A depressive disorder, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), affects some people at certain times of the year. The symptoms of seasonal affective disorder often make individuals struggling with substance abuse more vulnerable to drinking or using drugs as a way to self-medicate. Unfortunately, for many people, the result is a dual diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder and addiction.
What Is Seasonal Affective Disorder?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, seasonal affective disorder is much more than a simple case of the winter blues. It is most common in the winter as the days grow shorter and darkness comes earlier. Symptoms begin in late fall or early winter and usually last until spring. The disorder can have a big impact on the life of those affected by it. They are depressed and often feel unworthy. It affects their energy level, mood, sleep, sexuality, and appetite. Many people find it difficult to function at work, socially, and in their day-to-day activities.
What Are the Causes of SAD?
Although the specific causes of seasonal affective disorder remain unknown, it is known that changing biological factors come into play during seasonal changes. According to the MayoClinic, these changes include:
- Changes to your circadian rhythm or biological clock: The lack of sunlight may disrupt your circadian rhythm, which is responsible for your mental, behavioral, and physical changes resulting in feelings of depression.
- Increase in your melatonin levels: The seasonal change causes your body to produce more melatonin, a hormone that regulates your wake and sleep cycles. It affects your sleep patterns and mood. It may cause a lack of energy in the daytime and excessive oversleeping.
- Decrease in serotonin levels: Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that affects a person’s mood and is partly responsible for feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Less sunlight may cause lower serotonin levels, causing depression.
Symptoms of SAD
Symptoms of seasonal affective disorder usually start mild. As the season progresses, the symptoms become more severe. The symptoms are similar to those of major depression. Feelings of sadness, worthlessness, hopelessness, and guilt are common. Although the individual may have increased hours of sleep, they feel tired, fatigued, lethargic, and have no energy. They often have difficulty concentrating, thinking, and making decisions. Sleeping too much or being unable to sleep, craving carbohydrates, overeating, and weight gain often occur. The person may have slowed movements or speak slowly.
Additional symptoms of seasonal affective disorder include:
- An increase in activity that does not have a purpose, such as an inability to sit still, handwringing, or pacing
- Agitation and irritability
- Loss of pleasure or interest in activities they previously enjoyed
- Suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide
- Talking or thinking about death
Can Seasonal Affective Disorder Cause Drug Addiction?
There is a connection between substance use disorders and SAD. A person may use a substance as a way of alleviating the symptoms of SAD. If the person finds the substance gives them relief from their symptoms, they are likely to use it again once the relief subsides. When this happens, their SAD is contributing to the development of substance abuse or addiction. The cycle of use may continue until addiction develops.
SAD & Addiction: A Dual Diagnosis
When a person is suffering from SAD and an addiction to drugs or alcohol, they have what is called a co-occurring disorder. They usually are given a dual diagnosis. People who suffer from addiction are two times more likely to have a mood disorder such as SAD. The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that over 20% of people diagnosed with depression also abuse alcohol or drugs. A dual diagnosis of seasonal affective disorder and addiction often causes the individual to have a diminished quality of life. Both disorders need to be treated for treatment to be effective.
Dealing With Seasonal Affective Disorder in Recovery
For anyone in recovery from a substance use disorder, seasonal affective disorder is particularly dangerous. The symptoms of SAD can trigger a relapse. It is critical to talk to your counselor or your 12-Step sponsor if you feel your sobriety is in danger. Attending regular 12-Step meetings, getting regular exercise and sleep and eating a healthy balanced diet will help you combat the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.
Other techniques for maintaining balance during the darker months include light therapy and meditation.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, now is the time to get the help you need. At Canyon Vista Recovery Center, located in Mesa, Arizona, help is available. Caring professionals will use a combination of clinical, holistic, medical, and psychiatric approaches to heal your body, mind, and spirit. You will gain the skills you need to live a life free of drugs and alcohol. Now is the time to begin. Take the first step on the road to recovery and call Canyon Vista today.