Can Hot Weather Trigger Substance Abuse?

Many parts of the world have seen heat waves and record high temperatures this year. Extreme heat can have a number of impacts on physical and mental health, which can lead to or exacerbate substance use issues.

Can Hot Weather Trigger Substance Abuse?

Summer weather provides many opportunities for outdoor activities, but the heat can take a toll on people in various ways. 

As the planet has become hotter in recent years, more people are at risk of experiencing heat-related physical, mental, or emotional health issues.

This includes drug and alcohol abuse issues, which heat waves have been linked to.

Substance Abuse During Heat Waves

Researchers have found that hospital admissions for mental health and substance abuse issues increase during periods of intense heat. 

The combination of effects that heat can have on mental and physical health may cause some people to turn to substance use for relief. 

Although not everyone who uses drugs or alcohol will develop a substance use disorder (SUD), many do. 

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that about 10% of U.S. adults will experience drug addiction at some point in their lives.

Heat’s effects may also trigger people in recovery from addiction to relapse and start using the substance again.

How Heat Physically And Emotionally Affects Us

Climate change has had a number of impacts globally, from more wildfires and flooding to extreme heat in summer months. 

Rising temperatures are often particularly problematic for people who are not used to hot weather and may lack adequate access to air conditioning and other necessary protections. 

Even people with these protections can experience the effects of high heat or humidity. 

Increased Stress And Irritability 

Violent crime, domestic abuse, and aggressive driving all rise during periods of intense summertime heat. At the same time, there are decreases in academic or job performance. 

Higher rates of heat stress have a direct impact on people’s moods and emotions, leading to increased feelings of stress, anger, or an overall bad mood.

When people get stressed out, they may turn to substances like drugs or alcohol to cope. This can eventually develop into an SUD for some people.

Decreased Energy And Motivation 

It takes more energy to function effectively in hot weather, which can lead to people feeling drained or tired more quickly. 

People experiencing low energy or decreased motivation are less likely to exercise, eat healthy meals, or participate in other acts of self-care. 

For people in recovery from addiction, this may include skipping group therapy meetings and neglecting other aspects of their addiction treatment plans

Sleep Loss, Heat Exhaustion, And Other Physical Issues 

The heat has a number of potentially harmful effects on the body, ranging from excessive sweating to heat-related illnesses like heat stroke. 

Some of these physical issues include: 

  • inability to sleep 
  • heat rash 
  • sunburn 
  • dizziness or fainting 
  • elevated heart rate 
  • headaches 
  • raised body temperature 
  • lower blood pressure 
  • disorientation or confusion 
  • dehydration 
  • heat exhaustion 

If left untreated, these issues can quickly worsen and become life-threatening. The symptoms of chronic or temporary illnesses may also become exacerbated during times of intense heat. 

Much like when dealing with mental or emotional issues, people may use drugs or alcohol as a way of coping with the physical effects of high temperatures. 

Higher Rates Of Mental Health Symptoms 

Most people are aware of how seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can affect people during the winter months, but it is also experienced by people in the summer. 

Studies have also demonstrated the measurable effect that heat has on other mental illnesses, such as anxiety disorders, depression, and bipolar disorder. 

People using certain antipsychotic medications are more susceptible to heat’s effects, and drinking alcohol or using drugs while taking these medications can be dangerous. 

Additionally, people with mental illnesses also face high rates of substance abuse: Roughly half of people with a mental disorder also experience drug or alcohol addiction. 

“Eco-anxiety” and other concerns about climate change may also lead to increased feelings of hopelessness, despair, or grief, which may cause some people to self-medicate with substances. 

Who Is Most Vulnerable To Heat’s Effects?

Certain populations are at a higher risk of experiencing the negative effects of heat, which impacts marginalized or lower-income communities the most. 

These groups also face higher rates of substance abuse due to financial strain, untreated physical pain or trauma, discrimination, and more. 

People without adequate housing, Indigenous communities, and people with chronic illnesses are all more likely to experience substance abuse during heat waves. 

Adolescents and young adults are also more vulnerable to substance use issues during heat waves. 

How To Protect Yourself From Extreme Heat

Although heat can be a challenge to handle, even with air conditioning, there are steps you can take to protect your health.

Staying hydrated during warmer weather is critical, especially if you’re sweating a lot. Aim for more than the standard 11.5 cups for healthy women and 15.5 cups for healthy men per day.

You can also take a cooling shower during the hottest parts of the day. Wearing light-colored, loose-fitting clothing allows for airflow and reduces the amount of heat that your body absorbs. 

If you have to be outside, stick to shady areas and try not to exert yourself too much during peak heat. It’s best to complete strenuous outdoor activities in the early morning. 

Finally, keep in mind how the heat may be affecting you. If you can stay mindful, you may be less likely to give in to any stress that may trigger substance abuse. 

Get Help For A Substance Use Disorder 

If you or a loved one is experiencing drug addiction or alcohol dependency, you are not alone. Contact today to learn about your addiction recovery options.

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