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Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction Recovery

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Seasonal affective disorder, also known as SAD and seasonal depression, is a type of depression that affects individuals during specific seasons. In most cases, symptoms begin towards the end of fall or the beginning of winter and end in the spring. This disorder is known as winter depression or winter-pattern SAD. However, some individuals experience the less common form of summer depression or summer-pattern SAD. It is estimated that about 10 million Americans experience SAD each year. While SAD can affect anyone, individuals in addiction recovery may be particularly vulnerable to its impact.

What Causes Seasonal Affective Disorder?

The National Institute of Mental Health explains that researchers are still determining the exact causes of SAD. However, they do know that changing biological factors that occur during seasonal changes play an important part in the disorder. 

Here are seven likely causes of seasonal affective disorder: 

  1. Changes in sunlight: The decrease in sunlight in fall and winter can disrupt your body’s internal clock, leading to feelings of depression.
  2. Melatonin imbalance: Changes in the season can disrupt the balance of the body’s level of melatonin, which plays a role in sleep patterns and mood.
  3. Decreased serotonin levels: Less sunlight causes the levels of the brain chemical serotonin (a neurotransmitter) to drop, affecting mood and leading to depression. 
  4. Vitamin D deficiency: Some studies have suggested that people with SAD may have difficulty processing Vitamin D from sunlight.
  5. Presence of bipolar or depression disorders: Individuals who have been diagnosed with these conditions may be more prone to developing SAD. 
  6. Genetics: People with a family history of other types of depression are more likely to develop SAD than people who do not have a family history of depression.
  7. Living further from the equator: SAD is found more among people who live further from the equator. This may be due to less sunlight during the winter and longer days during the summer.

The Connection between Seasonal Affective Disorder and Addiction Recovery

Both SAD and SUD (substance use disorder) involve disruptions in brain chemistry. When individuals are in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction, they are already working hard to restore balance to their brain chemicals. Seasonal affective disorder, with its depressive symptoms, further disrupts this delicate balance and increases the risk of relapse. The low mood, fatigue, and loss of interest in activities that come with SAD can trigger cravings for substances as a way to cope with the emotional pain. 

In addition, seasonal changes can disrupt established routines and support systems. For example, it may become more challenging to attend support group meetings or engage in therapeutic activities due to weather conditions or decreased motivation. This isolation can worsen the symptoms of both SAD and addiction.

What are the signs and symptoms of SAD?

Symptoms vary among individuals but usually include persistent sad, anxious, or empty mood most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks. Individuals may have feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, helplessness, or pessimism. Concentrating, remembering, or making decisions is difficult. People generally lose interest in hobbies or activities they once enjoyed, have low energy, and feel sluggish. They may have trouble sleeping or experience changes in appetite or weight.

Additional signs and symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:

  • Feelings of irritability, agitation, frustration, or guilt
  • Feelings of restlessness or being on edge
  • Physical aches or pains, such as cramps, digestive problems, or headaches that do not have a clear physical cause and do not go away with treatment
  • Thoughts of suicide or death 
  • Suicide attempts

Three Coping Strategies for Managing Seasonal Affective Disorder in Recovery

  1. Individuals in recovery need to prioritize self-care. This means taking the time to do activities that bring joy and help boost mood. Whether it is taking a walk in a park, creating art, or spending time doing your favorite hobby, activities that bring a sense of fulfillment can make a significant difference in managing SAD symptoms.
  2. Establishing and maintaining a healthy routine is another crucial coping strategy. This includes prioritizing regular sleep patterns, maintaining a balanced diet, and engaging in regular exercise. A consistent routine can help provide stability and structure, which is especially important during the challenging winter months.
  3. Utilizing light therapy, especially in the mornings, can also be effective in managing SAD symptoms. Light therapy involves exposing oneself to bright, artificial light that mimics natural sunlight. This therapy has been shown to help regulate mood and improve symptoms of depression associated with SAD. 

Are Drugs or Alcohol Controlling Your Life?

Anyone can become addicted to drugs or alcohol. If you or someone you care about needs help with substance addiction or abuse, you are not alone. Located in Terre Haute, Indiana, the skilled professionals at Anabranch Recovery Center can help you take back control of your life. We will provide the tools you need to live a sober life. 

About the author

Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.

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