange County, which has one of the strongest and most active recovery communities in the United States.