Cold showers seem to be popular lately. Like many trends, this one is really a revival of an old idea. Hydrotherapy–bathing in cold water–used to be prescribed for any number of ailments. In fact, AA founder Bill Wilson was prescribed hydrotherapy as part of his addiction treatment in the 1930s. The idea has resurfaced lately thanks, in part, to the exploits of Wim Hof, the Dutch man known for such feats as swimming below polar ice and climbing Everest in shorts. Hof believes cold water exposure has many benefits including improved immune system, better sleep, and less anxiety and depression. Can cold showers help you overcome addiction?
While there is no such thing as a miracle cure, studies have supported some of the claims made on behalf of cold showers. Here are some benefits most directly related to addiction.
Cold showers can help with depression.
Some studies have shown that taking a cold shower once or twice a day helps relieve symptoms of depression. There are several ways this might work. The first is that cold showers increase your level of noradrenaline, the fight or flight hormone. Noradrenaline essentially overrides your symptoms because your body believes you’re in danger. If you’ve ever felt depressed or awful, then suddenly just avoided a serious accident, you get the idea how this works.
Another way it might help is by shunting blood away from your extremities toward your major organs, including your brain. That means once or twice a day, your brain is getting a lot more oxygen rich blood, which helps it function better.
A third way it might help is almost ridiculously simple: cold water reduces inflammation in your brain. Inflammation has been linked to depression, and just by cooling your body down slightly, you might reduce the symptoms of depression.
Cold showers can reduce anxiety.
This is a little counterintuitive, given that cold showers also stimulate noradrenaline, which can feel like panic. The answer appears to be that cold showers also increase levels of beta-endorphin, which binds to opioid receptors the same way as opioid drugs. Beta-endorphin reduces bodily stress and promotes homeostasis, which involves pain management, behavioural stability, and reward. In short, cold showers might help you escape the doldrums of post-acute withdrawal.
Cold showers are a good way to practice discomfort.
No one really looks forward to a cold shower. It takes a little willpower. The good news is that the more you practice, the easier it gets. What’s more, that increased willpower is transferable to some extent. You won’t always feel like going to meetings, or drinking water with dinner, but practising willpower with a daily cold shower will help you through those tough moments.
If you want to try cold showers, start slow. Take a regular warm shower, then gradually turn it down. You don’t have to jump into in icy 3 degree shower. Also, if you have high blood pressure, it’s better to skip it entirely.
Castle Craig Hospital is a landmark of addiction and mental health treatment in Scotland, serving the UK, the EU, and patients from all over the world. Our commitment to long term abstinence has created a successful programme of clinical and complementary therapies for mind, body, and spirit. Serving over 10,000 patients for more than 25 years, the Castle Craig model is proven in changing lives. Call our 24 hour free confidential phone-line for information: 0808 231 7723. From outside the UK please call: +44 1721 788 006
Page last reviewed and medically fact-checked | January 29, 2020