Fit for Fall: How Substance Use Impacts Body and Mind

As the crisp autumn air settles in and the weather starts to change, we often find ourselves reflecting on our wellbeing. Fall is a season marked by shifting weather patterns and dwindling daylight. It’s a time when our physical and mental health can be greatly impacted, making it crucial to pay close attention to various aspects of our lifestyle, one of them being substance use. 

We’ll explore the significance of monitoring substance use intake, how it can affect our physical and mental wellbeing during the fall season and what we can do to navigate these challenges.

The Impact of Substance Use on Physical Health

Let’s consider how alcohol and drugs can affect our physical health. These effects can include: 

  • Weakened Immune System: Alcohol can weaken the immune system, making us more susceptible to infections and illnesses.  
  • Cardiovascular Issues: Drinking can elevate blood pressure and contribute to heart problems and arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats). 
  • Cancer: a lesser–known fact is that alcohol – any amount – increases the risk of some cancers, including breast and cancers of the digestive system. A level one carcinogen, alcohol is among the top causes of preventable cancer, alongside tobacco and asbestos. Alcohol-related breast cancer kills more than twice as many American women as drunk drivers do. And alcohol is one of the few breast cancer risk factors women can control. 

Similarly, the use of certain drugs can have a profound impact on physical health, depending on the method of consumption and the specific substance involved. For instance: 

  • Respiratory Problems: Prolonged inhalation of substances that are smoked or vaporized can lead to chronic lung conditions. 
  • Risk of infections: For substances that are injected intravenously, improper injection practices can introduce bacteria into the bloodstream. 
  • Gastrointestinal risks: Some drugs can cause gastrointestinal issues, ranging from nausea and vomiting to more severe conditions like gastritis and ulcers. 

It’s important to recognize that substance use can exacerbate existing medical conditions. Whether you’re managing chronic pain, diabetes, depression or any other health concerns, the interaction between substances and medications can lead to unintended problems. Substance use can also interfere with medications, reducing their effectiveness or causing harmful side effects.  

Being aware of your substance use is not just about avoiding new health issues; it’s also about managing and improving your current health conditions.  

The Connection Between Substance Use and Mental Health 

Substance use can have a profound neurological impact, by disrupting the delicate balance of neurotransmitters in our brain. Many substances could alter that balance, affecting mood, perception, and cognitive function. For example, alcohol is a depressant that can lead to a temporary euphoric feeling followed by increased feelings of sadness or anxiety as it wears off. 

Substance use, even in moderation, can increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression. These effects can be especially heightened when the days grow shorter and darker, putting additional strain on your mental wellbeing.  

Navigating Mental Health in Fall

The fall season brings its own set of unique challenges to our mental wellbeing. Reduced sunlight can affect our mood, often contributing to what’s commonly referred to as “seasonal affective disorder” (SAD). This can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, and feelings of sadness.  

Recognizing the challenges posed by seasonal changes is essential so we learn how to positively navigate them. Ensuring you get enough natural light, even during shorter days, or getting a vitamin D supplement can make a significant difference in how you feel. You can also consider these strategies: 

  • Healthy Coping Mechanisms: Identify healthy coping mechanisms that work for you. These may include exercise, journaling, meditation, or engaging in creative pursuits. Having these tools in your mental health toolbox can help you manage change and maintain balance. 
  • Importance of Social Support: Don’t underestimate the importance of social support during this season. Spending time with loved ones, talking about your feelings, and seeking help if needed are all valuable ways to build and maintain mental resilience. 
  • Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques: Mindfulness practices and stress reduction techniques can be particularly effective during the fall season. Techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and mindfulness meditation can help you stay centered and manage negative emotions.

Recommended Guidelines on Alcohol and Health  

The new Canadian Guidelines of Alcohol and Health recommend that less is more when it comes to drinking and that the risks to your health increase the more you drink. According to these guidelines, consuming even small amounts of alcohol is associated with an increased risk of harm to yourself and to others. 

From a population standpoint, alcohol is still the number one substance that people struggle with and seek help for. 77 per cent of people consume alcohol and 16 per cent struggle with heavy drinking. 73 per cent of people who come to ALAViDA are seeking help for alcohol use.

Goal Setting and Progress Tracking

Setting goals is important, but it’s ok if you are feeling overwhelmed or are not sure where to start. A good place to start is with SMART goals: they are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time bound. They also provide the motivation and focus needed for you to be successful while helping you clarify your ideas, stay motivated and use your time and resources in a productive way. Once you have them written down on paper, make sure to set a completion date and define the objectives for each goal. 

Also, remember to track your progress and be prepared to adjust your goals as needed, since they might change with time. Wellness is an ongoing journey, and being flexible with your objectives allows you to adapt to the unique challenges that each season presents. It’s also ok if something doesn’t go according to plan, experiencing setbacks is part of the process. Your physical and mental health are closely intertwined, so monitoring your substance use intake is a vital component to feeling truly balanced. 

Changing your relationship with substances doesn’t have to stress you out. ALAViDA can help guide you towards the best strategies to improve your substance use goals. 

To help you with your relationship with substances, ALAViDA Substance Use, a product of LifeSpeak Inc., offers several support options. For example, our iCBT (internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy) modules are complemented by self-directed resources or optional coaching support that may be available through the TRAiL platform. 

In addition to iCBT, we provide alerts and tracking tools to stay on course and optional group coaching to help you connect with others who are also working toward their goals. Combined, these resources can help you transform the way you interact with alcohol and other substances and achieve sustainable improvements in mental health and wellness.