While the connection between substance use and heat may at first seem questionable, it’s actually well-documented. There is extensive scientific evidence of the impact weather can have on our health and wellbeing. After all, there’s a reason words like “gloomy” or “stormy” could just as easily describe a mood or a weather forecast.
For people in addiction recovery, heat exposure can have serious consequences. As excessive and even record-breaking temperatures become a regular summer occurrence, addressing the effects of heat are increasingly crucial. Understanding the impacts heat can have and knowing how to protect oneself from it can substantially reduce the risk of relapse and other setbacks.
The Connection Between Hot Weather and Health
There is a range of mental and physical consequences heat can have on the body. Understanding these effects can be key to maintaining stability. These are some of the ways heat interferes with recovery:
- Dehydration – It’s no secret that hot temperatures lead to dehydration. What’s not as widely known is the fact that hydration levels also profoundly impact mood. Because water is key to proper brain function, dehydration has been strongly linked to disruptive emotions like sadness, anger, and anxiety. Staying properly hydrated is crucial to mentally and physically enduring heat.
- Inactivity – When temperatures rise, people spend more time indoors. While avoiding the heat is a necessary measure, it’s still important to remain active and get healthy exercise. For some, this may mean taking a jog at night when temperatures drop, for others it could consist of attending a virtual yoga class from home. Because exercise is key not only to physical wellbeing but also mental wellbeing, staying active is essential.
- Isolation – Another unfortunate byproduct of spending more time indoors is the isolation it brings. If staying out of the heat also impedes someone’s ability to socialize, they may experience sadness, loneliness, and anhedonia among other things. For people in recovery, isolation can have even more devastating consequences. Keeping in touch with friends, loved ones, and especially recovery support—even if through virtual means—remains crucial during peak summer temperatures.
- Irritability – Sunburns, sweating, dehydration, lethargy, fatigue, headaches, and other uncomfortable side-effects of heat can all contribute to feelings of irritability. Because irritability can cause cravings for substances, it’s important to monitor one’s mood during exposure to excessive heat.
- Exacerbation of Existing Conditions – People with co-occurring mental health issues like bipolar disorder are at an increased risk of suffering manic or depressive episodes during excessive temperatures. This makes mental health a critical variable to monitor when heat waves hit. Maintaining a healthy sleep cycle and monitoring any changes to appetite are also important to preventing mental health disruptions.
Dealing with High Temperatures in Recovery
With oppressive heat being felt across the country, millions of people face added recovery challenges. Summer temperatures can be exhausting and irritating, especially for those who work outdoors. And for some—the unhoused population in particular—the heat can be deadly.
Staying healthy and happy despite record high temperatures can seem like a harrowing task. But by prioritizing physical health needs, like hydration, rest, and exercise, as well as recovery needs, like community and peace of mind, navigating hot summer temperatures is that much more manageable.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction or co-occurring disorders, call the New England Recovery Center today at 1-877-MyRehab.