Social Isolation During the Winter Can Have Lasting Consequences

Published on January 29, 2020
Mountainside Canaan Aerial Shot

Canaan, CT – Despite the beauty of the season, winter can present some inconveniences for everyone: piling on more layers of clothing, navigating icy roads, and dealing with snow removal. Shorter days and inclement weather can cause some to feel trapped and socially isolated during the colder months. For those who are prone to loneliness year-round, the winter blues can quickly morph into more severe mental health concerns, including addiction.

Researchers have found that the effects of social isolation are akin to the consequences of smoking 15 cigarettes daily. Feelings of loneliness can also increase a person’s risk of premature death as well as their chances of developing mental health and substance use disorders. In a 2018 TED talk, neuroscientist Rachel Wurzman reasoned that a lack of social connection was one of the driving forces behind the current opioid epidemic impacting the nation.

As diseases that alter brain chemistry, drug addiction and alcoholism cause sufferers to feel like they need their substance of choice to feel balanced and in control of their lives. In a similar manner, when people feel lonely, their brains signal that they must find the next powerful source of fulfillment. Under these circumstances, a person’s desire to form more meaningful connections with others can be displaced by a craving for drugs and alcohol, which may temporarily relieve feelings of isolation and dissatisfaction.

Winter aside, nationwide headlines increasingly indicate that the country could be facing a modern-day “loneliness epidemic.” Factors influencing this growing public health concern may include the rising popularity of social media along with a ten percent increase in the number of Americans living alone within the last decade, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

“People are even more likely to feel disconnected from their surroundings during the winter if they’re cooped up indoors and unable to visit their family and friends as often as they would like to,” says Lisa Westerson, Clinical Supervisor at Mountainside treatment center. “Those already struggling with addiction may find it difficult to access support groups if they have to contend with dropping temperatures or hazardous conditions on the roads. To manage feelings of emptiness or hopelessness, those who are struggling can try talk therapy or light box therapy in conjunction with exercise, mindful eating, and other forms of self-care.”

Those pursuing recovery from seasonal depression or addiction should contact a local treatment center.