Beating the Winter Blues…Sober

By Sarah Allen Benton, MS, LMHC, LPC, AADC

The Holidays are over and we are in the thick of Winter.  This season can have different impacts on people who are living in 4 season areas versus those who live in warmer climates all year long. The start of the Winter season brings with it a time of celebration and distraction with the Holidays. This can also be a beautiful time of year for some, cozying up by the fireplace, skiing, enjoying the crisp Winter air.  But for others, the shorter amounts of daylight, cold weather, lack of greenery, fewer outdoor activities and slower pace can begin to wear on them as the season rolls on. 

Some individuals have such notable mood changes in the winter that they have been diagnosed with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and may be receiving a combination of therapy, light box exposure and medication to address this issue.  Others expect the downshift in their mood this time of year and bear with it, knowing that they will feel “themselves” again when Spring arrives.  Some of the symptoms of SAD and Winter Blues are:

  • Low energy
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Days feeling long
  • Feeling down, “gray” and/or “blah”
  • Having an uptick in other mental health conditions
  • Sleep issues (difficulty sleeping or oversleeping)
  • Losing interest in activities you once enjoyed
  • Overeating/weight gain
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increase in alcohol and substance usage
  • Lack of motivation

For those with Substance Use Disorders it is especially important to be mindful of mood fluctuations and to address them in a comprehensive manner.  Those in early sobriety may have gotten sober in warmer months and this may be their first experience having a “sober Winter”.  Substances may have offered an opportunity to self-medicate during these harder months, but that option has been removed.  For others, it may be a time that they start using more substances in order to cope with this sometimes challenging time. 

Here are some suggestions of ways to beat the Winter Blues: 

  • Recreate your weekly “balanced schedule” looks like for Winter
  • Get outside daily no matter what the weather may be
  • Obtain clinical support for mood issues including Winter blues
  • Practice sleep hygiene (having a regular waking and bedtime)
  • Exercise at least 3 days per week (outside if possible)
  • Being sure to get outside daily to receive natural Vitamin D3 (the sun’s rays are still present on cloudy days)
  • Purchase a “Happy light” or “Lightbox” to utilize at the beginning of the day and not near bedtime
  • Speak with your PCP or dietician about appropriate dietary supplements for this time of year
  • Increase awareness of addictive behaviors and try to increase healthy behaviors 
  • Be honest with others about how you are feeling
  • Pursue spiritual practice
  • Follow through with daily responsibilities (ie, work, paying bills, chores)
  • Give back to others/community service
  • Expand your social support network
  • Reach out for addiction and/or mental health support

The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) model is able to support individuals with Substance Use Disorders in their home environment.  For those who have unsuccessfully tried to get sober at home or even by going away to treatment, it can be life changing to have trained professionals who can effectively support them in navigating life stressors in real time in a familiar environment.  

The In-Home Addiction Treatment (IHAT) Institute is offering healthcare professionals an assessment based certificate that enables them to support individuals in the recovery process through this unique and innovative modality.  It’s a New Year and time for healthcare professionals to try something different!  This certificate for IHAT providers is available in CT, MA, RI, NH, ME, VA, FL, IN and most recently Kentucky.


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